Moshe lectures his people to obey Hashem’s commandments,
because they are for their benefit:
All the commandment that I command you today shall you observe
to do, so that you may live and multiply, and come and possess the land that
Hashem swore to your forefathers (Devarim 8:1)
Of course, Hashem has demonstrated through His Providence that
He takes care of the people of Israel:
You will recall all the way/road on which Hashem, your G-d, has
led you these forty years in the wilderness…(8:2).
But Hashem’s purpose was not only to provide material
sustenance; He wanted to teach them to rely on Him. His aim was to take former
slaves – people, entirely dependent on their human masters and transform them
into ennobled servants of Hashem. At times, Hashem’s method of education may
have seemed harsh:
…in order to afflict you, to test you, to know what is in your
heart, whether you will keep His commandments or not. And He deprived you, and
starved you, then He fed you the manna, which neither you nor your ancestors
knew; in order to make you know that it is not by bread alone that man lives:
rather, by all that comes forth from the mouth of Hashem does man live. Your
garment did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell, these forty years. And
know in your heart, that just as a man disciplines his son, so does Hashem, your
G-d, discipline you (verses 2-5).
This is “tough love”, which trains the people to appreciate all that Hashem does
and to be loyal to Him as a consequence:
You shall keep the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, to walk in
His ways and to revere Him (verse 6).
The opposite of slavish dependence on man, as occurred in Egypt, is not
independence, but rather a healthy reliance upon Hashem. It is this reliance
that the people will need to cultivate in the Land of Israel:
Because Hashem, your G-d, is bringing you to a good land, a land
of water brooks, springs and depths, that emerge both in the valley and in the
mountain; a land of wheat and barley, of vine, and fig, and pomegranate; a land
of oil-olives and honey; a land in which you will eat bread not in parsimony –
you will lack nothing in it a land whose very rocks are iron, and from whose
mountains you can quarry copper (verses 7-9).
This land is bountiful, but the people must work it in order for
it to produce, for which they need to be beholden to Hashem.
At this point, Moshe makes a statement which can be understood in two different
And you will eat and you will be satisfied, and you will bless
Hashem, your G-d, for the good land that He has given you (verse 10).
Ramban understands this as the culmination of all that has
“When you remember the slavery of Egypt and the deprivation of
the wilderness, and when you will then eat and be satiated in the good land, you
will bless Hashem for it.”
This verse is, according to Ramban, mainly a prediction of
future events. The blessing which you will then utter will come to your lips
naturally, if you but remember your past history with Hashem.
Ramban is well aware that this verse is the source for the mitzvah of Grace
after Meals (Birkat Ha-Mazon), which would translate the verse thus:
“And when you eat and are satisfied, you shall [i.e., you are
commanded to] bless…”
However, he insists that this reading is secondary.
Sforno, on the other hand, holds that the verse is primarily a commandment:
“And you shall bless Hashem your G-d So that you will remember that it is from
Him that you have these things.”
In a sense, Sforno reads this verse not as the conclusion of verses 1-9, but as
the reason for the verses that follow:
Beware lest you forget Hashem, your G-d, by not keeping His
commandments, His judgments, and His statutes, which I commanded you today; lest
you eat and are satisfied, and you build good houses and settle down, and your
cattle and flocks multiply, and silver and gold are multiplied for you, and all
that you have will increase. And then your heart will become haughty and you
will forget Hashem, your G-d… (verses 11-14)
In order to prevent this presumptuousness, the Torah commands us
to acknowledge our debt to Hashem’s goodness by reciting Birkat HaMazon.
Ramban and Sforno, it seems, have two different views of human nature. Ramban
maintains that as long as we are aware of what we have received at Hashem’s
hand, we will naturally express our gratitude. Sforno feels it is natural for
our own accomplishments to “go to our heads,” leading us to forget our
dependence on Hashem:
And you will say in your heart: “My Strength and the might of my
hand have made me all this wealth” (verse 17).
Therefore, the Torah commands us to recite the Birkat HaMazon.
As explained in Berachot (21a, 35a, 48b), Birkat HaMazon must include thanks for
our nourishment and for the land of Israel, including Jerusalem and the Temple.
This will prevent both ingratitude and complacency.
Insofar as human nature is concerned, both Ramban and Sforno are right. We can
become overly self-reliant, and we can become forgetful. But Birkat HaMazon,
when recited with thoughtfulness and sincerity, will serve as a reminder of what
we already know that Hashem gives us our very lives. With this in mind, our
natural goodness will express itself in gratitude to Him.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
Parshat 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 "Eretz chemdah, tovah
u'rchava - 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.
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320