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Just realized -- the third segment of Birkat HaMazon looks like this:

Hashem, please have mercy on Jerusalem and the Temple ... and rebuild Jerusalem speedily please.

Fine.

But in the middle of that we have a request for sustenance:

Sustain us and provide for us ... please don't leave us needing the handouts of flesh-and-blood

How do those themes connect? Why does the request go there?

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    You skipped the very first phrase! It doesn't say רחם ה' על ירושלים עירך as you wrote. – Double AA Dec 19 '19 at 2:59
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    Notably, these requests are mentioned already in the Yerushalmi Shabbat 15:3 – Double AA Dec 19 '19 at 3:32
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The Talmud (Berakhot 49a) phrases your question the other way around. Why do we mention Jerusalem in a blessing about saving the Jewish people? Answer: Because the rebuilding of Jerusalem is tied (Psalm 147:2) to the redemption of the exiled Jews returning to their home.

The blessing can be framed using different primary verbs of "רחם mercy" or "נחמה consolation" or "מושיע saving" towards ישראל עמך וירושלים עירך the Jewish people and their homeland, but ultimately these are all part of the same idea.

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  • Thanks; and I guess sustenance is a form of national salvation? – Shalom Dec 19 '19 at 10:06
  • @Shalom from one perspective yes; from another perspective it's a way of supporting Jerusalem since their fortunes are intertwined. To see the spectrum consider this list of actual historical endings to the blessing: בונה ירושלים, בונה ירושלים ברחמים, בונה ברחמיו ירושלים, מנחם ציון ובונה ירושלים, מנחם ציון בבנין ירושלים, מנחם עמו בבנין ירושלים, מנחם עמו ובונה ירושלים, מושיע ישראל ובונה ירושלים, מושיע ישראל. – Double AA Dec 19 '19 at 11:45
  • The Yerushalmi seems to imply it's that the language of "shepherd us" is a personal request; the context of the Bavli implies we're asking for the overall economic state of the Jewish people ... so which one's the intention in benching, personal or national? Or it all got woven together? – Shalom Dec 19 '19 at 13:02
  • @Shalom I'm not sure why "shepherd us" isn't national too; but consider also the customary additions to the blessing in a house of mourning, which for some Geonim ended מנחם אבלים ובונה ירושלים instead of מנחם עמו ובונה ירושלים which does seem somewhat individual. In any event we always pray in plural to include everyone אמר אביי לעולם לישתף איניש נפשיה בהדי צבורא – Double AA Dec 19 '19 at 13:05

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