“For three years the fruit shall be Orlah, and may not be eaten. In the fourth year, all of the fruit shall be holy, for praising God.” (Lev. 19:23-4)
The Talmud in Berachot 35a quotes this verse as the source for reciting a blessing (berachah) over food: “'Holy, for praising God.’ This teaches that [fruit and other foods] require a blessing before and after eating.”
The key word, Rav Kook noted, is kodesh — holiness. Even when we eat, even when we partake of worldly pleasures, we should be able to uncover holiness.
Holiness from physical pleasure?! How is that possible?
What is a berachah? When we recite a blessing, we are expressing our awareness that God is the ultimate Source for this pleasure. But there is an enjoyment greater than the sensory pleasure that comes from eating food. Eating entitles us to recite a blessing - and thus connect with our Creator. We experience an inner joy when we realize that every form of physical pleasure was created with the opportunity to refine the spirit and uplift the soul.
A blessing over food is not just a way to express our gratitude for the physical pleasure we are about to enjoy. Each blessing should make us aware of a far greater gift: that even material pleasures can be a source of holiness.
In this manner, the fruit we eat becomes “holy, for praising God.”
(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 171)