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In the Brocho after eating grains which are not bread we say:

על ארץ חמדה טובה ורחבה

Translated very loosely as: On the Land (ISRAEL) that is desirable good and WIDE.

Now, anyone with a knowledge of Israel knows that it is smaller than most states, and even if you go according to the largest borders that are in the Torah, the land of Israel is not by any stretch of the imagination "WIDE", so what are we saying when reciting this Brocho?

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Your question is really on the Torah (Ex. 3:8), from where this description is taken (minus חמדה). – Alex Nov 16 '11 at 5:16

Ramban on the verse I mentioned (Ex. 3:8) offers two possibilities:

  • It simply means that the land is "wide" enough to accommodate the entire Jewish people. (This is especially so in light of the Gemara's statement (Gittin 57a) that Eretz Yisrael "expands" when Jews are settled in it.)

  • It is a land that contains "wide" plains and valleys and lowlands, rather than being mostly mountainous.

Daat Mikra mentions the first of these, and adds another:

  • It's contrasting Eretz Yisrael with Egypt. In the latter country, only a narrow strip on either side of the Nile is fertile; the rest is uninhabitable desert. In Eretz Yisrael, by contrast, all of its "width" is "good" for cultivation.
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you realize though that your answer don't address the question it is still not wide by any measurement – simchastorah Nov 16 '11 at 13:24
@simchashatorah, I'm not sure I'm seeing the problem. רחבה doesn't have to mean that it is wider than other lands; it simply means that it is wide enough for its purposes. Same way as the Torah calls the Jewish people "a great nation" (Deut. 4:6-8), but at the same time that we are "the least numerous of nations" (ibid. 7:7). These aren't contradictory: we are a numerous nation, but are outnumbered by others. Same thing, then: Eretz Yisrael is a wide land, but there are wider ones. – Alex Nov 16 '11 at 18:08
Israel is normally described as tall by the way we look at maps, not wide. I think that is the point of the question. – avi Nov 16 '11 at 19:46
@avi, Jewish maps have east at the top. (Hence, y'min is south and kedem east.) – msh210 Nov 16 '11 at 20:07
@msh210 yes I noted that as the answer to the question. The boundaries of the Torah only add to it's "height", not it's "width". But the original question seems to think it would add to it's "width" – avi Nov 16 '11 at 20:09

North is not always "up" In fact there are many old maps of Israel where the East is the top of the map, and Israel is indeed Very wide and not very tall.

Remember also that the beis hamikdash faced east/west and not north/south, as did Avraham when he first was instructed to stop at Shechem.

I've attached one such map here. Wide map of Israel

Because I found it interesting I'm inserting an image of Israel from space which shows Israel as wide: Wide Israel from space

Maps come from this blog post

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It is wide if you are facing "Kedmah" ("forward", or "east") as Avraham did when HaShem was showing him the land.

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What about translating it as expansive, as opposed to wide, kind of like the word "בהרחבה". From the Merriam-Webster:

5 : characterized by richness, abundance, or magnificence < expansive living > < expansive taste >

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In this instance, ורחבה does not mean 'wide'. It means 'spacious' or 'encompassing'.

Certain words take on different shades of meaning in different contexts. Certainly, in the context of רחב as opposed to ארך, it means 'width' as opposed to 'length'. But as an adjective describing something, it means that it is 'broad', 'spacious', 'expansive', or 'encompassing'.

Alex is right in his answer that this portion of davening is derived from the pasuk in parashat Shemot, specifically Shemot 3:8.

וָאֵרֵד לְהַצִּילוֹ מִיַּד מִצְרַיִם וּלְהַעֲלֹתוֹ מִן הָאָרֶץ הַהִוא אֶל אֶרֶץ טוֹבָה וּרְחָבָה אֶל אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ אֶל מְקוֹם הַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַחִתִּי וְהָאֱמֹרִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי:

Judaica Press translates it as:

I have descended to rescue them from the hand[s] of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land, to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivvites, and the Jebusites.

That is, as 'spacious' rather than wide. JPS has it as 'large'.

And that may be the point of the Ramban cited by Alex, at least in the Ramban's first answer:

כי שבח תחלה את הארץ שהיא טובה, לומר שהאוויר טוב ויפה לבני אדם וכל טוב ימצא בה, ושהיא רחבה, שיעמדו בה כל ישראל במרחב.

The word מרחב means "wide open space, spaciousness ; space, room".

In terms of the second answer of the Ramban,

או טעם רחבה שיש בה רחבות, שפלה ועמק ומישור גדולים וקטנים ואין רובה הרים וגאיות.

he seems to be saying that this describes the types of land. A רחבה is an emek, mishor, etc., whether big or small, and it has these sorts of lands rather than mostly mountains.

In terms of the other answers, yes, it does seem that they may have been East-oriented rather than North-oriented, in which case one could claim that it is indeed wide rather than long. But one need not appeal or resort to that.

In terms of the land being objectively not wide -- well, we already rejected that sense here. But still, there are words in Hebrew that take on their specific value based on what they are being compared to. The moon is pretty large, and in Bereishit it is described as one of the שְׁנֵי הַמְּאֹרֹת הַגְּדֹלִים. Yet in the very next pasuk it is described as הַמָּאוֹר הַקָּטֹן. How can it be both big and small. I think this is the type of word Ibn Caspi refers to as מצרף, that it depends on what you are comparing it to. When looking at a world map, sure, Eretz Yisrael is small. But it can still be an אֶרֶץ טוֹבָה וּרְחָבָה.

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A friend told me some answers I dont know where but I know who said them.

1)Sofrno says it will spread to the whole world See Josh post on the matter http://parsha.blogspot.com/2011/12/censored-sporno-on-vayishlach_08.html 2)I think the Haemek Davar says our minds will become more expansive (I guess the eretz is the mind?! then I have to see that one

if someone else can find it or any other answers and edit the answer or post the answer themselves before I can Find it would be highly appreciated

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sorry i did not notice it – simchastorah Nov 17 '11 at 4:59
Why the need for allegory when if you just stop using a North facing map , and instead look at Israel as it's described in Chumash, the land is in fact wide. – avi Nov 17 '11 at 7:30
I don't see that in sidur Yaavetz. Perhaps I'm just not seeing it, though. – msh210 Nov 17 '11 at 9:06
forget the Siddur Yavetz its there you may have a censored version but the Vayishlach here is a sofrno that says it – simchastorah Dec 8 '11 at 22:29
That's a great post. Interesting that Seforno apparently knew the Earth was a sphere. – Seth J Dec 9 '11 at 3:11

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