“And when the your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the , who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you—for the your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.
Nearly every day at some point I end up at our local Stop and Shop. It is a terrible store. Poorly managed. The meats are second rate (I always drive the extra 4 miles to a local butcher shop so I can have really good meat), the produce is often wilted or on the edge, and the shelves are often kind of messy.
I put up with it, though, because the next nearest Stop and Shop is an extra half-mile away. And after all, time spent is inconvenience. Right? My daughter Beth calls this a “First-World Problem.”
The Jews have a prayer they say at the beginning of every meal. “Baruch atah adonai Elohaynu, melech ha'olam Hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz.” “Praise to You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth grain from the earth.” And similarly, “Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, borei p’ri hagafen.” “Praise to You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who gives the fruit of the vine.” Their tradition is to give thanks to the giver of the bread and the wine rather than to thank God for the bread and the wine as we generally do in Christian culture.
The distinction is a small one, perhaps. But try this exercise the next time you exercise the privilege of getting in your car and driving to the grocery store. Walk the aisles, and with every item you pick up, say the appropriate blessing. “Praise to you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, giver of olive oil… giver of Quaker Oats… giver of Eggland’s Best… giver of Cherry Garcia frozen yogurt!” See if, by the time you’re done with your shopping list, you don’t get back in the car with the urge to say, “Praise to you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, giver of Fords and Hondas, Buick, Toyota, and Mitzubishi!”
We are, of all the peoples who ever lived on the earth, least responsible for the production of the goods we consume. Unless I put my mind, arms, and back to it, there is not much I will pass on to my children that I made with my own two hands. My father was a woodworker, and many of the pieces in our home of origin were made by him personally. My favorites are a sewing bowl, a simple standing lamp with a table the lamp rises out of, and a nightstand with drawer. There’s no great styling in them, but they are examples of artistry I would not trade for far more elegant pieces. And yet, when I think of even these, I am moved to say, ““Praise to you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, giver of sewing bowls, standing lamps, and nightstands.”
Why should I be thankful in this way? Because none of this is mine by right. All of it is a divine mercy, given to me by God because he loves his own and delights in giving good gifts to his children. And if I had less? Should I be any less thankful? If I had nothing and had to labor with my hands as a subsistence farmer, would the fruit of the vine and the grain of the earth be any more my doing?
Baruch atah adonai Elohaynu, melech ha'olam…