Bentchitis

In an age when new and previously unknown and unknowable maladies and syndromes are constantly being discovered, one condition that seems to have hit the frum community with particular virulence is Bentchitis. Whether it is a phobia, a sensory issue, a subcategory of ADHD or a unique malady in a class of its own, Bentchitis is most commonly diagnosed in situations where one refrains from partaking of a bread meal for no logical reason other than it will require that he or she bentch at the conclusion of the meal.

Why not just eat and then bentch? The patients themselves can usually hardly explain it. It’s just a block, a fear, a sense of dread, an inability, an avoidance by all means of putting oneself in a situation where he or she will “have to bentch.” (Fleishitis, where one dreads ingesting something which will “make him fleishigs,” has many similar symptoms but is a different disease entirely.)

As far as time is concerned, most of us are not usually that busy that we don’t have the few minutes it takes to bentch after a meal. Save for a few urgent exceptions, the avoidance of bentching is rarely a matter of time. People who spend hours a day doing nothing on their phones suffer Bentchitis no less than those who are indeed pressed for time. Bentchitis is not a lack of time for bentching, but rather an inexplicable avoidance of using one’s time thus engaged.

In all seriousness, though, Bentchitis probably has quite a simple explanation behind it. Rav Chaim Epstein zt”l, in addressing the challenge of getting children (and often teenagers) enthused for davening and for coming to shul, would use the following example.

Imagine if somebody would give us a siddur with all the tefillos translated into French. Assuming that one does not speak a word of French – and even if we did know a word or two – with how much enthusiasm does anyone think we would daven? Would we, who understand how important our tefillos are, who recognize that we are obligated in prayer, be able to daven in a language that to us is Chinese for long without getting distracted and disinterested?

Rav Epstein was speaking with regard to chinuch habonim, and his focus was thus on the importance of children having at least a basic understanding of what they are saying during tefillah. (He would acknowledge that in times past, many Yidden indeed davened fervently though they hardly understood what they were saying, but would maintain that, for whatever reasons, the dynamics are different today and we must work in the current reality.)

When it comes to bentching, it is safe to assume that the average person reading this article probably does have an understanding of what the words of bentching mean. Even so, perhaps Rav Epstein’s words can still explain the underlying cause of Bentchitis. While we know the meaning of the words in bentching, how many of us think of them while we bentch? For one who gets used to bentching while hardly thinking about anything he or she is saying, is such a bentching any less tedious than if we would be bentching in French?

Of course we have Bentchitis! Even one who wastes his life away on his phone at least knows what he is doing. To just sit and move our lips – while our minds are not paying the least attention to the words we are uttering – is understandably an even greater challenge.

Allow me to share an eye-opening incident that took place some years ago while I was a bachur learning at Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim. I had an aunt in Eretz Yisroel who I wanted to bring to Rebbetzin Brim a”h, wife of Rav Chaim Brim zt”l, for a brocha. (As an aside, Rav Chaim would almost always tell anyone who came to him for a brocha to also give the name to his rebbetzin.)

I walked over to the Brim apartment during the afternoon bein hasedorim to set up an appointment and found the rebbetzin seated at her tiny dinette table. She was reading from a sefer in her hands while tears ran down her face and moans escaped her lips. This was typical of the rebbetzin, and I stood for a moment uncertain if I should wait for her to finish saying her Tehillim or if I should just leave and come back a different time. The rebbetzin subtly held up a finger, motioning for me to wait until she was done.

As I stood there, it slowly seeped into my consciousness what the rebbetzin was saying, and something wasn’t clicking. I tuned in, looked down at the sefer in her hands, and realized that she was bentching rather than saying Tehillim.

Why had I assumed that she was saying Tehillim? Perhaps it is just me, but I would venture to say that many of us easily associate davening or reciting Tehillim with tears and crying. But bentching? Bentching is something we say. It’s not Tehillim.

If we think about it, though, some of the most heartfelt supplications are to be found in bentching. “Racheim na Hashem Elokeinu al Yisroel amecha… Veharvach lanu Hashem Elokeinu meheira mikol tzaroseinu… Vena al tatzricheinu…lo lidei mantas bosor vodom velo lidei halvo’osam… Hu gemalanu, Hu gomleinu, Hu yigmeleinu lo’ad lechein ulechesed ulerachamim… Umikol tuv le’olam al yichasreinu… Horachamon Hu yishlach lanu berocha meruba babayis hazeh… Horachamon Hu yevoreich es ovi/imi/ba’ali/ishti/beni/biti… Dorshei Hashem lo yachseru chol tov… Posei’ach es Yodecha umasbia lechol chai ratzon…

If we would think of what we are saying, it would be almost difficult not to get emotional and teary-eyed. Who doesn’t seek Hashem’s blessing in any given area of their lives, if not in many areas? One needs not be a great rov or rebbetzin to bentch with fervor once we simply realize what we are saying.

Rebbetzin Brim’s bentching was an eye-opener in that it forces us to think about what was so surprising to realize that she was “merely” bentching rather than reciting Tehillim. Why don’t we usually associate bentching with heartfelt prayer? Is it because we never really think about the powerful things one davens for while bentching?

There is no need to elaborate here on the many segulos and havtachos that our seforim openly associate with bentching with kavana. Numerous seforim, books, stories and even music albums address the topic at length. Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l would famously tell people who came to him for a brocha to bentch from a siddur or a bentcher.

Who doesn’t need chizuk? Who isn’t looking for an easily available means to acquire tranquility, release and fulfillment?

We have the words. We even say them daily or weekly. Perhaps, if we focused on what we were saying, we wouldn’t even realize how quickly the few moments of bentching pass by.