In this Torah Lesson, we shall expand upon the merit of the fruits of Eretz Yisrael, which is prominent in the “Al hamicḥya” (“על המחיה”) blessing, (similar to the “Triple Blessings” of ברכת המזון, the Grace After Meals), which is recited after eating fruit and includes the words “והעלנו לתוכה ונאכל מפריה” (“And may You bring us back there … eating from its fruit …”).
Eretz Yisrael is praised for many attributes, one of the most prominent of which is the food which the Land– “ארץ זבת חלב ודבש דגן תירוש ויצהר” (a Land flowing milk and honey and of grain wine and oil) – brings forth. The physical benefits from this variety of crops are dependent upon numerous halachic requirements: the Sabbatical year (Shemitah), the tithes (Ma’asrot), the portion given to the Kohanim (Terumah), the prohibition of eating new grain (Cḥadash), separating cḥalla, and others. What is it that makes the produce of Eretz Yisrael so great?
Tur [Oraḥ Ḥayyim 208] cites the version of the “Al hamicḥya” blessing: “May we eat of its fruit, satisfied by its goodness” and writes:
” ואין לאומרו, שאין לחמוד הארץ בשביל פירות וטובה, אלא לקיים מצוות התלויות בה”
This version should not be said, since it is inappropriate to desire the Land for its good fruit, but rather to fulfill the mitzvot which depend upon her.
Tur’s comment seemingly contradicts the assumption that the fruit of the Land is endowed with a special sanctity.
Yet apparently there is Gemara (Talmudic) support for Tur’s position. In analyzing Moshes’ desire to enter Eretz Israel, the Gemara Sota 14a quotes Rabbi Simlai:
“דרש רבי שמלאי: מפני מה נתאוה משה רבינו ליכנס לא”י? וכי לאכול מפריה הוא צריך? או לשבוע מטובה הוא צריך? אלא כך אמר משה: הרבה מצות נצטוו ישראל ואין מתקיימין אלא בא”י, אכנס אני לארץ כדי שיתקיימו כולן על ידי וגו’..”
Why did Moshe our teacher yearn to enter Eretz Yisrael? Did he need to eat of its fruits or satisfy himself from its bounty? Rather, Moshe said: “Many mitzvot were commanded to Am Israel which can be fulfilled only in Eretz Yisrael. I wish to enter the Land so that they may all be fulfilled by me.”
Rabbi Simlai asks “Did Moshe need to eat of its fruits?” is this Moshes’ motivation to plead with God that he be allowed to enter the Land? The clear implication is that it is inconceivable that this would be Moses’ reason to desire to enter the Land, and therefore Rabbi Simlai concludes that Moshe was motivated by the desire to fulfill those mitzvot which cannot be fulfilled outside the Land.
Tur’s approach is identical to that of Rabbi Simlai: it is not the actual fruit that we desire, rather fulfilling the mitzvot which are connected to the fruit of the Land.
Rabbi Simlai’s exposition and Tur’s position strengthen the question: what is so special about the fruit of the Land?
Bacḥ’s Answer to Tur’s Position
The main counterpoint to Tur’s argument is presented by Bacḥ:
(Tur’s position is) astonishing (since) the sanctity of the Land is influenced by the sanctity of the “Upper (heavenly) Land.” The fruit of the Land of Israel draws nurture from the sanctity of the Shechina (Divine Presence) which resides within the Land. Thus the Torah warns “And you shall not defile the Land where you reside, in which I dwell.” [Bamidbar (Numbers) 35:34] The posuk (verse) teaches that defiling the Land defiles the fruit which is nourished by her and drives the Shechina out of the Land “In which I dwell” – literally in the physical soil. The Shechina is driven out of the Land by being defiled, and it follows that God removes His Shechina from within the Children of Israel, who until now were the היכל ה’ (“Temple of the Lord”), since the Shechina rested within them. Now that they eat fruit which was nurtured by the impurity of the Land, the Shechina departs since the impurity enters the Children of Israel when they eat the defiled fruit, and necessarily, sanctity is driven out of them. Therefore, it is fully appropriate to include in this blessing the phrase “that they might eat of its fruits and be satisfied with its goodness,” for in eating the fruit of the Land we are nurtured from the holiness of the Shechina and its purity and are “satisfied with its goodness.”
The Bacḥ explains that the fruit of the Land is imbued with the Land’s sanctity. Fruit which is nourished by the holy soil of the Land takes on the sanctity of the Land and of the Shechina, which penetrate into them. Thus, one who eats of these fruits is also influenced by the sanctity of the Land. Therefore, the expression of the desire to eat of the fruit and to be satisfied by the goodness of the Land is appropriate to the blessing. Eating the fruits of the Land is not a matter merely of tangible benefit, but of spiritual benefit which elevates the tangible aspect. The holy fruit of the Land nourish the Nation of Israel with the sanctity of the Shechina and the purity of the Land of Israel and thereby elevate the Israelite who eats them.
