Tu bShevat Bounty
On Tu b’Shevat we celebrate the bounty of the Land of Israel. But If the Land of Israel is supposed to be flowing with milk and honey, why don’t we see that kind of abundance in the Land of Israel today?
First of all, while Israel may not be literally oozing with milk and honey, there is definitely an agricultural and material abundance, which in this semi-desert region is unprecedented in the last two millennia, and far exceeds any other country of modern times in the area.
Israel has a thriving, modern, industrial, high-tech based economy as well as a broad, varied, productive, export-oriented agricultural market. This is due to great effort and ingenuity, which is literally “fuelled” by Israel’s need to survive.
Still, even if we are to understand the description of milk and honey as referring to material abundance alone,
A proof is that the Land remained desolate for the last two thousand years, because nature alone doesn’t sustain it. Even human enterprise could not cajole its growth, and other peoples and empires were not able to procure its blessing. Even the industrious, powerful and modern Great Britain, after extensive geological surveys, concluded that the land was basically useless for the needs of mass settlement and could never sustain a modern nation.
Considering this, the blessing enjoyed in Israel today is miraculous. Israeli effort and ingenuity alone is not enough without
Interestingly, descriptions of the Land in Talmudic sources, written at a time when Jews had an extremely heightened awareness of
This blessing was not only prosaic, but also so palpable that it had halachic implications as well. We find that quantity or volume is relevant in many discussions of halacha (Berachot 41b). These values are calibrated by the standard/average size of fruits such as a pomegranate, fig, date, olive or egg. From the Talmudic discussions of these “standard” volumes it becomes apparent that their olive was the size of our eggs, and their eggs were the size of our tomatoes. And in Biblical times the fruits and produce were even larger, such that among the men sent by Moses to survey the Land of Israel, one’s hands were full with a huge pomegranate, another’s with a giant fig, and it took eight men to carry one cluster of grapes!
This goes to show that the material quality of “milk and honey” of the Land is a direct function of