Eikev

[based on a dvar torah given by Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz]

In this week’s parsha, we are taught about the the mitzvah that we have come to know as Birkas HaMazon. (see Devarim 8:10)
Also in this week’s parsha, the Medrash Rabba teaches about the bracha of Borei Nefashos. Logically, we would think that if the Midrash wanted to teach us about the bracha to be said after drinking liquids, it would do so in connection with the bracha said after bread.
Instead, the bracha of Borei Nefashos is taught in connection with the following, seemingly unrelated, psukim in Devarim 9:2-3:
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל אַתָּה עֹבֵר הַיּוֹם אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן לָבֹא לָרֶשֶׁת גּוֹיִם גְּדֹלִים וַעֲצֻמִים מִמֶּךָּ עָרִים גְּדֹלֹת וּבְצֻרֹת בַּשָּׁמָיִם
עַם-גָּדוֹל וָרָם בְּנֵי עֲנָקִים אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ וְאַתָּה שָׁמַעְתָּ מִי יִתְיַצֵּב לִפְנֵי בְּנֵי עֲנָק

Hear, O Israel:you are to pass over the Jordan this day, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to the heavens.
A people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard others: ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’

Says the Midrash on these psukim:
שמע ישראל אתה עובר היום את הירדן: הלכה אדם מישראל ששותה מים לצמאו אומר ברוך שהכל נהיה בדברו רבי טרפון אמר בורא נפשות רבות וחסרונם

The question is, how does Borei Nefashos relate to Bnei Yisrael’s commandment to enter the land and the tall task (no pun intended) of conquering a land with fortified cities and giants?

Rav Yosef Nechemia Kornitzer ztl (the last pre-war chief rabbi of Krakow) gives a beautiful answer, highlighting the importance of empathy, and the “blessing” of experiencing difficult times: He explains that many times we genuinely want to help another person, but we simply do not know how because we cannot truly relate to another’s situation. If we never struggled with a particular situation or issue, then it becomes difficult to help someone else through that problem.

The text of Borei Nefashos reads:

בורא נפשות רבות וחסרונן, על כל מה שבראת להחיות בהם נפש כל חי, ברוך חי העולמים …

Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates numerous living things with their deficiencies; for all that You have created with which to maintain the life of every being. Blessed is He, the life of the worlds.

We thank Hashem for the chesronos – that which we lack; it’s an odd thing to be thankful for, but we acknowledge that we have times when we feel that we’re uncomfortable or missing something.How does this relate to Eretz Yisrael and kivush Ha’Aretz?

The answer is that the difficulty of acquiring Eretz Yisrael teaches us about how we are to use challenges to help others in the future…
When we look at Eretz Yisrael, we see a place where we feel we belong; a land we ought to be able to call our very own because it was promised to our forefathers. In reality, just as it was in the time of Moshe Rabbeinu and now in our days, there are difficulties, yisurin and nisyonos standing in our way. These challenges are not merely punishments, but they also empower us for the future.
Wherever we find ourselves, we are bound to encounter individuals who have gone through difficult times, who feel they don’t belong, or who feel left out. As a result of us having that shared experience of coming to Eretz Yisrael under tough circumstances, we can use that 
chisaron to help others who are also having difficulty acquiring what they need or want.
Borei Nefashos is a truly unique bracha, in which we thank Hashem for the fact that sometimes we have to struggle, that then enables us to empathize and help our brothers and sisters in need.

Very often it’s difficult to see or accept this lesson while in the midst of a difficult challenge, but hopefully in hindsight we can see how experiencing a particular hardship empowered us to help others.

This idea reminded me of a Shabbos HaGadol drasha given a few years ago by Rav Moshe Weinberger shlita, in which he said that the “rechush gadol” – the “immense wealth” that Avraham’s descendants would carry out as they left Egypt, as promised by Hashem to Avraham — is our ability to have compassion toward others. Compassion is a key aspect of being a Jew. In fact, the direct commandment for this concept is (not coincidentally) found in this week’s parsha. Devarim 10:19:

וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
Love your stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Hashem made us go through the shibud of Mitzrayim (and all the challenges in the desert and of conquering the Land) so that for the rest of existence we would know compassion. Jews know what it feels like to be alone and downtrodden. It is our job now to treat others experiencing similar feeling with love and kindness.

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