Rav Kook explains that in Mitzrayim one could live a life apart from the community. Each individual could dig his own irrigation ditch, find his own parnasa, live for himself and ignore his neighbor. In Eretz Yisrael, however, the individual is always connected to the larger community. The rain falls for everyone or it falls for no one.
2. The gemara (Brachos 41) relates that Rav Chisda and Rav Hamnuna sat down to a meal together where they were brought a plate of dates and pomegranates to eat. Rav Hamnuna said a bracha on the dates and ate them first. Rav Chisda asked: the rule of thumb is that given two foods of the 7 minim, the one that comes first in the pasuk of “eretz chitah u’se’ora…” should have the bracha recited over it first. Since dates are the last item mentioned in the pasuk, why say the bracha over them first? Rav Hamnuna answered that the rule is actually whatever is closest to the word “ha’aretz in the pasuk comes first. Although dates are last on the list of 7 minin, since the pasuk repeats the word “aretz:
אֶרֶץ חִטָּה וּשְׂעֹרָה וְגֶפֶן וּתְאֵנָה וְרִמּוֹן אֶרֶץ זֵית שֶׁמֶן וּדְבָשׁ
It comes out that dates are the second min after the second “eretz” while rimonim are the fifth from the first. Second in order beats fifth. Wow! Rav Chisda was so impressed by this vort that he said he wished he had legs of iron so he could always follow Rav Hamnuna and serve him.
I don’t know about you, but give me a yesod of R’ Chaim, give me an answer to a R’ Akiva Eiger, then I’ll give you a “Wow!” Rav Hamnuna’s din at first glance doesn’t do it. So what are we missing?
Rav Kook explains that hilchos brachos are supposed to inculcate certain values within us. The idea of giving precedence to that which comes closer to the word “aretz” in the pasuk reinforces the idea that shleimus and bracha come from a love of Eretz Yisrael. The closer you are to Eretz Yisrael, the more you love Eretz Yisrael, the closer you are to bracha.
There are many reasons why a person may love Eretz Yisrael. To some, Eretz Yisrael is a place to do more mitzvos, a place where spiritual growth that is possible nowhere else can take place. To others, Eretz Yisrael is special because it is the only place that a free Jewish homeland exists. It’s the political, social, and economic reality of the state more than its spiritual essence that these folks connect to. The 5 minim mentioned in the pasuk after the first “aretz” correspond to the 5 chumshei Torah – these represent the spiritual desire for Eretz Yisrael. The 2 minim mentioned last, separated from those 5 by another “aretz,” represent those for whom the land represents political, economic, social opportunity, distinct from its religious flavor.
What Rav Hamnuna taught Rav Chisda is that while it’s true that the last of these minim represent those who lack in spiritual desire, they are “sheni la’aretz,” mentioned secondarily, and therefore you would have thought that any of the other minim take precedence in bracha, that’s not the case. Someone on the lowest rungs of spirituality who yearns and loves Eretz Yisrael is actually closer to sheleimus and bracha than someone who may seem to be very pious but who is distant and further removed from love of Eretz Yisrael and not working to rebuild Eretz Yisrael.
Why is that true? Because whatever the motivation, strengthening Eretz Yisrael will ultimately will lead to a strengthening of the spirit of Am Yisrael and the ruchniyus of Am Yisrael.
(See Pninei HaRAY”aH from R’ Moshe Tzuriel).