Sermon – Pesach Morning: Eaten? Satisfied? Say “Thank you”

Written by Student Rabbi Nicola Feuchtwang — 29 March 2021

At 8.30am on any  Sunday morning when it isn’t Pesach, you can usually find me in the car park of Kenwood, where I have a regular rendezvous with  some Israeli friends, and spend the next hour or so exercising my legs and my brain as we walk – fast – around Hampstead Heath, and they  chat – very fast – in Hebrew.  Through lockdown, we have followed the rules and just walk in socially distanced pairs, which is a little easier on my legs and ears.

Last Sunday I walked with a friend who likes to discuss quite complex ideas about psychology and religion. She had a question for me. She grew up in a large but not particularly observant family, and said she always thought that the Seder was supposed to end with the Pesach meal; that was until she married a man from a more religious background.  But WHY is the second half mostly ‘just songs?’ (as she put it)


I suggested lightheartedly that it may be in part our habit of always adding to our traditions:  we do something extra once, such as tell a joke or anecdote, bring in an extra food item, add a song;  or perhaps as families come together, we can’t decide which tune to use, or which charoset recipe, so we do both. It seems to work, so we decide to do it again next time too, and before you know it, what started as ‘extra’ has become part of what we ‘always’ do…..  Some of the songs have serious messages, some are just for fun, helping us express high spirits.

Of course, a substantial part of the long sing-song after the meal at Pesach is just doing what we should be doing after any meal, namely Birkat HaMazon, Grace After Meals, saying ‘thank you’.  Following the Seder and Pesach meal we are doing it at length and in song because it’s been a good meal and there is so much to be grateful for.

Did you say it, or sing it;  do the whole works or a shorter version – or cut it completely last night?

The rabbis of the Talmud[1] discussed at great length who is obliged to say Grace After Meals, and how forceful an obligation it is.  The consensus is that even people who are exempt from time-bound mitzvot (ie women, slaves and children) are required to give thanks after eating, and this is considered to be not just rabbinic law, but a law derived from Torah.

And their proof text? Our second Torah reading this morning[2], which you may want to look at again.  It includes the very familiar phrase:

ואכלת ושבעת וברכת   (‘when you have eaten and are satisfied, bless God’).  This has been the kernel of Birkat HaMazon for 2000 years, according to findings in the Dead Sea (Qumran) Scrolls.

What is interesting in our Torah reading is that the instruction to ‘bless God’ for food is part of a wider discourse about the importance of maintaining an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’ to God – not just for food, but for adequate housing, and material security.    Watch yourself, take great care, that you don’t forget where you have come from, whether you are enjoying the abundance of the world as you find it, or whether you are exulting in results achieved through your own endeavours.  If you don’t, you will be lost.

Jewish tradition is not Puritan.  It teaches that  ve’achalta vesava’ta doesn’t just mean ‘when you eat and are satisfied’, but ‘you should eat and feel satisfied’.  It is a mitzvah to enjoy what is available to you.  On the other hand, we also learn:    Whoever enjoys any worldly pleasure without uttering a blessing to its Divine Giver is committing theft.

Be mindful; be grateful.


This theme is taken up by all the modern Chumashim in one way or another, whether it is Rabbi Hertz in our old faithful Soncino Chumash quoting that ‘prosperity tempts one to fretfulness against every idea of restraint’,  the Jewish Study Bible talking about the ‘perils of prosperity’, or Rabbi Plaut on ‘the corrosive effects of affluence’ but also drawing attention to a word in verse 14:  המוציאך  (hamotziacha): the word is a participle, not a past tense – not God brought you out of Egypt as a one-off event in the past, but a continuing redemption for which we should be grateful.


I would also like to quote selectively from an essay which the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks published in 2019, before Corona, which seems relevant to our situation today:[3]

First he paraphrases Moses:

‘…Either you will eat and be satisfied and bless God, remembering that all things come from God – or you will eat and be satisfied and forget to whom you owe all this. You will think it comes entirely from your own efforts: “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” Although this may seem a small difference, it will, says Moses, make all the difference.‘

Then Sacks continues:

‘…When times are hard, people grow. They bury their differences. There is a sense of community and solidarity, of neighbours and strangers pulling together. ….’

‘…The real challenge is not poverty but affluence, not slavery but freedom, not homelessness but home…’

‘..The real test of a nation is if it can survive the lack of a crisis………when those who are doing well lose their sense of social solidarity;  they begin to feel that what they have is theirs by right…. The bonds of fraternity and collective responsibility begin to fray. The less well-off feel an acute sense of injustice…’


We hope we are at last starting to move beyond our own crisis.  As we do so, let us be Rememberers, not Forgetters.  In our relief at achieving some relative liberation, let us not chafe against the remaining restraints which are necessary for our protection;  let us remember the positives we have learned through this pandemic – about including those who could not previously access some of our activities; about being close to people even when distant from them.

We have eaten and should be satisfied;  let us never forget to say ‘Thank You’.

Chag Sameach.


[1] bBerachot 20b-21a

[2] Deuteronomy 8: 10-18

[3] Sacks, Jonathan:  Covenant & Conversation