The Gemara’s comment about Moshe – “Did he need to eat the fruit of the Land” – remains unclear. Given the great merit of the Land, why is it so surprising that Moses would want to partake of its holy fruit? As noted, Rabbi Simlai’s comment seems to provide clear support for Tur’s position. This question must be addressed.
The point was raised by Eliya Rabba, who writes:
Perhaps Moshe is unique since the Shechina was constantly with him, even if he did not eat the fruits of the Land, as Rashi notes [Bamidbar 12:4]. Thus the Gemara is exact when it asks “Did Moses need to eat the fruit of the Land?” That is, specifically (and exclusively) Moshe had no such need.
Eliya Rabba explains that Rabbi Simlai understood the merit of eating the fruit of the Land, but for someone on Moshes’ spiritual level, there was no need to partake of the fruit of the Land; but for all other Israelites, eating the fruit of the Land is indeed a sublime merit.
This explanation can be inferred from the Gemara’s choice of words “Did Moshe need …” It was Moshe who had no need to eat the fruit of the Land, but all other Israelites do have this need.
We may suggest an alternate resolution of the difficulty. Compared to manna, which the Israelites ate in the wilderness, and which is called “Bread of the mighty,” [Tehillim (Psalms) 78:25] Divine food which descended directly from heaven, the fruits of Eretz Yisrael are on a lower level. Thus Rabbi Simlai wonders how it is possible that Moshe yearned to eat the fruit of the Land, when he had manna, which is on a higher level. This would be true for the rest of Israel as well, but for Moshe, on his lofty spiritual level, the astonishment is greater.
The story is told of one of the great rabbis who while outside Eretz Yisrael went to a store and saw fruit on display. The rabbi decided to buy some fruit, but then began to consider the various halachic issues: “have the tithes been taken?” – One is not obligated to tithe the fruit grown outside Eretz Yisrael; “Is there a problem of orla?” – This too does not apply abroad; “The Sabbatical year?” – This too is not relevant outside the Land. After considering all the laws that apply to produce of the Land, which might prevent his eating the fruit, the rabbi concluded “There is no halachic problem, but for that reason there is nothing in these fruits, they are totally devoid of content, unlike the fruit of our holy Land, which are full of details which convey their exalted status.”
In this article we expanded upon on the merit of the fruits of the Land of Israel. We inquired about the nature of the merit of the fruits of the Land and dealt with the statement of the “Al hamicḥya” blessing which expresses Israel’s yearning to return to the Land and eat of its fruit – “May we eat of its fruit, satisfied by its goodness.” We clarified why the desire to eat of the fruit is valid, since partaking of the fruit of the Land allows one to rise to higher levels of sanctity and purity. We also explained that Moshe, on his lofty level, did not require eating the fruit of the Land in order to ascend spiritually and therefore the Gemara expressed astonishment at the possibility that eating the fruit of the Land motivated Moshes’ desire to enter the Land. However, for us, lesser people, eating the fruit of the Land indeed raises us higher and higher.
 הב”ח: “תימה הלא קדושת הארץ הנשפעת בה מקדושת הארץ העליונה היא נשפעת גם בפירותיה שיונקים מקדושת השכינה השוכנת בקרב הארץ כי על כן הזהיר ואמר בסוף פרשת מסעי (במדבר לה לד) ולא תטמא את הארץ אשר אתם יושבים בה אשר אני שוכן בתוכה כי אני ה’ שוכן בתוך בני ישראל ואמר אם תטמאו את הארץ נמשכת הטומאה גם בפירותיה היונקים ממנה וכבר נסתלקה השכינה מקרב הארץ אשר אני שוכן בתוכה ממש בגוף הארץ נסתלקה מפני הטומאה שטימאתם אותה ונמשך מזה כי גם כן אנכי מסלק שכינתי מתוך בני ישראל כי עד עתה היכל ה’ המה היו בני ישראל לפי שהשכינה היתה שורה בקרבם ממש ועתה באכלם פירות היונקים מטומאת הארץ נסתלקה השכינה כי כשהטומאה נכנסת עם אכילת פירות בתוך בני ישראל יוצאת כנגדה הקדושה מקרב ישראל ועל כן ניחא שאנו מכניסין בברכה זו ונאכל מפריה ונשבע מטובה כי באכילת פירותיה אנו ניזונים מקדושת השכינה ומטהרתה ונשבע מטובתה“