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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Eikev 5772 "Thanks for Everything"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Rabbi Yehuda Halevi was born in Toledo, Spain in the latter part of the eleventh century. He learned Torah from some of the greatest scholars of his time, most notably Rabbi Yitzchak Alfasi, the Rif. A master of literary style in Hebrew and Arabic, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi was one of the greatest liturgical poets of all time.

He famously wrote, “My heart is in the east (i.e. Jerusalem) while I am in the farthest end of the west.” One of his most passionate passages is a kinah (lamentation) recited on Tisha B’av which begins, “ציון הלא תשאלי לשלום אסיריך O Zion, will you not inquire about the welfare of your imprisoned”. In it Rabbi Yehuda expresses his uncompromised love and yearning for Zion in passionate prose. He depicts his broken heart which mourns the loss of the glory that once was Jerusalem, “Who shall make me wings so that I might wander far away? I would cause my shattered heart to wander amidst your shattered ruins…” He describes the incredible merit of every parcel of its land, “A breath of life for our souls is the air of your land…” and he concludes with the hope for its restoration, “Fortunate is he who awaits, arrives, and witnesses the rising of your light when your dawn bursts forth over him…”

Rabbi Yehuda Halevi finally decided that he would himself undertake the arduous journey to travel and settle in the Holy Land. An ancient manuscript states that Rabbi Yehuda composed the aforementioned lamentation when he passed Damascus and was facing Zion. There is also a legend that when he reached Jerusalem he fell to the ground in ecstatic fulfillment of the verse, (Tehillim 102:15) “For your servant had cherished her stones and been gracious to her dust.” At that moment, while he lay on the ground kissing the ground, an Arab horseman saw him and trampled him to death. With his last breath he fulfilled his lifelong passion to glimpse and touch G-d’s Holy Land.

Moshe Rabbeinu described the greatness of Eretz Yisroel by noting its merit and perfection. (8:7-10) “For Hashem, your G-d, is bringing you to 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 bread without poverty – (lo sechsar kol bah) you will lack nothing there; a Land whose stones are iron and from whose mountains you will mine copper. When you have eaten and are satisfied, you will bless Hashem, your G-d for the good land that He has given you.”

The verses speak of the physical nourishment that the land will provide and the vitality that the nation would enjoy from consuming the produce of the land. However, it is peculiar that the Torah mentions the abundance of copper and iron in the middle of its discussion about the produce of the land. What does iron and copper have to do with bread and the seven species?

In Birkas Hamazon[1] the second blessing begins with a recounting of many of the wondrous events that transpired at the genesis of our history as a people. “Nodeh lecha- We give thanks to You Hashem, our G-d, for Your parceling out as a heritage to our fathers a Land which is desirable, good and spacious; for Your bringing us out, Hashem, our G-d, from the land of Egypt…for Your Torah…for the life, favor, and kindness…and for the provision of food…” The following paragraph continues, “V’al hakol- For everything Hashem, our G-d, we thank You and bless You…as it is written, “When you have eaten and you will be satisfied, you will bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good Land which he has given you. Blessed are You Hashem, for the land and for the food.”

Toward the end of the Shemoneh Esrei prayer[2] there is a somewhat similar expression of gratitude in the Modim prayer. “We are thankful to You Hashem…and recount Your praise for our lives which are committed into Your Hand…and for Your wonders and benefactions at all times…The Beneficent One – for Your compassion is never withheld, and the Merciful One for your kindliness never ceases; we have always placed our hope in You.” The next paragraph continues, “(V’al kulam) And for all of them, blessed and exalted be Your Name, our King, constantly, forever and ever…”

There is a notable discrepancy in the “follow-up paragraphs” of Birkas Hamazon and Shemoneh Esrei. In Shemoneh Esrei we list some of the things we are grateful to G-d for and then we continue that “For all of them” - i.e. for our lives, His goodness, and all of the goodness just mentioned - we are grateful to G-d. In Birkas Hamazon however, we list specific examples of His goodness that transpired during the burgeoning of our nationhood - i.e. the Promise that we would inherit the great Land, the exodus from Egypt, the covenant with our forefathers etc. We continue by expressing our gratitude for the Torah, food, and constant life. But the following paragraph does not continue, “For all of them”, but rather with a more general expression, “For everything”.

