Graceful Endings

Have you ever been in an audience listening to a speech that never ends? It is an even more ghastly experience for the speaker who plainly wants to finish but just doesn’t seem to be able to wrap it up. The sweat beads on his brow, his eyes dart around frantically seeking a savior, his hand clench and unclench and words continue pouring from his moving mouth. And the audience prays for it all to end.

I’ve been at synagogue services and also at business meetings that suffer from the same syndrome. Just like the speaker who can’t stop, the longer it goes on, the less likely it is that anything valuable is occurring. There is another event that suffers from having no ending.

I particularly enjoy being a dinner guest when a family’s children are also at the table. If they are deliberately included in the conversation, their views can be delightfully off-beat and refreshing. The problem arises when they leave the table mid-meal. Whether they excuse themselves politely or simply vanish, they leave unoccupied chairs and an off-balance feel to the gathering.

But since they have no idea of when it will end, what are they to do? They become restless because the meal stretches off endlessly into the future. Happily, ancient Jewish wisdom offers a solution. Establish a formal end to every meal and signal that everyone is expected to remain till the end by labeling it “Grace after meals.”

The Torah directs us to thank God for the food we have just eaten with a blessing;

…you shall eat and be satisfied; then you shall bless the Lord…

(Deuteronomy 8:10)

We are also taught to thank God for giving us His book, by saying a blessing before we study the Torah. Ancient Jewish wisdom discusses these blessings over food and the Torah in the same section to make the connection that food nourishes our bodies while God’s word sustains our souls. One who cares only for his body is but half a human as is one who cares only about his soul.

Why is one blessing said before and the other after? We say the Torah blessing before our souls are born aloft by hearing God talking to us from the pages of Scipture. However, we say the major food blessing after our stomachs are sated. The reason is because we always try to progress upwards towards the climax. Allowing God to talk to us from the pages of His Book is the whole point of reading His word. The blessing precedes that pinnacle. However, the highlight of the meal is when we talk to God.

In this fashion, a Biblical meal never just fades away. It builds to a peak and goes out with a bang. The solemnity of the Grace after Meals, along with its joyful melodies wraps the meal in the fabric of an unforgettable experience.

Children can easily be taught to remain at the table because the meal has a finite conclusion in the form of Grace after Meals. They readily understand that leaving the table before thanking God is even worse behavior than leaving a meal without thanking their parents.

Good advice for those in charge of worship services is to emulate the principle of the Grace after Meals. Instead of allowing the power and the passion of prayer to simply fade away as people inconspicuously creep to the exits in order to escape an interminable service, finish with a bang. Program the most important, and perhaps the most moving part of the service for the very end. Thus will people leave invigorated rather than fatigued.

Similarly, arrange business meetings with not only a start time but an equally definite ending time. Start the meeting with the less important items on the agenda. Finish it with the most important topics and perhaps with an uplifting announcement. People will leave energized rather than wearied.

We hope our Thought Tool books help you to study God’s wisdom and to enjoy uplifting conversation at mealtimes. Our two volumes are on a “get two for the price of one” sale right now. They make a delightful gift for yourself or for someone you want to bless.

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