Making blessings/brachot before meals has long been an important part of my life. Growing up at my parents' table, we would always make a bracha before eating dinner. And, on Shabbos, I got to make Hamotzi after the preliminary events. This was a big deal. I had control over the last thing before we finally got to eat our feast. As I saw it, it did not matter how it went down, as long as it happened. So, many times when I just wanted to get on with the evening, I would rush and say the words as fast as possible. These times, I was scolded, and told to do it over again, and slower, by my father.
Years later, I would marry my wife, Laura. She has Moroccan heritage so, after getting together, we had to discuss melding our ritual lives together—this Galicianer Jew and that Moroccan Jew. One place where we adopted her family’s custom, was for Shabbat Hamotzi. After the Hamotzi, her father takes the hallah, and dips it three times in salt, saying “Hashem melekh, Hashem malakh, Hashem yimlokh le’olam va’ed”—a pun on kingship/melekh, malakh, yimlokh and salt/melah.
However, as the calendar turned to the holidays/hagim, I was not sure how to proceed. On the hagim, we put honey/devash on our hallah, not salt. If I was not going to put salt on the hallah, then what would I say? My father-in-law’s pun no longer applied.
After doing some digging, I knew what I wanted to say when we applied the devash to our hallah. “For the Lord your God brings you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills. A land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey/כי ה' אלוקיך מביאך אל ארץ טובה ארץ נחלי מים עינות תהומות יוצאם בבקעה ובהר. ארץ חטה ושעורה וגפן ותאנה ורמון ארץ זית שמן ודבש.”—the beautiful words of praise of the Land from our parsha, Parshat Ekev. Why did I choose these verses/pesukim? The pesukim evoke a visceral image and deep longing for the Zionist fantasy. This is what the Land looks like and this is the Land that I dream of returning to. It is pure, holy and natural.
The Sfas Emes teaches that on Shabbat, which is all good/yom she’kulo Shabbat, one can feel a taste of the world to come/me’ein olam haba. Just as Shabbat is good/tova, so too is the Land--eretz tova. And just as Shabbat is a portion from which the springs of blessing are opened, as the Prophet Ezekiel says, “on Shabbat the gates are opened/b’yom Shabbat yipateach,”, so too in the Land, the waters of blessing flow towards us (a land of brooks and water/eretz nahalei mayim). His final point here is that there is nothing that is “Good” that is not Torah/ein tova ela Torah. If Shabbat and the Land are completely “Good”, then with the help of Torah, we can bring the “Good” with us wherever we go.
The Netziv teaches that our brachot before eating food bring forth the blessing of the Land, whether inside of it or not. And specifically, outside of it, we need to pray more and offer more brachot to bring the wells of the Land to us. It is obviously harder to feel the way we do in the Diaspora the way we do when we are in Israel. But with hard work and focus, there are times when we can feel our feet grounded here just as we do in the Land. Our fantasy as Jews is to make every place around us like the quality of the Land. Everywhere should be “Good” and of bountiful blessing. And through Torah, prayer/tefilla and intentional brachot, our fantasies can become a redemptive reality.
 To be clear, we put Silan, date honey, on the hallah. Why? To be true to the Biblical text. Plus, it’s delicious!
 Deut. 8:8-9
 Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (Hebrew יהודה אריה ליב אלתר, 15 April 1847 – 11 January 1905), also known by the title of his main work, the Sfas Emes (Yiddish) or Sefat Emet שפת אמת (Hebrew), was a Hasidic rabbi who succeeded his grandfather, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, as the Av beis din (head of the rabbinical court) and Rav of Góra Kalwaria, Poland (known in Yiddish as the town of Ger), and succeeded Rabbi Chanokh Heynekh HaKohen Levin of Aleksander as Rebbe of the Gerrer Hasidim
 Ezek. 46:1
 Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (1816 in Mir, Russia – August 10, 1893 in Warsaw, Poland), also known as Reb Hirsch Leib Berlin, and commonly known by the acronym Netziv, was an Orthodox rabbi, dean of the Volozhin Yeshiva and author of several works of rabbinic literature in Lithuania.
 HaEmek Dvar, Deut. 8:8
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.