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Trees and Truth, Truth and Trees

By Tzvi Fishman
1/22/2008, 12:00 AM

“One day Honi HaMe’agel was walking along the road. He saw a man planting a carob tree and asked him in how many years it would bear fruit. The man replied, ‘In seventy years.” Choni asked, ‘Do you think you will live another seventy years?’ The man answered, ‘I found this world with carob trees. Just as my forefathers planted them for me, I am planting them for my descendants,” (Talmud Ta’anit 23A).
The secular kibbutznik in Israel who works all day cultivating his fields may have a higher place in the World to Come than a Daf Yomi Jew from Beverly Hills or Monsey, New York.

In the same light, the following matters may not be understood by many of our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, but I will plant the seeds here in the faith that they will be bear fruit in the future. Perhaps Shmuelik, or Shimshon, or Daniel in Kyoto will leave this blog on their computer screens while they rush off to shul, and one of their children will come by and read it, and discover the truth.

Today in the Land of Israel, we have been happily celebrating Tu B’Shevat, the holiday of the trees. School children sing songs praising the Land of Israel and thanking Hashem for its fruits. Families go on field trips throughout the country. When it is not a Sabbatical Year, saplings are planted with great joy and spirit. And festive meals of thanksgiving, highlighted by a cornucopia of fruits of the Land, grace our tables.

This is all missing in the Diaspora because Diaspora Judaism is missing the Land of Israel. On many occasions, we have mentioned that Judaism can only be complete in the Land of Israel. There are two types of commandments in the Torah – the commandments that are dependent upon the Land of Israel, and those commandments which are not. Every commandment which depends upon the Land of Israel may only be performed in the Land. The other mitzvot can be performed anywhere (Kiddushin 36B). However, the Ramban teaches that the true place of performance for all of the commandments is only in the Land of Israel (Ramban, Commentary on the Torah, Bereshit, 26:5; Devarim, 11:18). Everywhere else, when a Jew performs a commandment, he is merely going through the motions so that he won’t forget how to do them during his exile in foreign lands (Sifre, Ekev, 11:18, and Rashi, Devarim, 11:18. Also, Ramban there).

For those readers who don’t like to look up sources, here is what Rashi says, to show that this seemingly outrageous claim is not merely the mad ranting of Tzvi Fishman.

Rashi quotes the Midrash: “Even though I am exiling you from Eretz Yisrael to outside of the Land, distinguish yourself with the commandments, so that when you return, they will not seem new in your eyes” (Sifre, Ekev, 11:18). Rashi comments: “This is like a king who became angry at his wife and sent her away. He said to her, ‘Wear your jewelry so it won’t seem new to you when you return to the palace.’ Thus HaKadosh Baruch Hu says to Israel, ‘My sons, distinguish yourselves with precepts so that when you return, they won’t be new to you” (Rashi, Devarim, 11:18).

The true, G-d given place for the commandments is in Eretz Yisrael. Their purpose in the exile is to keep us attached to the Torah, so that when we return, they won’t seem unfamiliar and new. But the main place for their performance is in Israel. The Land of Israel is not just our geographical homeland, it is the foundation of all of the Torah and Jewish observance.

During our festive Tu B’Shevat meal, there is an order by which we eat the  fruits of the Land. The order is based on the Torah verse, “A Land of wheat, and barley, and grape vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a Land of olive oil, and date honey….” (Devarim 8:8). For instance, after partaking  bread (wheat and barley) and wine (grape vines) because of their importance, we first eat the species of fruit that is closest to the word “Land” – which is olives. In a similar light, Rabbi Kook writes that the person who is more engaged in the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel is closer to perfection and closer to receiving a Divine blessing.

Thus it may very well turn out that the secular kibbutznik in Israel who works all day cultivating his fields may have a higher place in the World to Come than a Daf Yomi Jew from Beverly Hills or Monsey, New York, as our Sages have taught us, “The mitzvah of living in Israel is equal in weight to all of the commandments in the Torah,” (Sifre, Reah, 80).

So, to all the kids who are sneaking a look at Daddy’s computer, if Judaism is important to you, and you want the real thing, it can only be found in the Land of Israel. That’s the simple Torah truth, and there is no way of getting around it.