Why in Birkas Hamazon is our gratitude more general, “V’al hakol- For everything…we thank You and bless You”, while in Shemoneh Esrei it is endemic to the previously mentioned items?

It is well-known that a certain amount of mineral-intake is integral to our health. One who lacks necessary minerals will require supplements to boost his system.

Iron helps produce hemoglobin. Iron-deficiency can cause anemia, a disease causing paleness which stems from the blood’s lack of adequate healthy red blood cells which carry oxygen to the body tissues. The lack of oxygenated blood makes the body appear feeble and pale.

Copper is found in all body tissue. It helps the body produce collagen[3] and helps keep the Central Nervous System healthy. Copper deficiencies can also lead to a slew of health problems including anemia, skeletal defects, degeneration of the nervous system, pronounced cardiovascular lesions, and impaired immunity.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l explains that when the verse mentions the abundance of copper and iron in the land, it is not digressing. Rather, it is explaining the extent of the land’s greatness and how perfect its produce is. When the Torah states that it is a Land, “Where you will eat bread without poverty – you will lack nothing there”, it is referring to the bread itself. The bread will not lack anything in the sense that even the minerals and organic vitamins necessary for one’s health will be abundant and integrated within it. In other words, because it is, “A land whose stones are iron and from whose mountains you will mine copper”, therefore, “You will lack nothing there”.

When we recite the words, “V’al hakol- For everything…we thank You”, perhaps the word “hakol- everything” is a reference to the verse which states, “Eretz…asher lo sechsar kol bah- A land…you will lack nothing there[4]”. After listing the merit of the land, the exodus, the Torah, and the food which G-d grants us, we thank Him for “everything”, a reference to the verse which states that the land encompasses all possible blessing and has “everything” in it. In fact, the blessing continues with a quotation of the subsequent verse, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, you will bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land which He has given you.” When we eat and enjoy our bread the Torah exhorts us to bless Him and thank Him for the Land. Thus, when we speak of the greatness of the land we refer to its completion and perfection. This is alluded to in the opening two words, “V’al hakol- For everything”![5]

In our time, despite what we have accomplished and the unimaginable growth that we have attained, we must not forget that we are still in exile. Although Eretz Yisroel has once again become an oasis of physical beauty in a desert wasteland, the land possesses merely a shadow of the greatness, beauty, and pride that it once had and will once again have.

The prophet expresses this idea in his magnificent message to the nation at the conclusion of the haftorah: “Listen to me, O pursuers of righteousness, seekers of Hashem; look to the rock from which you were hewn, and the hollow of the pit from which you were dug. Look to Avrohom your forefather and to Sarah who bore you… For Hashem shall comfort Zion, He shall comfort all her ruins, He shall make her wilderness like Eden and her wasteland like a garden of Hashem; joy and gladness shall be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music.”

“My heart is in the east”

“For everything…we thank You and bless You”

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Please have in mind Chaim Yisroel Pinchos ben Shaindel and Nosson ben Miriam for a refuah shaleimah.

[1] Grace after Meals recited after one eats bread

[2] the Eighteen Benedictions recited thrice daily in our prayers

[3] a fibrous protein found in bones and cartilage

[4] literally- you will not lack everything there

[5] [Note: In the blessings recited following the recitation of the haftorah (reading from the prophets), the concluding blessing added on Shabbos and Yom Tov states, “For the Torah, for the Divine Service, for the Prophets, and for this…day which You gave us Hashem, our G-d…(V’al hakol) For everything Hashem, our G-d, we thank You and bless You…”

In tandem with the explanation we offered above, perhaps the words “v’al hakol” in these blessings refers to the first post-haftorah blessing which reads, “Blessed are You Hashem…the Al-mighty and Faithful One, Who says and does, Who speaks and fulfills, (sheKOL devarav emes vatzedek) For ALL his words are true and right.” When we thank Hashem for “Kol- everything”, perhaps it is a reference to the previously mentioned “Kol- everything”. It is an expression of gratitude that everything that He says (which is just and right), we thank Him and bless Him!]

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