If you received even a nominal Jewish education at day school, summer camp or home, you know that Judaism promotes a habitude of gratitude. When we awaken in the morning, we express words of gratitude, before and after we eat, once again gratitude. Before we go to sleep, some more gratitude.

I am talking about the prayers that we directJudaism promotes a habitude of gratitude to G‑d upon waking, sleeping or eating. Whether you call it Birkat, Bentching, or Grace After Meals, most children and many adults enjoy reciting or singing the blessing after a meal. It has a catchy tune, and a Jewish education has usually taught us either the words or a rather passable approximation.

I want to focus on one of the catchiest parts of the tune; a line that rouses even the recalcitrant: “Ka’akatuv, ‘V’a-chalta, v’sa-vata, u-ve-rachta et Ado-nai, Elo-he-cha, al ha’a-retz ha-tovah asher natan lach.’”1 If you aren’t familiar with these words, read them slowly. The tune will probably start playing in your head before you get through the line.

Try it. Was I right?

Here is what the words mean: “As it is written, ‘And you will eat and be sated, and you shall bless the L‑rd, your G‑d, for the good land that He has given you.’”

It all makes sense until you get to the end. You shall eat. Absolutely. And be sated. Works for me. And you shall bless the L‑rd, your G‑d. Totally. For the good land. Huh? Shouldn’t we bless G‑d for the food?

Some explain that there are two layers of blessing here, one for the land, the other for the food.2 Others point out that since the food comes from the land, it is proper to thank G‑d for the land from which we derived our food.3 But these answers are problematic. Why do I thank G‑d for Israel when I eat outside of Israel, or food that was grown outside of Israel? This makes little sense!

Gratitude for the Small Stuff

We might be accustomed to thanking G‑d for the larger miracles. Smite Egypt, split the sea, rain manna from heaven and shatter the walls of Jericho while handing me a land flowing with milk and honey—I am all Yours; in awe of Your might and grateful for Your interest in me.

But make the sun rise, the breeze blow, the river flow and the flower grow, and I take it all in stride. I enjoy the beauty of nature, but I don’t think much of G‑d. Give me a loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese and a mug of coffee, and I kiss the chef. I don’t think much of G‑d. Yet, a flow of creative energy descended from on high, entered the soil, provided nutrients that prodded a seed to sprout into a stalk, from which came the grain that was ground into flour and baked into bread. Is that not a miracle?

The cheese came from a cow that was conceived, carried and born quite naturally, with no effort on my part. I didn’t create its anatomy, yet it generates milk in abundance. Is that not a miracle? Every day, G‑d provides; every meal, G‑d creates. And all I do is pat my tummy and thank the chef. What about G‑d? Oh, G‑d is thanked for the big stuff. This is just small potatoes.

Ah, but potatoes are miracles too. That is whyPotatoes are miracles too G‑d directed us to thank Him for the land after we eat. The food that we ate is a miracle on par with the land that we received.

Joshua, who composed part of the blessing,4 is saying: I was in awe when I crossed the Jordan and entered this amazing land. And I tell you here and now: the gratitude felt when entering Israel is what you should feel each time you fill your stomach with G‑d’s bounty.

When Rabban Chaninah Ben Dosah, who was as poor as he was saintly, was told that there was no oil in the house for lighting Shabbat candles, he told his wife that she could fill her lamps with vinegar. “He who said that oil shall light will say that vinegar shall light.”5 To our sages, finding combustive properties in oil was no less astounding than finding it in vinegar. Oil light isn’t natural. It is a miracle. If G‑d can perform a miracle with oil, He can perform it with vinegar.

If you think oil light is natural, then vinegar light is astounding. If you think oil light is a miracle, then vinegar light is not so astounding.

Centrality of Israel

There is another important lesson. We asked why we thank G‑d for Israel when we eat food grown outside of Israel. The question itself illustrates the need for this blessing.

We assume that food grown in Israel is nurtured by Israel’s soil, and that food grown elsewhere is nurtured by the soil elsewhere. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every clod of earth, no matter where, receives its nurturing capacity from Israel.

Seeds don’t just sprout in soil. Sprouting is a process that requires the hand of G‑d. G‑d’s hand, so to speak, extends to every part of the world, but it originates in Israel. In the words of our sages, Israel is the center of the world, Jerusalem is the center of Israel, the Temple is the center of Jerusalem, the Sanctuary is the center of the Temple, the Ark is the center of the Sanctuary, and before it lies the foundational stone from which the world was founded. Our sages taught that G‑d created that stone first, and the planet expanded from there. As it turns out, the planet’s vitality is channeled through a little stone in Israel.

By thanking G‑d for the Land of Israel when we eat food from outside of Israel, we acknowledge Israel’s centrality. We recognize that the vitality and creative power flows from that stone (that still sits somewhere on the Temple Mount) to the entire world.

Solomon’s Garden

Our sages taught that King Solomon planted peppers in Israel. But Israel doesn’t have the right climate for peppers. How did Solomon manage it?

Our sages explained that if peppers growTheir growth ability comes from Israel anywhere in the world, their growth ability comes from Israel. Solomon, in his wisdom, was able to identify and locate the veins in the soil of Israel that carry the creative nutrients for peppers across the continental divides. Solomon planted his peppers on those veins in the soil, and at least in that location, one can grow peppers in Israel.

According to our sages, anything can grow in Israel if you know the correct location. If you can identify the soil that supports a particular plant, you can plant it in that vein and it will grow.

When we eat foods grown outside of Israel, we thank G‑d for Israel, because any plant in any country across the world receives its nutrients from veins in the soil that originate in Israel.6