A few days ago, we learned on page 37 that Rabbi Yehudah believes the blessing before eating should be specific to the particular food consumed. Thus, he offered a different blessing for seeds, for leaves, etc.
The Talmud, while noting that Rabbi Yehudah’s position is not accepted — traditional Jewish law holds that one “blanket” blessing, Hamotzi, will cover all the food types — nevertheless provides an explanation of his reasoning:
Rabbi Zeira and some say Rabbi Hinena bar Papa said: What is the reasoning of Rabbi Yehudah? The verse says: Blessed be the Lord day by day (Ps. 68:20). But do we bless God only by day and not at night? Rather the verse tells you that each day you should offer God particular blessings. So too here, for every species [of food] offer God particular blessings.
The verse asserts that God is to be blessed day by day. The Talmud raises and rejects the possibility that God is to be praised by day and not by night, and instead understands that particular phrase, “day by day,” to be emphasizing the uniqueness of each day as an opportunity for thanking God in a way specific to that day.
There is a dual message here. On the one hand, gratitude is not the sort of thing one should store up to express later. Rather, thanks should be offered regularly as an expression of gratitude in real time.
Additionally, gratitude should be specific. Rabbi Yehuda teaches that one must tailor one’s thanks to the precise divine gift one is receiving at any given moment. For him, this is true even for different kinds of food — each requires its own blessing.
We have reason to be thankful to God for the very variety of human experience itself. No day is exactly like another. If appreciation for the blessings we receive, and the blessings we return to God in kind, are to be meaningful, they must reflect this manifold plenitude of life.
Even if Rabbi Yehudah’s rule mandating hyper-specific blessings is ultimately rejected, and today Jews say Hamotzi over a meal with a wide variety of foods, his overall point is important, which is one reason the Talmud preserves it. Gratitude to God, and indeed all gratitude, is most powerful when it appreciates the details and expresses thanks for the finer points of one’s experience.
“Blessed be the Lord, day by day.”