“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good Land, a Land with streams of water, springs, and deep water sources, flowing in both valleys and hills; a Land of wheat, barley, vines, figs, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey; a Land where you will eat food without shortage, where you will lack nothing; a Land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you will mine copper. And you will eat and be sated, and you shall bless the Lord, your God, for the good Land He has given you.”
And You Will Eat and be Sated
On the simple level (p’shat), the pesukim (verses) above, in which Moshe describes the Land to the people of Israel, describe the Land’s physical qualities, her water sources, her good fruit and natural resources. However, upon deeper reflection, we can note that the material abundance of the Land differs from that of all other lands.
Bacḥ (Rabbi Yoel Sirkis [1561 – 1640]) writes that the fruit of Eretz Yisrael is not ordinary fruit. Our posuk praises not only the physical aspect of the Land’s fruit, but conveys spiritual praise as well. The prayer that we “may eat of her fruit and be satiated by her goodness” (the al hamicḥya blessing) indicates that “in eating the fruit of the Land, we are nourished by the sanctity and purity of the Shechina.” Eating the fruit of the Land not only satiates one, but also elevates the eater spiritually and brings him closer to God.
According to Bacḥ, when the Torah states “And you will eat and be sated, and you shall bless the Lord, your God, for the good Land He has given you,” the intention is not merely to thank God for our satiation, but to thank Him also for the fact that eating the fruit of the Land brings us closer to Him.
The Air of Eretz Yisrael
In truth, from the moment of entry into the Land, even before partaking of her fruit, one becomes more spiritual. The Gemara [Bava Batra 158b] states that the air of Eretz Yisrael conveys wisdom, thus, merely being in the Land and breathing her air makes one wiser and more spiritual. We do not always feel the influence of the air of the Land, but there are ẓadikim whose lives are so spiritual that they indeed felt this influence. Rabbi Yosef Badicḥi relates that he was once travelling in a cab with Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt”l on a chilly Jerusalem evening, and suggested to Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt”l that he close the window. Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt”l replied that since the air of Eretz Yisrael conveys wisdom, he wants to be able inhale the air, and therefore leaves the window open. In a similar way, Chatam Sofer ended one of his responsa, which was sent to questioners in Eretz Yisrael, with the comment that he is certain that when his answer reaches the Land, it will ascend a level due to having been exposed to the enlightening air of Eretz Yisrael.
“Take Some of the Choice Products (zimrat) of the Land”
It is not only the fruit and the air of Eretz Yisrael which are spiritual, but its music as well. When Ya’akov sent his sons back to Egypt, he instructed them to “take some of the choice products (zimrat) of the Land.” [Bereishit 43:11] While the simple meaning clearly is to take some of the Land’s produce as a gift for the Egyptian viceroy (the word “zimrat” means that which is cut or harvested), Rashi explains differently, relating the word to “zemer,” song or praise – “about which everyone sings.” Both according to the simple meaning and according to Rashi, the reference is to the praiseworthy fruit of Eretz Yisrael.
Rebbe Nacḥman of Breslov, takes things a step further and explains “zimrat haAretz” to refer to the songs of the Land (I heard from the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Ya’akov Shapira, that a similar comment is attributed to the Kotzker Rebbe). Ya’akov Avinu’s instructions were “take the songs of the Land with you, they may influence the viceroy.” The songs which come from Eretz Yisrael, says Rebbe Nacḥman, elevate the human soul.
Based on the Bacḥ’s comment, we may suggest that Rashi’s comment is close to that of Rebbe Nacḥman, Ya’akov’s intention was to influence the viceroy through the spiritual dimension of the Land which is manifest in her fruit. By eating the fruit of the Land, the viceroy would become a better person, and behave more favorably towards Ya’akov’s sons.
Thus, we see that the material abundance of Eretz Yisrael has a direct impact on spiritual status. When a person is within Israel, breathing her air, eating her fruit and listening to her tunes, he becomes a better person. Beyond this, even if one has not been privileged to reach the Land, receiving her fruit or her songs also conveys the influence of the Land’s unique traits.
Comparison of the Abundance of the Land to that Outside Her
Unfortunately, all too often we hear the claim that life outside Israel presents greater material abundance and therefore it is worthwhile to live abroad. The problem with this claim is the failure to understand that it is not possible to quantify the material abundance of Eretz Yisrael or to argue that it is better or worse than that outside the Land, since the material dimension within the Land includes a spiritual reality. This comparison would be the equivalent of comparing the qualities of motorcycles and books. It is perfectly clear that the criteria for assessing a motorcycle is its speed, engine size, durability, etc., while the primary factor for assessing a book is its content. Based on what we have presented, the fruit of the Land is not the sum of its physical components, but incorporates a superior and sublime reality. Fruit grown abroad, however good it is, is nothing more than fruit, and therefore cannot be compared to the fruit of the Land.
Israel’s Economy in our Times
The above comments are true not only for fruit. When Israel first entered its Land, the economy was predominantly agricultural; therefore, the Torah makes it clear that the agriculture of Eretz Yisrael is unique, incorporating a spiritual aspect. Clearly, in our days, when Israel’s economy includes numerous areas beyond agriculture, the Torah’s blessings apply to all of these areas. When an Israeli computer programmer develops a program, which advances the world or when an Israeli researcher creates a new medicine, and the like, they do not simply advance their particular field; much more than that, they contribute to the advancement of Israel’s economy. As we have explained, the material and economic status of Eretz Yisrael conveys a spiritual influence on those who live in the Land, and through them, outside Israel as well. It is not only the fruit of Israel’s trees which carry spiritual blessings, but also the fruit of the work of researchers and engineers and the fruit of manual laborers convey spiritual blessings.
Thank God, in our generation we are privileged to live in Eretz Yisrael, to eat of her fruit and be satiated by her spiritual goodness – and thereby to bless God for the good Land He has given us.