Brakhot v’Hoda’ot (Blessings and Thanksgivings): A Birkon by R’ Hillel Ḥayyim Yisraeli-Lavery. Kiddush, Havdalah and the Birkat Hamazon according to the custom of R’ Saadia Gaon, RaMBaM, and the Vilna Gaon. Zemirot, Piyyutim, and Shirim. Ma’ariv for Weekdays and for after Shabbat. A souvenir for the Bar Mitzvah of Yeshayahu Yisraeli, 19 Sivan 5776 (Shabbat Parshat Shelakh Lekha). Published in the Holy City of Yerushalayim. . . .
Unlike most plant and bacterial life, we human beings cannot process our own food from the sun, soil, water, and air. And so, as with the other kingdoms of life on Earth, we are dependent on vegetation to live, either directly by consuming plants, or indirectly by predating on other creatures that consume vegetation. Being nourished and seeking nourishment is so basic to us, that our practical desperation for survival undergirds most of our ethics relating to non-human life. But Judaism demands that our human propensity towards predation be circumscribed. Indeed, it is my understanding that the ultimate goal of Torah is to circumscribe and temper our our predatory appetites, and to limit and discipline our predatory behavior. In this way, our predatory instinct may be redeemed as a force for goodness in the world, and we might become a living example to others in how to live in peace and with kindness towards the other lifeforms we share this planet with. In 2010, while working with Nili Simhai and the other Jewish environmental educators at the Teva Learning Center, I began working on a Birkon containing a translation of the birkat hamazon that emphasized the deep ecological wisdom contained within the Rabbinic Jewish tradition. I continued working on it over the next several years adding two additional sections of source texts to illuminate the concept of ḥesronan (lit. absence or lacking) and the mitzvah of lo tashḥit (bal tashḥit). I invite you to include these works into your birkon along with other work that I’ve helped to share through the Open Siddur — especially Perek Shirah and other prayers that express delight in the created world and our role in it, l’ovdah u’lshomrah — to cultivate and preserve this living and magnificent Earth. . . .
Many of our best times are spent eating. Jewish liturgy, however, is very stingy on blessings before eating (focusing much of its energy on blessings after eating). The blessings before food are generic, and except for very specific foods and drinks (such as wine, bread, and matzah), all foods lump into three or four categories (fruit, vegetables, grains, and everything else). As a foodie, I’d like to celebrate each and every distinct taste through the prism of Jewish experience, and thus have tried to compose as many short poems as possible in their honor. . . .
Beginning late last year, I began a project to translate the Birkat Hamazon using Rabbi Simeon Singer’s English translation and the Nusaḥ ha-Ari as the basis for publishing birkonim (or in Yiddish, benchers). The original work was sponsored by the Teva Learning Center and its executive director, Nili Simhai, to be used in birkhonim specifically designed for use during weekdays during Teva’s Fall season. . . .