Featured Post

Ve’etchanan: The fruits of redemption

Moses’s desire to enter the land should serve as the model for our desire to enter the land – to redeem creation

A cabbie once told me that he moved back to Israel because the fruits in Israel tasted so much better than anywhere else in the world.  Now, while moving to Israel is undeniably fulfillment of God’s will, should the fruits of the land be a reason to immigrate?!  The Talmud addresses this point in discussing Moses’ great desire to enter the land of Israel:

Rabbi Simlai expounded: Why did Moses our teacher yearn to enter the land of Israel?  Did he have a need to “eat of its fruits” or a need to “be satisfied of its goodness”?  Rather, said Moses, ‘Many precepts were commanded to Israel and they can only be fulfilled in the land of Israel.  I wish to enter the land so that they may all be fulfilled by me.’ (Sotah 14a).

Given that the Talmud belittles the notion of entering the land simply to “eat of its fruits” or “be satisfied of its goodness”, why, asks Rabbi Baruch Epstein, does the blessing after eating (“mein shalosh”) include a request to come to the land of Israel specifically to “eat of its fruits” and to “be satisfied of its goodness”?  Indeed, due to this incongruity Rabbi Jacob ben Asher (Tur, Orech Hayim 208) notes that some authorities omit this wording from the blessing.

But to omit the wording is to admit that the ancient formulation[1] that includes it is as difficult as Rabbi Epstein posited.  And difficult it is, for Rabbi Epstein does not answer his question, concluding only that the issue “requires significant consideration.”

The resolution, I propose, lies in devoting significant consideration to Moses’ desire to enter the land.  The depth of his desire is conveyed in his fervent prayers that, explains the Midrash, shook heaven and earth and the order of creation until the angels thought that God was starting creation anew (Devarim Rabba 11:10).  Clearly Moses was not interested in simply performing a few more commandments, but rather in doing something that would have implications on the very foundations of creation.

Rabbeinu Bechayei (Deuteronomy 3:24) explains that since Moses was the lawgiver, and as that law – the Torah – is essentially to be fulfilled only in the land, he wanted to complete the giving of the law by bringing it to fruition in the land.  Rabbi Chaim Benatar (Deuteronomy 3:25) notes that Moses was not only the lawgiver but the redeemer.  Having redeemed the people from Egypt, he wished to complete the task by bringing them into the promised land.

While both of these motivations are certainly true, Moses’ desire to enter the land was not about completing his own personal lifework but about something much greater.  Indeed, Rabbi Benatar explains that Moses wished to effectuate the final redemption of mankind.  In consonance, Rabbi Soloveitchik notes that the final redemption – with Moses at the helm – was in fact God’s plan from the very outset of the Exodus, scuttled only by the failure of the people to stay the course.

The implications are significant.  Rabbi Soloveitchik writes: “According to our tradition, had Moshe entered Eretz Yisrael, it never would have been taken from us – because Moshe would have been crowned as Melekh haMashiach [the Messiah].”  Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn explains that if Moses had brought the Jews in to the land of Israel and built the Temple, that Temple would have been indestructible – “eternal.”

Why then did God resist when Moses beseeched Him?  Rabbi Benatar explains that the sins of the people in the desert had demonstrated that they were not ready for the final redemption.  As such, if Moses had been allowed to enter the land, build an eternal Temple and make the land unconquerable, then, when the people would inevitably sin, God’s hands, as it were, would be tied.  Without the means of educating the people through destruction and exile, the bodies of the people themselves would have to bear the burden of their sins.  In other words, God would be forced to bring an end to the people of Israel, and with them, the end of creation.

This is why Moses’ supplications to enter the land shook the very foundations of creation. This is why the angels said, “Perhaps God has decided to start creation anew.”  Moses wanted to enter the land to redeem creation; God, in His omniscience, knew that the world was not ready.  So, while Moses had to be denied entrance to the land, his desire was not to eat the fruits of the land and not even to fulfill the commandments in the parochial sense – but to fulfill them in their broadest sense, as fulfillment of the purpose of creation.

Let us now return to Rabbi Epstein’s quandary: Given that the notion of entering the land to “eat of its fruits” is ignoble, why then does the blessing after eating (“mein shalosh”) include a request to come to the land of Israel specifically to “eat of its fruits”?

When the Talmud disparaged eating of the fruits, it was referring to the base desire for physical satisfaction – something that was not part of Moses’ desire to enter the land and something that should not, ideally, be part of our desire to enter the land.  On the other hand, when the Rabbis formulated the mein shalosh blessing with the request to “eat of its fruits”, it was not to express a base physical desire, but rather to give voice to the deep spiritual desire to enter the land redeemed.  This is seen clearly in the context of the request:

Have mercy, Lord, our God…on Jerusalem, Your city; and on Zion, the resting place of Your glory; upon Your altar and upon Your Temple. Rebuild Jerusalem, the city of holiness, speedily in our days. Bring us up into it and gladden us in its rebuilding and let us eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness and bless You upon it in holiness and purity

The request to eat of the fruits is made within the wish to rejoice in the rebuilding of Jerusalem, where we bless God “in holiness and purity”.  The prayer clearly refers to Jerusalem in its perfection as symbol of creation redeemed.

As for those rabbinic decisors who omit the requests for the fruits, they do so on the grounds that the words seemingly express improper intent.  I submit, however, that if one realizes that the words articulate the most altruistic motivation for coming to the land, then they can and should be said with the same fervor that Moses shook heaven and earth.

Indeed, Moses’ desire to enter the land should serve as the model for our desire to enter the land – to redeem creation.  Ironically, redemption is evidenced by the land giving forth its fruits:

Rabbi Abba said: There can be no more manifest [sign of] redemption than what is said in the verse: “But ye, O mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Israel.” (Sanhedrin 98a).

When the Rabbis formulated the mein shalosh blessing, using positively the same phrases that were used disparagingly, they did so in an attempt to highlight this irony – an irony that runs throughout creation – that what can be used for base physical gratification can also be used for lofty spiritual fulfillment.  Moses beseeched God to enter the land, not to eat of its fruits, but to redeem creation; today, the land abloom with fruits that allured at least one cabbie home from afar, God beseeches us to enter the land and take part in the unfolding redemption by “eating of its fruits” – the fruits of redemption.

[1] The Talmud (Berachot 44a) has the formulation of the blessing, as provided by Rav Dimi to Abayei, without the extra words; but Soncino (Berachot 44a, n.c1) notes that the Munich Codex of the Talmud does include the words.  Yalkut Shimoni (Ekev 850) records the same response of “Rav Dimi to Abayei”, but this time including the extra words.  Encyclopedia Judaica (entry “Beracha Mein Shalaosh”, n.112) notes that the Dikdukei Soferim on Berachot includes the words.  Behag, Rambam (Mishna Berachot 6:8) Rif (Berachot 32a), Meiri (Berachot 44a), Machzor Vitri (83) all include the extra words.

About the Author
Rabbi Mois Navon, an engineer and rabbi, has modeled himself on the principle of "Torah U'Madda" based on the philosophy of R. Soloveitchik as articulated by R. Lamm: Torah, faith, religious learning on one side and Madda, science, worldly knowledge on the other, together offer us a more over-arching and truer vision than either one set alone. In this column Navon synthesizes Torah U'Madda to attain profound perspectives in the Parsha. His writings can be accessed at http://www.divreinavon.com