Yerushalayim and the Sequence of Birkat HaMazon
Our parsha stirringly describes the beauty and resources of the Land of Israel, emphasizing that the Jewish people must properly thank God for granting them the Land and its bounty: “And you will eat and be sated, and you shall bless the Lord, your God, for the good land He has given you.” In our parlance, this is known as Birkat HaMazon or the Grace After Meals.
The Talmud explains that the blessing expanded with time. Initially, when the Man fell, Moshe formulated the first blessing, praising God for sustenance. Then, when the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel, Yehoshua added the second blessing regarding the Land of Israel. Finally, Dovid and Shlomo added the blessing about Yerushalayim and the Beit HaMikdash.
This sequence is intriguing. What is the meaning of this order of going from sustenance to the Land of Israel to Yerushalayim. Also, while the food and the Land are mentioned in the verse, there is no mention of Yerushalayim. In what way is that blessing relevant for thanking God for the food and the Land?
Rav Kook explains that the blessings go from thanking God for the most basic levels of survival an sustenance to broader and more spiritual heights. The first blessing focuses on the sustenance of each individual person. The Manna fell in an individualized fashion for each person as much as was necessary for him and his family.
Then, we transition from the individual to the nation as a whole. The Land of Israel is a gift from God to the nation as a whole and it is there that we can survive and eventually thrive as a nation. But this blessing thanks God for the material aspects of the nation: the Jewish people dwelling in their land with peace, security, and a robust economy.
While thanking God for the physical sustenance of the individual and the nation are necessary and important, they do not capture the true essence of the Jewish people. The ultimate telos of the Jeiwsh people is to be spiritually unified and spiritually thriving. Therefore, Dovid and Shlomo added the blessing regarding Yerushalayim and the Beit HaMikdash. These places bind the Jewish people by reminding them of their shared spiritual values and mission. In addition, the presence of the Shechina in the holy city makes all Jews feel connected to God and to each other. It was for this reason that Dovid and Shlomo felt that a blessing over Yerushalayim would be an appropriate continuation of Birkat HaMazon.
This idea from Rav Kook is both powerful and practical. Each time we eat, we have the ability to remind ourselves of our national spiritual mission and how Yerushalayim is central to it!