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To dedicate this lesson

The Rambam, Rav Yisraeli, Bentching, and Aliya


Rabbi Daniel Mann

Av 19 5779
Yes, the title will make sense by the end of this discussion … and it will even be connected to the parasha. The Ramban famously explains why there is a mitzva from the Torah to acquire land and live in Eretz Yisrael. He does it in his work on the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvot, in noting mitzvot that the Rambam "forgot" to list. The big question is why the Rambam did not agree with the Ramban’s sources that there is such a mitzva. The Megillat Esther posited that the Rambam excluded it because it does not apply in all times due to "Satmar reasons." This is contradicted by many halachot in the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah that are predicated on there being a very positive matter (i.e., mitzva) to live in Eretz Yisrael in all generations.

Rav Yisraeli (Eretz Hemdah I:I:5) has a fascinating explanation – that the Rambam included the mitzva in another one, found in Parashat Eikev. The Torah speaks with great enthusiasm of the blessings of Eretz Yisrael – a land of wheat and dates, hills and wellsprings, copper and iron (Devarim 8:7-9). Then, it concludes: "You shall eat and be satiated, and you shall thank Hashem for the good Land that He gave you" (ibid. 10). This pasuk, of course, is the source for Birkat Hamazon (bentching).

Rav Yisraeli points out the obvious question: during Birkat Hamazon we thank Hashem for the food whether it was grown/raised in Eretz Yisrael or elsewhere, so what does it have to do with the Land? If one looks at the berachot of bentching, we see that the first beracha stresses our thanks to Hashem for the sustenance, whatever its source; the second beracha stresses the Land as a place from where the food classically comes; and the third beracha is focused on Yerushalayim and what makes it great (Mikdash, Davidic dynasty) (see Berachot 48b).

Rav Yisraeli views this mitzva as a mitzva of hakarat hatov for the two, only tangentially related things that are mentioned in this pasuk – food (from wherever) and Eretz Yisrael as a place to live. We show our gratitude for the food by reciting Birkat Hamazon. The way to show appreciation for the Land Hashem gave us is first and foremost by living there. Not living there is a way of making a joke of our claim of appreciation. (One could argue that you show appreciation for the food by eating it, but even those who do not appreciate Hashem’s bounty can eat quite well.) Therefore, says Rav Yisraeli, the mitzva of living in Eretz Yisrael does not need to be listed as a separate mitzva to be considered a mitzva from the Torah. It is subsumed under the mitzva to appreciate Eretz Yisrael.

One can ask several questions about whether this idea is THE explanation of the Rambam’s omission of this central mitzva (this is not my point). However, the ideas are a great opportunity to think about it while bentching. There is a special interaction between being thankful for the food and the Land (especially for those of us who merit eating the fruits of the Land while enjoying living here). Those who can make aliya and do not should consider the appropriate tension between being thankful for the present of the Land and not having serious aliya plans or at least hopes. I remember hearing Rav Druckman wonder out loud how fine Jews in galut can pray with apparent kavana for the ingathering of the exile and still not consider making aliya themselves. Some people may have answers; the best answer is … aliya.
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