Everyone is talking about Artificial Intelligence these days, but most Torah observant Jews – myself included - have been AI robots for years. We love HaShem and keep His mitzvot, but tend to do it in an “artificially intelligent” way. Let me give you a perfect example, from something we probably say 1,000 times a year. It’s called “Al ha’Michya” and it’s said after we eat some pretzels, have a slice of pizza, munch on a few cookies, or eat one of those delicious donuts we really should not have had. The same bracha – with some changes to the text – is said after we eat grapes, olives, dates or if we drink wine/grape juice. It’s quite common to recite this bracha, in one of its various forms, 3 or more times a day! Therefore, by the end of the year, we can easily exceed the 1,000 number I listed above.
Question #1 to my fellow AI Jews; When is the last time you stopped to actually look at the words of “Al ha’Michya”? You say it all the time – which is wonderful – but do you know what you are saying? Let’s think about this for a minute. The bracha has a total of 79 words so I would imagine that, at least 70 of them, thank HaShem for the pizza and donuts… no? I mean, that’s why we’re saying it… doesn’t that sound logical to you?
Actually, only 11 – yes, just ELEVEN words have anything to do with food. The rest of the bracha praises HaShem about… the Land of Israel. The bracha has several requests about our role in… the Land of Israel. And – with Cinnabon crumbs still on our face – we ask HaShem to help us make Aliyah to… the Land of Israel.
Question #2; What does Eretz Yisrael have to do with pretzels, cupcakes and spaghetti? Why ask HaShem to bring us to Yerushalayim when all we really wanted was to thank Him for the Kit Kat?
Before answering the questions, let me prove that I’m not nuts. Here is an exact translation of “Al ha’Michya” from the Bentch-like-a-Mensch card which my daughter, Devash, got for me. After the opening bracha and a few words about our livelihood and sustenance, the bracha continues thanking HaShem “for the desirable, good and broad land, that You willed and gave as an inheritance to our forefathers, to eat from her fruits and to be satisfied from her goodness.” At this point, the bracha switches from thanking HaShem to asking of Him some very important things – none of which have anything to do with pizza or donuts… “Have mercy, HaShem our G-d, on Israel Your people, and on Yerushalayim Your city, and on Zion the resting place of Your Glory, and on Your altar and on Your Temple. And build the holy city of Yerushalayim speedily in our days, and bring us up to it, and gladden us with its building…”
Over 80% of the bracha we say by auto-pilot asks HaShem to rebuild Yerushalayim and the Bet Ha’Mikdash and pleads with HaShem to bring us up (Hebrew word is from Aliyah) to Israel. Did you ever realize this? Open your eyes… read, absorb and comprehend what you are saying… understand the words, and most importantly; say what you mean… and mean what you say!
The only problem, however, is that I haven’t answered the one-word question of “Why”? Why is this the text after we eat those amazing yellow soup nuts? Thanking HaShem for the good land that He gave us, after indulging with a box of chocolate chip cookies? Pleading to our Father and King that He bring us to Eretz Yisrael after snacking on some Wacky-Mac? Why?
The answer is simple. We need food to stay alive, and we praise HaShem for providing us with that food. Immediately after that, we thank HaShem for giving us something far more important… life itself… and to a Jew, life and the Land of Israel are synonymous. They are meant to be together – at all times! Therefore, as we thank HaShem for our livelihood and sustenance, we also thank Him for giving our fathers Eretz Yisrael. We plead for the Bet Ha’Mikdash because it nourishes our national soul, the same way as food nourishes our bodies. And finally, we ask HaShem to “bring us up” – on Aliyah – so that we can end our 2,000 year fast with rejoicing and happiness.
As you can see, “Al ha’Michya” is more than simply expressing thanks for some pasta. It’s a prayer of yearning for the Land and a deep desire to move there and see it come to life. Think about this, the next time you bite into a brownie – Bon Appetite!