In honor of the season of Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim, it is appropriate to once again review the halakha’s of the blessing the Chazal fixed over the mitzvah of ‘yishuv ha’aretz‘ – the settling and redemption of the Land of Israel.
|Article by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed Shlitah|
Our Sages said: “On seeing the houses of Israel when inhabited, one says: ‘Baruch ata Hashem, Elokeinu Melech Ha’Olam, matziv gevul almana‘ (“Blessed be He who sets the boundary of the widow”) (Berachot 58b, S.A. 224:10). The intention of this blessing is to thank God for returning Israel to their land.
After transgressing God’s commandments, we were exiled from our land and ridiculed and scorned among the nations – akin to a widow, wandering around broken and lonely, without any prospect of returning to our borders and building our house; Hashem took pity on us, returned us to our land so as to build houses there, inhabiting them with serenity and confidence.
We began fulfilling the words of the prophet: “For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities. Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood” (Isaiah 54:3-5).
During the difficult years of exile, when Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel faced times of trouble, distress and humiliation, this blessing was not recited, because it was difficult to define Jewish settlement as being stable and reassuring.
When Jewish settlement began to expand in the country with the departure of Jews from the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the aliyah of members of ‘Chibat Tzion’ (Lovers of Zion), this blessing once again began to be recited over the new settlements.
It is related that Rabbi Shmuel Salant recited the blessing over Petah Tikva, and Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel-Yaffe over Yehud.
Do Not Hesitate to Recite the Blessing
From the words of Rif (Rabbi Yitzchak Alfsi) it seems that one who sees a Jewish synagogue specifically recites this blessing, therefore, l’chatchila, the blessing should be recited when one sees the synagogue from the outside or the inside. But even if one cannot see the synagogue, he should recite the blessing, since according to the vast majority of Rishonim, this blessing is not at all connected with synagogues, but is a blessing over Jewish houses built in Israel (Rabbeinu Chananel, Rashi, Rambam, and S.A., 244:10).
The Words of Our Teacher and Mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook
In his talks, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah said:
“There are some who fear reciting the blessing because of the words of Rif. However… one can rely on these three “pillars of the world” (Rambam, Rashi and Shulchan Aruch), and bless. There are situations where fear of reciting a blessing in vain stems from a lack of complete emuna (faith). [If one has] doubts about blessings – [there are] doubts about faith. “Ha’vadai shemo, ken tehilato” (‘Certainty’ is His name; that is His praise)."
"Several times I had the privilege of being invited to a new community for a gathering, or a celebration. Ideally, I should have blessed immediately because of ‘hidur mitzvah‘ (embellishing the mitzvah by performing it ideally).
Nevertheless, I waited a bit because frequently I am asked to speak, and at that moment, I recited the blessing in a loud voice and openly, with ‘Shem u’Malchut’ (mentioning God’s name and kingdom) to publicize the matter, and I announced that anyone who wished to fulfill their obligation to bless, could do so with my bracha” (Sichot of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook” on Chumash ‘Vayikra’, page 289).
A Blessing is Not Recited over Places Inhabited for a Long Time
Seemingly, according to the takana (ordinance) of our Sages, one must recite the blessing “matziv gevul alamna” on all Jewish communities in Israel seen for the first time, and after that, as long as one did not see it for thirty days, recite the blessing once again, in keeping with the accepted rules of ‘berachot ha’re’iah’ (the blessings over seeing certain phenomena) (Shulchan Aruch 242:10; 13).
However, since one of the major stipulations of ‘berachot ha’re’iah’ is that the sight being viewed must be awe-inspiring (Shulchan Aruch 225:9-10), consequently, one should not bless over communities whose observation is not stirring because one has already seen it a number of times, or because the location had long been inhabited by a large Jewish population and forgotten that it was once desolate.
The Blessing is recited over Communities in Which the Redemption of the Land is Evident
Therefore, in areas not yet settled appropriately where efforts must still be made to fulfill the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz so that the Land remains in our hands and not in the possession of any other nation or left desolate – even if one sees an established community there, he should recite the blessing. This includes the following areas: Judea and Samaria, the Golan Heights, the Negev, and parts of the Galilee and Jezreel Valley.
It seems that even those who are not so moved about seeing the community – the first time one sees it, he should recite the blessing, for anyone who sees houses in places where the redemption of the land is evident, is considered as ‘seeing the houses of Israel when inhabited’, i.e., settling the land, and setting the boundary of the widow.
