Judaism: The Fruits of Israel
Moshe KempinskiMoshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Land of Israel and its interconnected history with the people of Israel seems to be continuously intertwined with its produce and fruit . In the Torah portion of Eikev we read that the land of Israel described as "A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey (Deut. 8:8)."
When Jacob determines to send a gift of appeasement to the mysterious viceroy in Egypt , we read how Jacob with the prophetic aspect of his destiny based name of “Israel” decides to send fruit ; "So Israel, their father, said to them, If so, then do this: take some of the choice products of the land in your vessels, a little balm and a little honey, wax and lotus, pistachios and almonds."( Genesis 43:11)
When Moshe sends spies into the land of Israel we read;
“And they came unto the valley of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bore it upon a pole between two; they took also of the pomegranates, and of the figs.”( Numbers 23:23)
When they returned we read them declaring the following.
” And they told him, and said: 'We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it.” (ibid: 27) Yet they failed to read the message of these fruits and rejected the land and entered into 40 years of wilderness and exile.
Then, when the people were to finally succeed in entering the land , the farmers are commanded to bring their first fruits to the Temple . After a year of toiling, planting, watering, tending, and caring for the produce man has grown, the farmer enters his field. He sees the first ripening fruit of one of the seven species and he ties a band over this fruit and declares "This is for Bikkurim (the ceremony of first fruits)". Later, when it ripens, he places it in a basket.
These baskets were then brought to the Temple in a festive procession. As the procession would walk through the streets of Jerusalem, all the workmen, scholars and even the king would stop what they are doing and stand in honor of these farmers.
The Torah commentator Bartenura raises the following question. According to another Jewish law, it is obligatory to stand in honor of a Torah scholar when he passes .This is done not so much to honor the scholar as it is to honor the Torah that he represents. Yet that same Jewish law states that craftsmen do not have to stop their work to stand up for such a scholar as this would interrupt their work and livelihood. “Why” ,asks the Bartenura,” is this not the case regarding these farmers bringing the first fruits ?”
The reason seems to be that these farmers, in this situation, during these festive times act as high priests. They are the tools of G.d's revelation within nature. This would be true anywhere in the world. Yet this is especially true in the land wherein Heaven touches the earth.
In such a place the very fruits carry a Divine message. They declare the return of the experience of Kvod haShem (G-d's Glory), symbolized by the fruits and blossoms of the land.
As the prophet Ezekiel describes the final return of the people from Exile in the following way; "But you, O mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home."(Ezekiel 36:8) . Every fruit, every tree, every flower is a testament to the fulfillment of HaShem’s promises.
The fruits and produce of this land also express another important message. When HaShem takes his people out of the land of Egypt, he declares "So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.."(Exodus 3:8 ) What does the term "milk and honey “represent?
Israel is a land that presently produces more milk per capita than most other countries. It is also a country that produces an overabundance of dates and fruit that produce honey. Ramban points out that if you are looking for a country that has the right climate, good pasture land and lots of water to create the environment for producing an abundance of milk and milk products you might go to a country like Switzerland. That land is known for its cheese and its chocolate. Yet it is not known for its dates or figs. That is because one needs two differing climate conditions for each of these products.
HaShem is saying that he is bringing His people into a land that defies those rules of nature. This is a land that will produce large amounts of milk and honey because it is G.d's land and it is "a land that HaShem your G.d cares for. The eyes of HaShem your G.d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year."( Deuteronomy 11:12)
The sage, Rashi ,says based on Rabbi Abba’s understanding in the Talmud of the verse in Ezekiel regarding the fruits of the land (Sanhedrin 98a) that “"When Eretz Yisrael gives forth its fruit in abundance the end will be near, and there is no clearer sign of the End of Days."