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?

  • 4
    Your question is really on the Torah (Ex. 3:8), from where this description is taken (minus חמדה).
    – Alex
    Commented Nov 16, 2011 at 5:16

10 Answers 10


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.
  • you realize though that your answer don't address the question it is still not wide by any measurement Commented Nov 16, 2011 at 13:24
  • 3
    @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
    Commented Nov 16, 2011 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
    Commented Nov 16, 2011 at 19:46
  • 1
    @avi, Jewish maps have east at the top. (Hence, y'min is south and kedem east.)
    – msh210
    Commented Nov 16, 2011 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
    Commented Nov 16, 2011 at 20:09

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 >


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


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


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.


See Rashi to Devarim 11:11, where he cites Sifrei. Eretz Yisrael is 'bigger/wider' than we might think because it is hilly, offering more surface area in a compact space.


Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu Zatzal says that when we get all of Eretz Yisrael which includes the Eiver HaYarden and other areas + Eretz Yisrael will spread out then it will be ורחבה

"רחבה" – דבר זה תמוה הוא, מדוע הגדירו אותה כך, שכן כשאנו מביטים כיום במפה, הארץ נראית צרה וארוכה, וכלל לא רחבה. אלא הטעם הוא, שהמפה הנוכחית אינה משקפת את גודלה וצורתה של ארץ-ישראל. כאשר היא תכלול את עבר הירדן ואת שאר גבולותיה המובטחים – אכן הגדרתה כ"רחבה" תהלום אותה. ועוד שהיא "ארץ הצבי" – מה צבי עורו מתרחב, כך ארץ-ישראל מתרחבת, עד שלא אמר אדם "צר לי המקום"


On the name "Rachav" (the woman who assisted the spies in Sefer Yehoshua), Yehudah Dvir in Talpiyot 8:3-4, pg. 490 brought Martin Noth's view that one of its meanings is a reference to the hif'il (הפעיל) form of the word, "Hirchiv" (הרחיב), so perhaps the same may be said about רחבה - the land that makes us more prosperous.


A friend told me some answers I don't know where but I know who said them.

  1. Sforno says it will spread to the whole world See Josh's 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)

  • 1
    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
    Commented Nov 17, 2011 at 7:30
  • I don't see that in sidur Yaavetz. Perhaps I'm just not seeing it, though.
    – msh210
    Commented Nov 17, 2011 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 Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 22:29
  • That's a great post. Interesting that Seforno apparently knew the Earth was a sphere.
    – Seth J
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 3:11
  • @SethJ: hardly surprising - he lived in the 16th century (i.e., after Columbus). And even before his voyages, this was pretty common knowledge.
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 19, 2012 at 17:30

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Blessings and Thanksgiving: Reflections on the Siddur and Synagogue, p. 81, explains as follows:

The word rehava derives from Nehemiah (9:35). The Vilna Gaon (see Kol HaTor, Ch. 5) says that the idea of spaciousness means that Eretz Yisrael will always be capable of accommodating, sustaining and feed­ing the entire Jewish people.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .