This year’s Generation Sinai is all about gratitude. Whatever we eat we thank Hashem – both before and after eating. But bread is extra-special. After we have eaten bread, we say thank you to Hashem, not only for feeding us, but for everything he does for us, our families and for the Jewish People.
The Gemara says we should thank Hashem for every breath we take. Every breath is indeed a miracle. Think about it. When we breathe in – we fill our lungs with fresh air that enters our bodies and allows us to live. The average person breathes around 16 times a minute. With 1 440 minutes in a day, that makes for 23 040 breaths. That’s a lot to be thankful for!
And it does not stop there. There is so much for which we are thankful to Hashem. Especially the everyday things we do so often that we don’t even notice them, like breathing, walking, seeing and eating.
When do we find the time to thank Hashem for everything He has given us?
One of the times is during Birkat Hamazon, bensching. After we have eaten bread and had a meal, we say thank you to Hashem, not only for feeding us, but for everything He does for us, our families and for the Jewish People.
And that’s why I am so excited that this year’s
Generation Sinai is all about the bensching.
Take this precious time together and look at the bensching with completely new eyes. Discover what it is, where it comes from and what impact it can have on your life.
So enjoy! Savour this precious time together. Learn together.
And most of all, have fun.
Thank you for being part of Generation Sinai.
G-d bless you.
Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein
Whenever we eat anything, we thank Hashem – both before and after eating. But bread is extra-special. After eating bread, we say Birkat Hamazon, or ‘bensch’.
This wonderful and special prayer is a mitzvah from the Torah that we learn from the verse above.
The Torah divides bensching into three parts, and each was written by a different Jewish leader. Each leader was inspired by a different time in our history and found the words to thank Hashem for all the wondrous things He did, and continues to do, for us. A fourth part was added later by the rabbis.
Together, let’s explore each part and discover how much
we have to be thankful for.
What’s with the word ‘bensching’?! I thought benches are for sitting on, or pressing at the gym?
Bensch (or bench / bentsh / bentsch / bentch) is a Yiddish
word which means to bless.
Most Yiddish words come from Hebrew or German, but this one comes from the Latin benedicere (or benedictere). Every day we use a lot more Yiddish words than we think. Schlep. Chutzpah. Shpiel.
As a family, what are the most Yiddish words you can fit into a single sentence? Think: ‘Oy gevalt – am I kleibing nachas from my meidels and menches at Generation Sinai!’
Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Who feeds the whole world with His goodness, with favour, kindness and mercy. He gives food to every living thing because His kindness is forever. And because He is so good, we’ve never been without food and may He make sure that we will never be without food. [We ask for food so that we can serve Hashem] for the sake of His great name, because He is G-d, Who feeds everyone and does good for all, and He prepares food for all His creatures, which He created. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who feeds everyone and everything.
The Jewish people left Egypt on the 15th day of the month of Nissan. Thirty days later, they had finished all the food they had taken out with them. They were stuck in the desert without a thing to eat! Not a sausage! Can you imagine what that must have felt like?
Hashem told them not to worry. He promised he would send them food. And He did. Shiny white kernels were scattered from heaven across the desert floor every day for 40 years. It looked like no other food they had ever seen before and it was delicious – the people called it manna.
Any manna that was left overnight would become rotten. Imagine going to bed every night with an empty pantry and fridge, waiting for the next day’s manna?! Over 40 years, Bnei Yisrael learnt that food always comes straight from Hashem. Every bite is a miracle and every day a new gift from G-d. When Moshe saw this wonderful miracle of manna falling from Heaven, he composed this blessing to say thank you. To this day, we start our bensching with Moshe’s original words.
Did you know that the manna tasted like whatever you felt like eating?
Spaghetti bolognaise, chicken and roast potatoes, even waffles covered in ice-cream dripping with hot, sticky chocolate fudge with marsh-mallows on the side. You name it.
If you could get a manna take-out right now, what would you order?
