Torah from the Land of Israel
Shavua tov and welcome back to another week of Torah from the Land of Israel.
Although we are spending way too much time indoors, it is hard not to notice the incredibly beautiful spring blossoming outside. This week our posts will be about nature in the land of Israel.
Before saying anything about nature and Israel, one must acknowledge one of the masters in the field, Noga HaReuveni (1924-2007). Noga. whose parents Ephraim and Hannah were pioneering botanists in the new Hebrew University, inherited their love for the land and used it to understand Tanakh and its many referances to plants and animals. His lifelong dream was to create a park of Biblical and Mishnaic flora and fauna and he succeeded with the beautiful nature reserve of Neot Kedumim. Many of the ideas I will share this week come from his teachings.
The Torah tells us that the land of Israel has been blessed with seven special species:
“ a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey.” (Devarim 8:8)
We can ask a number of questions about this verse. First of all, since when is honey a fruit? The answer to that one is easy – we are not talking about bee honey but about date honey, known today as silan, and much more prevalent as a staple food in the old days than bee honey.
The second question is harder. Why these seven? Yes, they flourish in Israel and are important food items but so are carobs, almonds and other fruits. In fact, some of these other fruits can even flourish in difficult conditions of drought. When Jacob sends gifts to the “man” in Egypt during the famine, he sends him pistachios, almonds and other fruits (Bereshit 43:11). But isn’t there a famine? Yes, but these trees can produce even under harsh conditions.
So why these particular seven? HaReuveni explains that all seven have their critical growth period in the transitional season between Passover and Shavuot. As anyone who lives in Israel knows, this is the time when the weather can be anywhere from a heat wave to a freezing downpour (anyone remember last Passover?). But if climate conditions are not just right for each of the seven, the whole crop will be ruined. Rain at the right time, sun at the right time and different times for each one. By making these fruits be the ones we elevate, as well as bring to the Temple for Bikkurim (first fruits), we are acknowledging God’s power in Nature. You God are the One who gave these fruits to me, not the rain god or any other god. We have to withstand the temptation to pray to Baal the rain god so that everything turns out ok, and thereby we prove that God is the only King of the universe.
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