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30 January 2018

The Zohar Reveals a Few Secrets About the Fruits of the Land of Israel

The Zohar Reveals a Few Secrets About the Fruits of the Land of Israel
From the teachings of *Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai; translation and commentary by **Shmuel-Simcha Treister, based on Metok MiDevash

The seven most important fruits of the Land of Israel are listed in Deut. 8:8. In describing the good land that G‑d was about to give the Jews, the verse specifies that it is: "A land of wheat, and barley, and grapes, and figs and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey". The Hebrew word for "honey" is "d'vash", and in Talmudic literature it means what we now call jam or fruit jelly. Below is how the Zohar regards each of these seven fruits in various different contexts.


[The daily sacrifices offered to G‑d in the Temple included] "a tenth part of an ephah of flour for a meal offering, mixed with the fourth part of a hin of beaten oil". Why this measurement? One tenth of an ephah corresponds to the Jewish People [the sefira of malchut] which is the tenth level [of the ten sefirot]. This offering needs to be given using both hands [representing the arms of chesed and gevura of Zeir Anpin which raise up the sefira of malchut for the purpose of uniting with it]. The meal offered in this manner represents meal from which bread is made and is called "bread".

["Bread" is always a feminine noun in Hebrew, and represents the sefira of malchut]. [Malchut] is called bread, and this is the reason why there is no angelic minister ruling over the five species of grain, namely wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and oats. There will never be a minister ruling over them - only the Holy One, blessed be He. Because of this, whoever treats bread disrespectfully, throwing it to the ground, will be pursued by poverty. (Zohar, Num. 244a)

Wheat represents the divine abundance in the physical world. Bread, "the staff of life", represents the sefira of malchut when it is connected with Zeir Anpin, and the higher light flows in it. Only the light of G‑d unites with malchut, and this is the reason that no other ministering angel is associated with it. The divine light is repelled by ego…

When malchut is disconnected from the higher light it is called "poor". By throwing bread on the floor a person is symbolically taking the sefira of malchut and cutting it off from its elevated source. This in turn causes malchut to be "poor", and the spiritual law of cause and effect is activated, in turn causing poverty to he who treated bread with disrespect.


Rabbi Abon said that there is nothing in the whole world other than wine that lifts up a person's heart until he is proud and haughty. This was the cause of the punishment of Nadab and Abihu [the sons of Aaron] who ate and drank [wine, and then entered into the Tabernacle to serve G‑d] and had haughtiness in their hearts. This is the "foreign fire" that they offered that was not commanded of them.

Rav said that two things don't sit well with each other, wine and the service of heaven as we have learned there, "Don't pray while drunk" (Eruvin 64a). Thus a person who is inebriated should not pray, and if he prays, his prayer is loathsome.

The worst character trait is pride. The divine light is repelled by ego, not attracted too it. A small amount of wine uplifts the heart but overindulgence causes haughtiness and insensitivity and leads to anger. Thus the emotions rule over consciousness and the Neshama is repelled, leaving no vehicle to receive the divine light.

Rabbi Yitzchak said there is no wine called "good wine" better than the wine of the Land of Israel, and best of them all is the wine of the Upper Galilee because a person couldn't drink half a log from it without getting drunk. (Zohar Chadash, Gen. 22b)

Of course the sages are here also referring to the secrets of the Torah that were revealed by Rebbe Shimon in the Upper Galilee, but, as in all Kabbala, the spiritual reality is matched by the physical reality. Interestingly in the last 5 years there has been a great increase in grape production in the Upper Galilee, and the wine has been getting gold medals at the best wine festivals in the world!


Rebbe Shimon said [as a parable explaining why the Moabites were not destroyed for attacking Israel], "You can't compare someone who is going to collect figs in the future [referring to Ruth and Na'amah] to someone who has already picked them". Rabbi Elazar said, "Even if they were already picked, the tree is to be praised [and worthy of protection - so the future of Ruth and Na'amah could have been protected by G‑d in another way]. He [Rebbe Shimon] replied to him, "Somebody who hasn't collected the figs, guards the tree constantly so that there should be no blemish; this is for the sake of the fruit that is to come from it in the future. Once the figs are harvested, he leaves the tree and stops guarding it.

