Whether venting about a particularly frustrating encounter with some bureaucratic government office or recounting that time their taxi driver invited them for Shabbat dinner, it’s not uncommon for both tourists and people living here to finish a story with “Only in Israel!”
More often than not, people are sharing moments where – “by some crazy coincidence” – everything worked out the way it was meant to; they ran into the very person they were thinking of that morning in a crowded mall, they missed their bus only to be saved from a terrorist attack, or the person who returned their lost credit card turned out to be a long-lost relative. In short, these are moments in life where a person is plainly reminded that their Father in Heaven is guiding every moment of every day in a deeply personal way.
While, of course, the Master of the World runs the show in every place on earth, it is so much clearer in Eretz Yisrael. Parshat Eikev gives us some insight into this strange phenomenon. This week’s Parsha contains the biblical source for the requirement to recite Birkat Hamazon after eating bread – also known as benching:
“וְאָכַלְתָּ, וְשָׂבָעְתָּ–וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת-ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ, עַל-הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לָךְ.”
“And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you.” (Devarim 8:10)
According to our tradition, this blessing, the first of four recited throughout the text, was composed by Moshe Rabbeinu when God sent manna down from heaven to sustain Bnei Yisrael as they wandered through the desert. Known as the Blessing Over Food, this blessing is written about God – a third-person expression of gratitude for sustenance and the Land of Israel.
The second blessing, however, was written by Moshe’s successor, Yehoshua, the one who would lead Bnei Yisrael across the Jordan River into Eretz Yisrael. According to tradition, these words, referred to as the Blessing Over the Land, were written after Israel ate from the first harvest in the Holy Land:
“וְעַל הַכֹּל ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֲנַחְנוּ מוֹדִים לָךְ וּמְבָרְכִים אוֹתָךְ, יִתְבָּרַךְ שִׁמְךָ בְּפִי כָּל חַי תָּמִיד לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד…”
“For all this, O Lord our God, we thank and bless You, blessed be Your name by the mouth of all living continually and forever…”
In contrast to Moshe’s blessing, Yehoshua’s is written in the first-person – words of thanks sung directly to the Source of All Blessing.
Essentially, these nuances in benching confirm what so many of us feel intuitively. Even Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest prophet that ever lived, the man who spoke face-to-face with the Divine, spoke about God. His words reflect a level of distance – an old man standing on a mountaintop, yearning for the unattainable Promised Land. Upon stepping into the land, however, Yehoshua becomes the first to merit this personal, direct relationship with God.
In a nutshell, this is what the Holy Land is all about… it’s personal.