After Thirty Days
One who sees an established community in which the redemption of the land is evident, such as Alon Shvut, Karnei Shomron and Katzrin, after thirty days have passed since seeing it last – if one marvels anew at their settling of the land – he should recite the blessing; if one is not moved, he should not bless. And if one returns to the community a second time and sees they have built an additional neighborhood, he should recite the blessing.
But in the new communities in those areas, or in established communities facing greater difficulties in settlement, such as the communities of Itamar and Elon Moreh in Gav Ha’Har, and Otniel and Ma’on in the southern Hebron hills, in all probability the excitement of seeing them is greater, and as long as thirty days have passed, one may recite the blessing. However, even in places such as these, if one is not moved, a blessing should not be recited the second time. But if in the meantime more houses were built, one who sees them should bless.
When in Doubt
Someone who has a doubt concerning these laws, should recite what is written in the Talmud: “Our Sages said: On seeing the houses of Israel when inhabited, one says: “Baruch ata Hashem, Elokeinu Melech Ha’Olam, matziv gevul almana.” In this way, there will be no worry about saying a‘bracha l’vatala’ (a blessing said in vain), for indeed there is an opinion that while studying Talmud one is permitted to recite a complete blessing, and alternatively, seeing as the actual wording of the blessing is recited, one fulfills his obligation.
Inauguration of a House in a New Community
Years ago, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, of blessed memory, heard a class I gave on this topic in Har Bracha, and raised an accurate speculation that the blessing ‘matziv gevul almana’ should also be said at the dedication of a new home in community where the redemption of the land is evident, and maybe, even the builders themselves could recite the blessing. At any rate, in order to avoid doubt, it would be appropriate for one of the guests who has not seen the community for thirty days to recite the blessing.
Our Custom on Har Bracha
In an effort to strengthen the status of the blessing over‘yishuv ha’aretz’ and the redemption of the Land of Israel about which, in spite of its enormous importance, many people tend to be negligent, I requested that the gabbai(sexton) of our synagogue, after every Shabbat evening prayer service, appoint one of the guests to recite the blessing “matziv gevul almana.” At the end of my sermon I pause for a moment, and then the guest stands up and recites the blessing out loud. Everyone answers ‘amen’, and as a result, this strengthens their gratitude to God for allowing us to witness the building of our country, and to participate in its settlement. It would be fitting to suggest this custom for all synagogues in communities engaged in the mitzvah of ‘yishuv ha’aretz’ and its redemption.
Should the Blessing be recited over New Homes in Jerusalem?
According to what we have learned, regarding established cities inhabited with a large Jewish population, such as cities located along the Coastal Plain, the blessing ‘matziv gevul almana’ is not recited, because their resemblance to an widow and not having been settled has been forgotten. But in regards to Jerusalem, our glorious and holy city, for whose destruction we mourn, and for whose rebuilding we pray – even though it is established and inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Jews, there is room to recite the blessing ‘matziv gevul almana’ over every single neighborhood built there. And it seems that even over a few new buildings one can bless, for indeed, the rebuilding of Jerusalem expresses more than anything the ‘setting of the boundary of the widow’. One who is in doubt whether the blessing should be recited, should say the wording of the beraita in the Gemara.
Nonetheless, even in Jerusalem, one who scandalously does not take note of this and is not happy – does not bless. Also, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and its surroundings, who are fortunate to see its building on a daily basis, do not bless.
Visitors who come to see the Renewal of the Communities
Q: If one goes on a guided tour in order to study the history of the settlement of the country, such as in Jaffa and Tel Aviv, or in the museum of the chalutzim in Hadera, and marvels at the miracle of Israel returning to their land, can a blessing be recited?
A: It seems that in such a framework one can bless, because the entire reason a blessing is not recited over populated places is because the settlement within such areas is not evident, and therefore, there is no excitement in seeing them; but when the purpose of the tour is the study of this phenomena, it is obvious that the excitement over the miracle of Israel returning to their country is aroused, and it would be proper to thank God for this by reciting the blessing “matziv gevul almana.” Nevertheless, it seems that on other similar trips, one can bless only on the first time.
It also seems that a Jew who comes from chutz l’aretz to Israel and sees the major cities in Coastal Plain for the first time, if he is moved by the miracle of Israel’s return to their land, he should recite the blessing.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il/