This column is dedicated to the refuah sheleimah of Shlomo Eliezer ben Chaya Sarah Elka.
In this week’s parshah we derive the mitzvah of birchas hamazon from the pasuk of “v’achalta v’savata u’veirachta” (Devarim 8:10). This mitzvah is to recite three berachos mi’de’oraisa and one mi’de’rabbanan after one eats bread made from the five grains (wheat, spelt, oats, rye, and barley).
There are several questions regarding this mitzvah. The Gemara in Berachos 48b says that Moshe Rabbeinu instituted the first berachah of bentching when the Bnei Yisrael ate the mon in the midbar. The Chazon Ish quotes from the Gemara in Berachos 51b that says that one can only bentch if the food has not yet completely been digested. Once the food has been completely digested one can no longer bentch. The Gemara in Yuma 75b says that the mon was absorbed into the Bnei Yisrael’s bodies; there was no digestion necessary. How then, the Chazon Ish asks, were they able to bentch after eating the mon – if it was always after it was already digested?
Another question regarding the Bnei Yisrael’s bentching on the mon was asked to Rabbi Avraham, the son of the Rambam. The question was, how could the Bnei Yisrael have bentched after eating the mon when the mon was not comprised of one of the five grains? Even if one will say that the mon was treated as if it was bread made from the five grains, the chachamim and Rabban Gamliel disagree about this in Berachos 37b. Even Rabban Gamliel only grants that on such a food the berachah recited is “al hamichyah,” not bentching. So how could the Bnei Yisrael have bentched on the mon?
Yet another question that is asked is this: the indication from the pasuk from which we derive this mitzvah is that the mitzvah of bentching only became applicable once the Bnei Yisrael entered into Eretz Yisrael. The pasuk speaks about the mailos of Eretz Yisrael when it commands us to bentch. Additionally, the Gemara in Berachos 20b discusses whether women are obligated mi’de’oraisa in the mitzvah of bentching – or only mi’de’rabbanan. Rashi explains that the reason why women would be exempt mi’de’oraisa is because they did not receive a portion of land in Eretz Yisrael. How is this reconciled with the Gemara in Berachos 48b that says that Moshe Rabbeinu instituted the first berachah of bentching when the mon began to fall? At that point, the Bnei Yisrael had not yet entered Eretz Yisrael.
To answer all of these questions we look at a Rabbeinu Bichaya in Parshas Beshalach on the pasuk, “u’vaboker tisbe’u lechem, vidatem ki ani Hashem” (Shemos 16:12). Rabbeinu Bichaya explains that at that time, when the mon fell, Hashem commanded the Bnei Yisrael to bentch and thank Him for the mon. This was not the general mitzvah of bentching that is derived from the pasuk in this week’s parshah; this was when Moshe Rabbeinu instituted the first berachah of bentching. Although Moshe instituted it for the specific obligation to bentch on the mon, we use the same berachah for our obligation to bentch as well.
Based on this we can answer that while it is true that the mon was not comprised of one of the five grains, and that it was immediately absorbed into their bodies without digestion (which would not obligate one in the mitzvah of bentching that is derived from the pasuk in this week’s parshah), the Bnei Yisrael were not bentching out of the obligation derived in our parshah. They were commanded in a similar mitzvah that applied only to the mon. Therefore they had to bentch, even though their food did not meet the requirements of the general mitzvah to bentch.
With this we can also explain why the Bnei Yisrael bentched after eating the mon even though the general mitzvah of bentching was not applicable until they entered Eretz Yisrael. Additionally, we can explain another question. The mon began to fall in Marah, before mattan Torah. Bnei Yisrael were not yet even commanded to bentch. How could Moshe have instituted a berachah for the general mitzvah of bentching if it wasn’t yet a mitzvah? Furthermore, why did Moshe not institute the berachah on the matzos that the Bnei Yisrael brought out of Mitzrayim?