Manna doesn’t fall from Heaven today.
There are no magical ‘choose your own flavour’ take-aways falling from the sky. Mom and dad work hard to put food on the table and in our lunch boxes. So why do we still say this blessing every time we bensch?
Let’s answer this question with a story that took place many years before the manna fell down from Heaven.
Avraham is known as the kindest man who ever lived.He would sit outside his tent every day and wait for tired and hungry travellers to pass by, welcoming them inside, to rest and eat. He built a special tent, open on all four sides, and planted an orchard in the desert near Be’er Sheva so that he could both see and feed every stranger coming by.
Word spread about this special man and guests streamed in from everywhere to meet him. The Midrash 1 tells how, after enjoying their meal, the guests would get up to leave and thank Avraham. He would say to them, “Don’t thank me, thank Hashem! You must say, ‘Blessed is the Master of the Universe of whose goodness we have eaten!’”
The guests saw how hard Avraham worked to make sure they were well fed. He explained to them that although he had prepared the food, he certainly did not create it. Every single ingredient comes directly from Hashem,
Who feeds us all. Avraham took the opportunity of a meal to teach his guests how to look deeper into the world and see that everything comes from Hashem.
When we were in the desert, it was easy to see that our food came from Hashem because it literally fell out of the sky.
When we eat food today, which has been made and packaged in factories and sold on supermarket shelves, we need to look deeper and realise that it all comes to us as a blessing from Hashem. A single Rice Krispy does not look much like a raw grain of rice growing in a rice paddy. We need to stop for a moment and recognise the miracle within that single Rice Krispy.
Miracles aren’t only manna falling from heaven. Miracles are everything Hashem does at every moment to keep us alive. It’s the same level of miracle. It’s just that we get used to it. Bensching teaches us to stop and thank Him for the miracles that surround us.
Count your blessings
Think about all the miracles that got you to Generation Sinai this morning.
You woke up, had a wholesome breakfast, went to the bathroom (that’s a miracle too!). As a family, list all of the things you normally take for granted, from the time you woke up until this very moment.
Now count them
We thank You, Hashem our G-d, for having given our forefathers, a desirable, good land with lots of space. [And we thank You] for bringing us out, Hashem our G-d, from the land of Egypt, freeing us from being slaves; [And we thank You]
for Your covenant which You made [through Brit Milah] on our bodies; [And we thank You] for Your Torah which You taught us; for Your mitzvot which You made known to us; [And we thank You] for the life, favour and kindness You have shown to us; and for the food You always give us to feed us and support us, every day, every season, every hour.
And for everything, Hashem our G-d, we thank You and bless You, and May Your Name be blessed by the mouths of every living thing, always and forever. As it is written [in the Torah]: “You shall eat and you will be satisfied, and bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land that He has given you.” Blessed are You, Hashem, for the land and for the food.
The next part of bensching was written by Yehoshua (Joshua). Moshe saw the miracle of the manna, but it was Yehoshua who got to lead us into the land of Israel. The Torah describes Israel as a rich and fertile land filled with wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates and olive oil. A land flowing with milk and honey. After years of slavery in Egypt and then wandering through the desert, we were finally in a home of our own. With a roof over our heads, we had a hook to hang our hat on. A place where we felt safe to plan and build our future together.
The Torah warns us that when we enter the land, become successful and prosperous, we might think that we deserve the credit for everything we have, that we have done it by ourselves. This part of bensching reminds us that, like the Land of Israel, everything comes from Hashem.
When Yehoshua saw the wonderful Land of Israel that Hashem gave us, he composed this blessing of thanks to remind us who is the source of everything.
Instructions for activity:
Have a look through the text of the blessing that Yehoshua added. You will see that we thank Hashem for many things other than the land.
See if you can find and highlight these things.
As a family, discuss why Yehoshua chose to add this specific list of things to be grateful for.
Have you ever wondered why we say this special prayer after bread only?
