Sizing up Israel

Rav Yosef Tabori, 2003

Parashat Ekev includes the obligation: “When you have eaten your fill, bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you” (Devarim 8:10).  The simple meaning of this verse is that we are obligated to bless God after meals as an expression of our gratitude not for the food but rather for the land.  This idea is strengthened by the context of the verse, for two verses earlier, the Torah lists the seven species of fruits and grains for which the Land of Israel is noted.  And, indeed, Rabban Gamliel ruled that the blessing after food is recited after eating any of these seven species.

According to Rabbinic tradition, however, the blessing mentioned here is an expression of our thanksgiving for the food we have eaten, and should therefore be recited after a regular meal marked by the eating of bread.  Birkat Hamazon is comprised of four blessings.  The first blessing does in fact give expression to our feelings of thanksgiving for our daily bread.  In the second blessing, however, we give thanks for the gift of the Land of Israel.  This blessing contains a phrase that stresses the value of the land of Israel.  We thank God for having given us “a land that is desirable, good and vast”.  This is certainly surprising, for nowhere do we find a description of the land of Israel that would justify calling it “a vast land.”

I once heard an explanation of this difficulty offered by Rabbi Robman, the founder of the Tiferet Hakarmel Yeshiva in Haifa.  He pointed out that valuable things are measured in small units.  If someone would tell us that he saw a diamond of two meters, we would immediately know that he is lying, for diamonds are measured not in meters but in carats.  An ordinary stone of two meters, however, is possible, and not even particularly remarkable.  Since the Land of Israel is such a desirable land, it too should be measured not in kilometers, but in carats.  In terms of carats, the land of Israel is an enormous land.

May God give us the wisdom and vision to know how to measure the land that He has given us.