The Torah declares: “When you come into the land and plant any kind of tree for food, you are to consider the fruit forbidden (literally: it will be uncircumcised). It will be forbidden to you for three years; it is not to be eaten”
[Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:23]
The Gemara Berachot 36a states: “Rabbi Meir says: “Since the text says ‘You are to consider the fruit forbidden; do I not know that it is speaking of a tree for food? Why then does it say ‘trees for food’? To include a tree of which the wood has the same taste as the fruit. And what is this? The pepper tree, This teaches you that pepper is subject to the law of orlah, and it also teaches you that the Land of Israel lacks nothing, as it says, ‘A Land where you will eat food without shortage, where you will lack nothing …’” [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 8:9]
Analyzing Rabbi Meir’s statement raises the following question: How is it that the fact that Eretz Yisrael has trees whose wood has the same taste as its fruit leads to the conclusion that nothing is lacking in her? Does the fact of Eretz Yisrael having such a tree indicate that she has everything in the world?
In addition, we must understand the educational and faith message which Rabbi Meir wishes to convey.
In Eretz Yisrael one can Sense Taste and Pleasantness Not Only in the Ends, but in the Means As Well
In order to answer our questions, we will study Rabbi Kook’s comments on the significance of “a tree whose wood has the same taste as its fruit.”
In his book Orot haTeshuva, Rabbi Kook zt”l writes: “From the inception of creation it was appropriate that the taste of trees themselves should be the taste of their fruit. All means which strengthen any lofty spiritual aim are worthy of being experienced by the soul on the same lofty level and the same pleasantness as the spiritual aim itself.”
Rabbi Kook explains that the tree is the means and producing fruit the end. The tree and its fruit having the same taste hints at the situation in which there is a sense of taste and of pleasantness not only in the end, but as well in the means which lead to the end.
Based upon Rabbi Kook’s insightful comment, we can understand Rabbi Meir’s saying to imply a general quality of Eretz Yisrael, namely that within her it is possible to experience even the means as tasteful and pleasant, not only the ends themselves.
Thus, we can answer the question we raised: since Eretz Yisrael endows the process and means with an element of the taste and pleasantness of achieving the ends, she is able to fill her inhabitants with joy in the process of achieving their life goals, not merely in the actual achievement. Often, sadness and the feeling that something is missing result from an inability to see a connection between one’s current activities and achieving his goals. The ability to see this connection engenders joy and prevents the feeling that something is missing.
This point is made in Chazals’ (our Sages’) saying: “איזהו עשיר-השמח בחלקו” (“Who is wealthy? He who is satisfied with his portion”) [Pirkei Avot 4:1]. That is, true wealth is not a function of how much money one has, rather it depends upon the emotional feeling of completeness which comes from satisfaction with one’s portion.
The experience of Jews who came to Eretz Yisrael a century and more ago provides an example of this. The physical conditions in the Land of Israel were difficult, the pioneers, who lived in tents, with little to eat, had to dry out swamps, yet they felt joy in working the fields of the Land, and at the end of their work day, they danced, joyously celebrating the fact that they were privileged to work in Eretz Yisrael.
The pioneers’ strength to rejoice even in their difficult situation was drawn from their commitment to rebuild the Land. They experienced joy in the realization that they were creating a better future, and this gave them the strength to rejoice even while engaged in their difficult daily tasks which led to their goal.
Chazal, Our Sages, say that Eretz Yisrael lacks nothing. We explained, based upon Rabbi Kook’s comments, that the meaning of this praise is that in Eretz Yisrael we can feel that our work furthers accomplishment of the goals towards which we work. This feeling brings us joy and the sense that nothing is lacking in our lives; and when we truly sense this feeling, indeed nothing is lacking.
May it be God’s will that we settle Eretz Yisrael and experience joy in our portion.