During the next few weeks leading up to Israel's 60th Anniversary, I am interrupting the pattern of examining the vocabulary of the siddur to highlight aspects of our liturgy that emphasize our connection to the land. With so much misrepresentation being made about us, most especially these days by the United Methodist Church, I thought it would be valuable to illustrate for you how Israel has remained central to our aspirations from Biblical times to the present. No document is better suited than the prayer book to make the point. The selections are not in chronological order, but presented to make the point.
Here it is the earliest days of spring, and I have fresh grapes in my kitchen. It is sort of ridiculous to presume that I can have fresh grapes anywhere in North America at this time of year – the growing season is just beginning. I am sure they were flown in from Chile or Australia or somewhere that summer is beginning to wane.
We are raising a generation of children who may or may not be aware that trees and fields are necessary to the process. What pops into their mouths will not recall a certain kind of weather when they are older. They have no sense that there is such a thing as seasonal produce. And they may even believe that fresh fruit is in abundant supply in the back room of the local supermarket – not connected to the land from which it grows.
By contrast, the second brakha of Birkat HaMazon, Grace after Meals, affirms an extreme in the other direction. Torah declares that we should offer blessings to God when we have eaten and satisfied our hunger for the land we have been given. The "land" means the "Land," that is, the Land of Israel. Not everything we eat is produced in the Holy Land, but the words that emerge from our mouths are to declare that we are nourished by the Land of Israel as if our food all came from there.
A pious Jew will recite this blessing two or three times a day, affirming that Israel is a place of sustenance for us in a very literal sense. That affirmation itself would thus be made dozens of times a week, scores of times a month, hundreds of times a year. We are sustained by that knowledge and faith just as surely as we are sustained by the food the God provides from the good land. When I taste a falafel, an orange or a pita, it may make sense that I call to mind the meals I have enjoyed in Israel. Our connection to the land would have me recall Israel with macadamia nuts, guacamole and single-malt scotch as well.
When we offer the brakha "al ha'aretz v'al hamazon" we affirm that our hunger is satisfied not only by food, but by our connection to Israel.