By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
The Birkat Hamazon consists of four blessings, each one having been added at different periods of history. Following the conclusion of the fourth blessing, there are a series of requests that are customarily recited, each beginning with the word “Harachaman”, (“the Merciful One”). In fact, from this point onwards it is actually permitted to insert any prayer or request that one would like. We are taught that when we recite the Birkat Hamazon it is an ‘Eit Ratzon’, an auspicious moment before God, when prayers and requests are more readily accepted.
Among the familiar “Harachaman” recitations is one that is dependant on one’s circumstance. For example, in the event that one has eaten in one’s own home, one requests that God bless “Me, my wife, and all that is mine”. If one is eating at their parents’ home, one requests that God bless “My father, my teacher, master of this house, and my mother, my teacher, master of this house.” Finally, when one is a guest having eaten in the home of another, one is to recite a prayer that God bless “The master of this house and his wife and all that is his.” It is appropriate to answer “Amen” to the “Harachaman” insertions of others.
There are those who have the custom to recite the Harachaman prayer for their parents at all times, even when having eaten in their own home, and even when at the home of another. What is even more significant however, is that there also exists a custom to recite the Harachaman for one’s parents even when they are no longer alive!
Among the rationalizations for this seemingly odd custom – to pray that God bless one’s parents even when they are no longer alive – is that doing so actually serves as an expression of kibbud av v’em, a mitzva which continues to apply even after the passing of one’s parents. Indeed, we are taught that even the deceased welcome any and all blessings recited for their souls.
Others point to the Chassidic teaching that the liturgical arrangement of these “Harachamans” is actually a mystically designed formula whereby each of these brief prayers corresponds to one of the Ten Sefirot, the ten mystical attributes of God. According to this approach, although the prayer for one’s parents is meant to be understood as it is written, namely, that God indeed bless our parents, there is an esoteric meaning to this prayer, as well. The terms “mother” and “father” also serve to refer to the kabbalistic concepts of “Chochma” and “Bina” and hence, according to this approach, should never be omitted from the Birkat Hamazon.
It is interesting to note that there are authorities who suggest that the practice of reciting “Harachaman” for one’s parents even after their passing is a foolish custom that originated for no reason other than out of ignorance and an inability to change one’s routine. Those who do not recite the “Harachaman” insertions in Birkat Hamazon should still recite one for one’s host, as well as the verse “Oseh Shalom”.
 The first blessing was instituted by Moshe as an appreciation for the Manna. The second was instituted by Yehoshua upon entry to the Land of Israel. The third blessing was instituted by David and Shlomo. The fourth blessing was instituted by Rabbi Gamliel when the martyrs of Beitar were finally brought for burial and their bodies had not decayed.
 Piskei Teshuvot 189:2
 Chafetz Chaim Al Hatorah, Ki Tavo, Rabbeinu Bechaye Shemot 19:3
 It is interesting to note that there are those who are opposed to inserting titles and accolades when mentioning others in prayer. Sefer Chassidim 800, Birkei Yosef Y.D. 240:4 cited in
 Though see O.C. 201:1 for a more elaborate blessing a guest should consider reciting for his host.
 Mishna Berura 189:5
 Sefer Minhagim Chabad p.22
 Kiddushin 31b
 Darkei Chaim V’shalom 308 cited in Minhag Yisrael Torah 240:18
 Beit Yosef Y.D. 376, cited in Chokrei Minhagim by Rabbi Yochanan Gourari
 Igrot Kodesh of the Rebbe Rayatz Vol. 1 p.202
 Kitzur Shela on Birkat Hamazon, and Beit Shlomo 100, both cited in Minhag Yisrael Torah 240:18
 There are communities today that conclude the Birkat Hamazon after the fourth blessing, as was the reported practice of the Vilna Gaon. This custom is of questionable authenticity. While there is documentation to support the theory that the Vilna Gaon did not recite the Harachamans on Shabbat, there does not seem to be anything to suggest that he omitted them during the week, as well.
 Teshuvot V’hanhagot 2:122
 Piskei Teshuvot 189:2