We can eat a full-on meal – think a platter of sushi starter followed by a juicy steak, salad and chocolate mousse dessert – and we only say a short after-blessing. But if we eat half a slice of bread, we bensch.
What is so special about bread that we get to say this extra-special prayer after eating it? To answer this question, let’s go through the process of making bread together.
We are so used to seeing it pack-ed in neat rows on supermarket shelves. White, brown, wholewheat, low-GI. We can even buy it ready-sliced! But what does it take to get that single slice of bread from farm to plate?
We plant seeds at just the right spot in the soil, at the best time of year.
We water them carefully with just the right amount of water. Beautiful wheat stalks rise from the ground, bursting with ripe grain. We harvest the wheat and crush it to a fine dust to create flour. We mix the flour with water to form a paste or dough. We also need yeast – it adds gas to the dough and puffs it up. Then it goes into the oven for roughly 30 minutes. Only then
do we get bread as we know it.
It’s a brilliant process. It’s ingenious.
Who first thought of such a thing? It’s almost the opposite of the manna that fell from heaven. Hundreds, if not thousands, of men and women have worked to produce this piece of bread from seed to slice.
Bensching comes to remind2 us that even though we worked really hard to make the bread, now is the time that we recognise that everything comes from Hashem. He gave us the seeds, the knowledge, the strength and opportunity to go through the whole process to make, eat and be sustained by it.
Have you ever wondered why we bensch after we eat and not before?
It’s easy to remember Hashem when we are hungry. Just like it’s easy to ask Hashem for help when we are in trouble.
By bensching when we are full, we are reminded to be grateful for everything that Hashem provides us with all the time, especially when things are good.
Have mercy Hashem our G-d, on Israel Your people, on Jerusalem Your city, on Zion, the home of Your glory, and on the royal house of David, the one You made king, and on the great and Holy House which carries Your Name. Our G-d, our Father, look after us, feed us, support us, sustain us and relieve us from our troubles soon. Please, Hashem our G-d, do not make us need gifts from other people, nor their loans, but only [to be supported] from Your full, open, holy and generous hand, so that we don’t feel shame, for ever and all time.
King David was a regular shepherd boy who rose up to be a magnificent leader who united and strengthened the Jewish people under the banner of Hashem and His Torah. He captured the holy city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites, making it the capital of Israel.
His son, King Shlomo (Solomon), the wisest man who ever lived, built the First Temple there. No expense was spared. The best stones were used and wood from Cedar trees was imported from Lebanon. The entire building – inside and out, floors and doors – was plated in gold. It took seven years to build.
The holy Temple was the place that Hashem’s Shechina – His Presence –was the strongest in the entire world. Jewish life revolved around it. The nation would travel there from all corners of the country three times a year, on Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. Every day it buzzed with people coming to ask Hashem for forgiveness or thanking Him for something amazing that had happened in their lives.
This blessing was written by King David for the city he conquered and by King Shlomo in gratitude for its crowning jewel, the Temple.
While the Temple stood, this prayer was different. The kings, David and Shlomo, thanked Hashem for the Holy City and asked that peace, kingship and the Temple service should continue. After its destruction, it became a prayer of hope and yearning.
It’s really hard for us
to imagine what it was like to have a place like the holy Temple.
It’s really hard for us to imagine what it was like to have a place like the holy Temple. What would it be like to feel Hashem’s presence so strongly? To hear a huge choir of Leviim singing songs of praise? To see the light of the Menorah glowing throughout the whole city of Jerusalem? Have you ever been to the Kotel? The Kotel is the last remaining outer wall of the complex of the Second Temple. People still flock from all over the world, just to be there, to pray and to celebrate.
Did you know there is a Kotel-cam online? Scan the QR code and find out what’s going on right now.
What do Jerusalem and the holy Temple have to do with food?
Jewish life revolved around the holy Temple in Jerusalem. People would go there to thank Hashem, ask Him for help when they were in trouble, and for forgiveness when they had let Him down.
Today 3 , when we have no Temple, the Talmud teaches us the most marvellous thing. Our tables have some of the power of the Temple service.
Today we can actually get forgiveness through ‘our dinner tables’. How do we do this?
Our tables can be places where we do so many mitzvot. When we have guests in our homes who have no place to go – eating and sharing a meal with us – our tables become places of kindness, bringing people together and building relationships. By saying blessings before and after eating, and discussing Torah ideas at our meals, we are making space for Hashem in our lives – we are turning everyday events into something holy and special. This has the power to transform our homes into little temples.
This is the time in bensching we ask for food and sustenance.
At the same time, we ask Hashem for the Beit Hamikdash.
This shows that we don’t only ask for our own personal, physical needs, but we pray for the redemption of the Temple. This idea really changes the way we think about a meal.
Discuss this at the next opportunity you’ll have as a family to eat together.
It’s a precious and holy opportunity. You’re not just makingsure you have enough energy to survive – together you are building a small temple, a place for Hashem’s presence to rest.
Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe – G-d, our Father, our King, our Ruler, our Creator, our Rescuer, our Maker, our Holy One, the Holy One of Yaakov (Jacob). He is our Shepherd, the Shepherd of Israel, the good King
Who does good to all. Every day He has done good, is doing good, and will do good for us. He has been kind, is being kind, and will always be kind to us, giving us favour, kindness and mercy, and relief and rescue, success, blessing and help, comfort, support and sustenance, and mercy, and life, and peace, and all good things, and may He never let us go without [the things we need].
About 1 000 years after King Shlomo built the First Temple, Romans attacked and conquered Israel and Jerusalem, destroying the Second Temple.
The Jews who weren’t killed in the battle had ‘enemy status’. Each and every Jew was seen as a criminal and they lived with constant fear and worry. The brave and fearless Shimon, son of Kosiba, fondly known by his nickname, Bar Kochba*, raised an army of 400 000 men who took on the mighty Roman Empire. For years they managed to push back the Roman army, causing great shame and embarrassment for their emperor Hadrian.
Eventually Hadrian was fed up. He sent legion after legion of soldiers to crush Bar Kochba and his men, finally defeating them at Betar. Tragically, most Jews were either killed, expelled or taken as slaves. Hundreds of thousands were murdered. The Romans left their bodies unburied to send a clear message to anyone who dared rebel against the mighty Roman empire.
This Roman decree was especially cruel, be-cause as Jews we make sure that a person is buried as soon as possible after they pass away (Devarim 21:23). Twenty-five years later, when the new king, Antoninus, came into power, he finally gave permission for the bodies to be buried. A great miracle took place. The bodies had not decomposed for 25 years. The murdered Jews were allowed the dignity of a proper burial. On seeing these great miracles, the Sages of Yavneh added this part to our bensching.
*Son of a star
Did you know that “bar kochba” means “son of a star”?
People gave him this name because they thought he was mashiach who is hinted to in the verse: “A star shall come out from Yaakov.”
What does the miracle of betar have to do with bensching?
It’s a really great miracle that all the bodies did not decompose, but can we compare it to the miracle of manna falling from heaven or the great gifts of Israel, Jeru-salem and the holy Temple?
These three miracles affected the entire Jewish people – so it makes sense that we should always be grateful for them – but the miracle of Bar Kochba only affected the Jews who were murdered by the Romans at that time.
Why is it so important?
When the Second Temple was destroyed and the city of Betar overrun, people worried that the Jewish nation would disappear forever. Things seemed so hopeless.
Israel, Jerusalem and the holy Temple were all taken away from us.
Times had been rough before, but there was always hope. Now, not only did we have no home of our own, we were not even able to bury our dead! It really must have felt like Hashem had forgotten us.
