In the Best of Times, In the Worst of Times by Shlomo Klapper


Outlining the parameters for Birchat HaMazon, thanking Hashem for sustenance, the Torah writes, “VeAchalta VeSavata UVeirachta Et Hashem Elokecha,” “You shall eat, be satisfied, and bless Hashem, your God” (Devarim 8:10). Rav Avira (Berachot 20b) presented a homily either in the name of Rav Ami or Rav Asi, that the Angels asked Hashem why He favors Bnei Yisrael over the other nations; after all the Torah seems to prohibit taking bribes and unfairly favoring others! Hashem responded that Bnei Yisrael deserve this special treatment because they recite Birchat HaMazon on a KeZayit, an olive’s worth, while the Torah requires its recitation only when one is satiated and has presumably eaten more than a KeZayit. Why did this Chumra, stringency, and not the plethora of other Chumot stringencies Bnei Yisrael undertake, impress Hashem?

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik answered by analyzing the Pasuk’s context in Parashat Eikev.  Bnei Yisrael will live an unproblematic life in Eretz Yisrael, which is “Eretz Tovah Eretz Nachalei Mayim Ayanot UTehomot Yotze’im BaBikeah UVaHar Eretz Chittah USeorah VeGefen UTeeinah VeRimmon Eretz Zeit Shemen UDevash Eretz Asher Lo VeMiskeinut Tochal Bah Lechem Lo Techsar Kol Bah Eretz Asher Avnehah Varzel UMeuHarerehah Tachtzov Nechoshet,” “A good land, a land with streams of water, of springs and underground water coming forth in valley and mountain, a land of wheat, barley, grape, fig and pomegranate, a land of oil-olives and date-honey, a land where you will eat without poverty – you will lack nothing there” (8:7).  The commandment of Birchat HaMazon in the following Pasuk requires little compulsion under these ideal circumstances. But when a cold, shivering, impoverished Jew eats his meal of a hard, moldy KeZayit of bread, blessing Hashem is much more difficult; nevertheless, Jews recite Birchat HaMazon with full devotion.  When Bnei Yisrael bless Hashem for the little they have in hard situations, it justifies His favoritism.

The Eretz Yisrael described in the above Pesukim might resemble the modern Israel, a land carved out of harsh deserts and turned into a lush oasis in a hostile region (in regards to freedom and democracy as well as agriculture).  Almost two years after the disengagement from Gaza, construction of permanent housing has begun at only two of the twenty-six sites intended for nine thousand evacuees, sites designated months before the disengagement. The trailer parks now housing the evacuees will remain in use for at least five years, instead of the two years that the government intended. The resulting problems are legion: 1,450 former residents of Gush Katif are still unemployed, over five hundred families are in bad financial shape, and some even receive food packages and help from welfare agencies. Because of the rampant unemployment, many families are using their state compensation funds for daily subsistence instead of saving it for building a house. Only thirty three farmers out of four hundred have been given alternate lands, and of these, only a handful are back in real business due to major infrastructure hurdles such as erratic electricity, sewage, drainage, and the loss of their overseas markets, buyers and distributors. Despite the above sanguine façade of Israel, we must remember and aid those embattled Israelis find themselves in desperate situations and have not much to thank Hashem for.

Not Too Satisfied by Shmaya Krinsky

Following the Letter of the Law by Jesse Friedman