So it was with Moab that was in the future to bring these figs. The Holy One, blessed be He, guarded them as is written, "Don't harass the Moabites and don't go to war with them" (Deut. 2:9). But about Midian, which had already given its figs, which had been collected from them [Jethro and his children], it is written, "Harass the Midianites and strike them, for they harassed you with their wiles" (Num. 25:17, 18). From this point on, this fig tree was not destined to give fruit. (Zohar, Num. 188a)

A fig is full of seeds which are like future generations that issue from the people of any particular nation. As long as there is a truly righteous person still to emerge from that nation G‑d guards that nation from harm - even if it is hard for us to understand why from our time-bound point of view!


[Regarding the High Priests coat it is written] "A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe all around it." (Ex. 28:34). We have explained this [that the pomegranate with its many seeds represents the souls of Israel and their many good deeds, and the bells sound their praise] and everything was designed in accordance with the higher spiritual worlds as we said, for what is written [in the following verse]? "And his sound shall be heard when he goes into the holy place before G‑d [the Holy of Holies], and when he comes out, that he should not die."

This is because there is a need for a voice to be heard [below in the sound of the bells to arouse the higher "voice"] and then blessing will flow down and imbue the world. [The High Priest is worthy to cause this] because he [represents the sefira of chesed that causes] all to be blessed and serves on behalf of all.

We have explained the golden bells, and the [reason for the] pomegranate is that [the High Priest] is full like a pomegranate that has more seeds than all other [fruits]. (Zohar, Ex. p.231a)

When the High Priest entered the inner sanctuary of the Temple, the pomegranates on his robe symbolized each and every soul in Israel that he was representing.


[As a result of the modest behavior of a Jewish mother she merits that] "Your children will be like olive saplings around your table." (Psalms 128:3) What does this mean; the children will be like olive saplings? Just like the olive tree doesn't lose its leaves, whether in winter or summer, and it always is more important than the other trees [giving fruit to eat and light to see by in the form of olive oil], so will her children rise to be more important than the rest of people of the world. (Zohar, Num. 126a)

Olive oil represents the sefira of chochma which is always full of fresh insights. Modest behavior in the home represents submission to a higher code of conduct and results in a woman never losing her freshness. This in turn leads to children who, because of their fresh insights, are more important in the world. (For example, 25% of Nobel Prizes come from less than .002 of the world's population!)


The righteous one eats to satisfy his soul…

"Out of the eater came food, and out of the strong came sweetness." (Judges 14:14) There is a support for this verse from another source. What is written "from the eater" refers to the tzadik [sefira of yesod, which "eats" all of the powers of the sefirot above it] as is written; "The righteous one eats to satisfy his soul". The [sefira of yesod, or the] righteous one certainly eats and takes from all [gathering all the higher lights]. Why [does the sefira of yesod have to receive all this]? It is in order to satisfy his soul, meaning in order to give satisfaction to that place which is called "the soul of David" [malchut].

And the words "came food" indicate that if it were not for the tzadik no sustenance would come down to the world and it could not continue to exist. "From the strong came sweet"; this refers to Isaac [gevura] who blessed Jacob [tiferet] that he receive from the dew of the heavens and the fat of the earth. Also, even though they seem different the explanations are all one [in referring to gevura passing on sustenance] because if wasn't for the side of strict judgment honey could not emerge. 

What is the secret of honey? It is the oral law as it is written: "The judgments of G‑d are a mixture of truth and righteousness together. More to be desired than gold, even very fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb." (Ps. 19:10) The strong is the written law, as in the verse "G‑d will give strength to his people". From this strength came out sweet that is the oral law. (Zohar, Gen. 240a)

This is the source for the custom to start teaching little children the alef-beit with letters dipped in honey.


* Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, also know by the acronym "Rashbi," lived in the Holy Land in the 2nd century C.E. A disciple of Rabbi Akiva, Rashbi played a key role in the transmission of Torah, both as an important Talmudic sage and as author of the Zohar, the most fundamental work of Kabbalah. He was buried in Meron, Israel, west of Safed.

** Shmuel-Simcha Treister is a lawyer from New Zealand who made aliya to Safed with his family in 1993 to study Zohar. He continues doing so to this day. He also works in the Ascent multi-media center. © Copyright, Chabad.

Photos from Wikipedia


*** When the Torah refers to Honey, it is date honey. balashon

While the term "honey" (dvash in Hebrew) appears 55 times in the Bible, it refers to date or fig honey in all but two references: Judges 14:8-9, when Samson took honey from the lion's carcass, and I Samuel 14:27, when Jonathan dipped his rod in a honeycomb during a battle and his countenance brightened.

Sarna has a similar note in his commentary on Shmot 3:8 -

Honey in the Bible (Heb. devash) is predominantly the thick, sweet syrup produced from dates and known to the Arabs as dibs. Apiculture seems to have been unknown in Palestine; the few explicit references in the Bible to bees' honey pertain to the wild variety. While the date itself is never mentioned, the inclusion of honey among the seven characteristic products of the land listed in Deuteronomy 8:8 indicates that, like all the others, it too derives from the soil.

I happened to take out a book from the local library that discusses this issue in detail: Fruit Trees in the Bible and Talmudic Literature, by Yehuda Feliks (Rubin Mass, 1994). The chapter on dvash is in Hebrew, and I can't quote the entire thing here, but I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the subject. I will summarize a few points he brings up:

The phrase ארץ זבת חלב ודבש ("land flowing with milk and honey") in the Torah is clearly referring to honey from fruit trees, as it is praising the agricultural bounty of the land. However, in Yeshayahu 7:22, when it mentions כי חמאה ודבש יאכל כל הנותר בקרב הארץ "Everyone who is left in the land shall feed on curds and honey", it is a parody of the Torah verses. For here, the prophet is describing a time when the land is desolate - and therefore the bees can proliferate. (The milk for the curds will also be widely available, because the cows and sheep will be able to graze on the previously tended croplands).

Bee honey is not seen as a sign of blessing for the land, even though it is seen as fortunate to find it (as in the story of Yonatan mentioned above). Yaakov also probably sent bee honey to Yosef (Bereshit 43:11), because it mentions מעט דבש - "a small amount of honey", and bee honey would have been hard to obtain.

Many sources where the honey is mentioned as coming from rocks (Devarim 32:13, Tehilim 81:17) it is likely referring to fig honey, as figs (unlike dates) grow in rocky terrain.

Although the rabbis generally identify the biblical dvash with dates (Sifrei Devarim 297, Mechilta D'Rashbi 13:5), when they used the word dvash themselves, they were referring to bee honey. For example, the Yerushalmi (Bikkurim 1:3) interprets the biblical word: "And dvash - this is dates. Could it be actual dvash (e.g. bee honey)?" They answer that since the dvash in the verse is obligated in tithes, it cannot be referring to bee honey, but rather date honey. We also see that if someone makes an oath that they will not eat dvash, they are allowed to eat date honey (Nedarim 6:9)

While the article was written before the recent discovery (and sadly Prof. Feliks passed away last year, and did not merit to review it), I don't think the discovery radically challenges anything in the article. Certainly bee honey was considered a rare treat, and there would have been efforts to make the product more widely available. And by Talmudic times, these efforts had succeeded so well, that bee honey became the dominant meaning of "dvash”.

But the meaning of eretz zavat chalav u'dvash still refers to the agriculture of the Land of Israel, particularly, as Feliks points out, in comparison to that of Egypt, whose dates were much dryer and did not easily produce honey.

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