A Jew who comes on aliyah to Israel today has all kinds of organizations to assist him. There is Nefesh B’Nefesh, the Jewish Agency, Tehilla, and groups such as Americans and Canadians in Israel, the British Olim Society, and the like. Plus the Government of Israel offers tax breaks, subsidies, and other incentives. But the main help, of course, comes from God, as He promises in this week’s Torah portion:
“For the Lord thy God brings thee into a good Land, a Land of water courses, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a Land of wheat, and barley, and vineyards, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a Land of olive oil, and honey; a Land where thou shall eat bread without scarceness, thou shall not lack anything in it” (Devarim, 8:7-9).
No organization can give you a better guarantee then that!
The verse which follows immediately after this Divine insurance policy is one of the 613 commandments of the Torah:
“When thou hast eaten and are satisfied, then thou shall bless the Lord thy God for the good Land that he has given thee” (Devarim, 8:10).
This is what is called the “Birchat HaMazone,” the Blessing after Meals. After finishing a meal in which we ate bread, we are to thank God for the food and for the Land which He has given us, as we say, “Blessed are Thou, O Lord, for the Land and the sustenance.”
Thus, if we live in Paris, we say, “Blessed are Thou for the land of France and the sustenance.”
If we live in Beverly Hills, we say, “Blessed are Thou for the land of America and the sustenance.”
Or if we are in Toronto we say, “Blessed are Thou for the land of Canada and the sustenance.”
Wait a minute! That isn’t right. Wherever we are on the globe, we say, “Blessed are thou, O Lord, for the Land and the sustenance,” where the meaning of “the Land” is the Land of Israel.
Even if a Jewish astronaut were to eat a pastrami sandwich on the moon, or on Mars, he would still thank God for the pastrami sandwich and the Land of Israel.
How can it be that a Jew on the moon, or in a bagel café in Beverly Hills, or in some expensive kosher restaurant in Paris, should thank God for Land of Israel? What’s the connection between the Land of Israel and a bagel or a baguette? We can readily understand why a Jew living in Israel would be called upon to thank God for the Land of Israel, since he is living there. But why should a Jew in California or France or Canada thank God for the Land of Israel after he eats? That, my dear friends, is the question.
There are several facets to the answer. First, we thank God for the Land of Israel because a Jew is supposed to be living in the Land of Israel, and not in France or Canada. The sad fact that there are Jews living outside of the Land is in punishment for the sins of our past. When we were cast into exile a long time ago, our Rabbis decreed that we should continue to practice the mitzvot, even though God gave them to us to observe them in Eretz Yisrael. This was in order to make sure that we wouldn’t forget how to do them during our long absence from our Land, as Rashi teaches in this week’s Torah portion: “Even though I am exiling you from Eretz Yisrael to outside of the Land, distinguish yourselves with the commandments, so that when you return, they will not seem new in your eyes (Rashi, Devarim, 11:18; Sifre, Ekev, 11:18. See also Ramban on the Torah, there). Rashi explains with a parable: “This is like a king who became angry at his wife and sent her back to her father’s house. He said to her, ‘Wear your jewelry so it won’t seem new to you when you return to the palace.’ Thus the Blessed One Holy Be He says to Israel, ‘My sons, distinguish yourselves with the precepts so that when you return, they won’t be new to you.’ This is what the prophet, Jeremiah, meant when he said, ‘Set up way marks for yourself, make yourself signposts” (Jeremiah, 31:20). These are the mitzvot which the People of Israel are commanded to do” (Rashi, loc cited).
Included in the mitzvot that we are to do wherever we are on the globe is the mitzvah of the “Grace after Meals.” Even though we have been temporarily uprooted from our home in Israel, we are to continue to thank God for the food and for the Land of Israel, the one and only place that we are really supposed to live.
A further reason why we thank God for Eretz Yisrael and not America is because the commandment states, “When thou hast eaten and are satisfied, then thou shall bless the Lord thy God for the good Land that he has given thee” (Devarim, 8:10). God didn’t give the Jews the land of America. God gave it to the Indians until the Americans came and slaughtered them all.
The other reason why we continue to thank God for the Land of Israel is to ingrain in our psyche the centrality of the Land of Israel to the Torah and to Jewish life. Every time that we eat a meal, we are to repeat this understanding until it becomes like a mantra, implanting in our brains the eternal recognition that our one and only homeland, the place where we are to live our lives, and practice our Judaism, is Eretz Yisrael, the source of our physical and spiritual sustenance – and not France, Canada, or upon the unholy banks of Brooklyn.
Today, when the decree of exile has lifted, and every Jew can simply hop on an airplane and come back home to Israel within a few hours, our days of schizophrenia are over. Finally, a Jew can eat his meal and fulfill the mitzvah in its intended wholeness, so that when he says the grace after meals, he can say it where it was meant to be said.
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Jewish Press
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