When the Sages of Yavneh saw the great miracle – that the Jewish bodies had remained intact for 25 years – the message was loud and clear. Hashem is always with the Jewish people. Sometimes it’s really hard to see Him, but He is always there, looking out for us.
That’s why the Sages of Yavneh felt the need to add this section to our bensching.
John Adams, second president of the United States, said this about the Jewish people:
“They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this earth. The Romans and their empire were but a bubble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.”
As a family, discuss the importance of these words 1 856 years after the Sages of Yavneh added this section to the bensching.
May the Merciful One always reign over us. May the Merciful One be blessed in heaven and on earth. May the Merciful One be praised from generation to generation, and always be proud of us and always be honoured by us. May the Merciful One support us with dignity. May the Merciful One end our oppression and lead us with pride into our land. May the Merciful One send us great blessing to this house and this table that we have eaten on. May the merciful One send us Eliyahu the Prophet, may he be remembered for good – to bring us good news [the coming of mashiach], and salvations and consolations.
Together with us and all that we have. Just as our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov were blessed in everything, from everything, with everything, so may He bless all of us with a complete blessing, and let us say: Amen.
All the prayers from here on until the end of bensching were added in at a later stage by the Ge’onim. While the Vikings were building mega-ships to sail around and conquer Europe, the Jews had built two gigantic academies dedicated to Torah learning. They were called Sura and Pumpedita. The heads of these schools were the masters of Jewish law and philosophy – they were called the Ge’onim.
These schools were the centre of Jewish life and leadership from 589 CE – 1038 CE (Hebrew dates 4349 – 4798).
These are prayers asking Hashem to have compassion on us, our loved ones and our community.
Now that we have completed the mitzvah of bensching, we take the opportunity to pray to Hashem for the many things we want and need.
You may ask: “Shouldn’t we be thanking Hashem? Why, all of a sudden, are we asking him for stuff?”
After reading through the bensching and thinking about Hashem being the Source of everything, we come to an understanding and better knowledge of Hashem. Once we recognise that everything comes from Him, we take a moment to ask for the important things we need.
Most people today treat meals as quick stops to fill themselves before running on to the next thing.
We’re in such a hurry that some- times we find ourselves eating breakfast in the car or dinner in front of the computer.
Now that we have unlocked some of the secrets of bensching, isn’t it amazing to see the incredible opportunity mealtimes can bring to us as families?
It is an exercise in mindfulness. A moment to stop and think about things. Bensching really helps us to focus our day – recognising and thanking Hashem for everything He has done for us and asking Him for everything we need to build the best future we can.
It doesn’t end here…
Generation Sinai is a real treat. Children get to learn with their parents at school, and parents get a taste of the wonderful things their children get up to at school. But it does not need to end here.
Take your new family benschers home, to use every time you bensch.
Take a moment or two, before or after, to continue this fantastic dialogue we have started today!
In heaven, may merit be found for them and for us, to be granted a protection of peace. May we carry blessing from Hashem, and charity from G-d who saves us, and may we find favour and good understanding in the eyes of G-d and people.
May the Merciful One make us worthy of the days of mashiach and the life of the World to Come. He [Hashem] gives great salvation to His king, and does kindness to His anointed one, to David and to his descendants forever. He [Hashem] who makes peace in His heavens, may He also make peace for us and for all Israel. Amen.
May His holy ones be in awe of Him, because those who are in awe of Him will lack nothing. Even young lions can want and be hungry, but those who seek Hashem will not be without anything. Give thanks to Hashem because He is good, for His kindness lasts forever. You open Your Hand and satisfy the wants of every living thing. Blessed is the person who trusts in Hashem, and for whom Hashem is his protection. I was once young, and now I am old, and I have not seen a righteous person without support, and whose children had to beg for food. Hashem will make His nation strong, Hashem will bless His nation with peace.
Wants and needs
As a family, discuss the difference between wants and needs.
some of the big things you really want from Hashem. They can be for yourselves, your community, the entire Jewish people, or indeed the whole world!
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