In this week's parasha, Parashat Eqeb, we see the following obligation:
"You will eat and you will be satisfied, and bless Hashem, your God, for the good land that He gave you." (Devarim 8:10)
The simple meaning of this verse is that we are obligated to bless God after meals as an expression of our gratitude not for the food but rather for the land. This idea is strengthened by the context of the verse, for two verses earlier, the Torah lists the seven species of fruits and grains for which the Land of Israel is praised. And, indeed, Rabban Gamliel ruled that the blessing after food is recited after eating any of these seven species.
According to Rabbinic tradition, however, the blessing mentioned here is an expression of our thanksgiving for the food we have eaten, and should therefore be recited after a regular meal marked by the eating of bread.
In the construction of the four blessings of Birkat Hamazon we see both elements. The first blessing does in fact give expression to our feelings of thanksgiving for our daily bread. In the second blessing, however, we give thanks for the gift of the Land of Israel. This blessing contains a phrase that stresses the value of the land of Israel. We thank God for having given us "Eres hemdah, tovah u'rhava - a land that is desirable, good and vast."
"Eres hemdah, tovah u'rhava - a land that is desirable, good and vast."
This verse in the blessing is certainly surprising, for nowhere do we find a description of the Land of Israel that would justify calling it "a vast land."
Our Rabbis explain that valuable things are measured in small units. If someone would tell us that he saw a diamond of two meters, we would immediately know that he is lying, for diamonds are measured not in meters but in carats. An ordinary stone of two meters, however, is possible, and not even particularly remarkable. Since the Land of Israel is such a desirable land, it too should be measured not in kilometers, but in carats. In terms of carats, the land of Israel is an enormous land.
And indeed, in the gemara Masechet Berachot, R. Avira taught that angels asked God how it is proper for Hashem to show favoritism to the Jewish people. Hashem replied, "Should I not show them favoritism? I have commanded them to recite Birkat Hamazon only if they are satisfied (savatah), but they have chosen to bless Me even if they eat only a piece of bread as small as the volume of an egg or even an olive."
As a nation, we are showed favoritism from Hashem due to our caring of the details of halacha. May God give us the wisdom and vision to know how to measure and appreciate the land that He has given us and the Torah we so cherish.