Charles Lamb and the Difficulties of Praising God in an Age of Plenty

In his 1823 essay, “Grace before Meat,” the writer and poet Charles Lamb reflected on the awkwardness with which his fellow Englishmen utter benedictions before meals. Can the well-to-do, he wondered, really offer such prayers properly when they live without fear of going hungry? Ephraim Fruchter appreciates Lamb’s point, yet argues that the question yields different results when applied to the Jewish blessings said before and after eating, and the attitudes that underpin them:

For one thing, blessings over food are not merely proclamations of thanks; they also serve as the redemption of heavenly property (Talmud, Tracate B’rakhot 35a). Regardless of the intensity of one’s personal gratitude in any particular moment, there remains a requirement to receive permission prior to partaking.

Jewish tradition, moreover, has a ready answer to the following challenge, which Lamb poses at the beginning of his essay:

It is not otherwise easy to be understood, why the blessing of food—the act of eating—should have had a particular expression of thanksgiving annexed to it, distinct from that implied and silent gratitude with which we are expected to enter upon the enjoyment of the many other various gifts and good things of existence. I own that I am disposed to say grace upon twenty other occasions in the course of the day besides my dinner. I want a form for setting out upon a pleasant walk, for a moonlight ramble, for a friendly meeting, or a solved problem. Why have we none for books, these spiritual repasts—a grace before Milton—a grace before Shakespeare—a devotional exercise proper to be said before reading the Fairy Queen?

By contrast, Fruchter points out, the Talmud indeed mandates blessings for all sorts of other experiences, from enjoying fragrant smells to seeing a rainbow. And although there is no blessing for the reading of Milton, there is one to be said before Torah study. “Finally,” Fruchter notes, Lamb’s preference for “occasional heroic piety runs counter to the Jewish approach,” which instead values above all the more modest “daily effort of those who care, which preserves the continued presence of God.”

Read more at Tradition

More about: Food, Judaism, Prayer

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy