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Tevel–The Land is Spiced with Everything [Midrash-5]

Presented by:Avrum Leeder

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Torah Lesson written by: Yaakov Karmon

“וראש עפרות תבל זו ארץ ישראל שנא׳ (משלי ח) משחקת בתבל ארצו, למה נקרא שמה תבל שהיא מתובלת בכל, שכל שאר ארצות יש בזו מה שאין בזו, ויש בזו מה שאין בזו, אבל ארץ ישראל אינה חסרה כלום שנאמר (דברים ח) ארץ אשר לא במסכנות תאכל בה לחם לא תחסר כל בה”

“And the beginning of the dust of the earth (tevel)” [Mishlei (Proverbs) 8:26] refers to Eretz Yisrael, as the verse says “Playing in the habitable world of His Land (tevel).” [Ibid. v.31] Why is the Land called “tevel?” Because she is spiced with everything (a play on words, the word “tevel” is related to the word “tavlin,” meaning spice); for in all other lands, one land has things that another does not, but Eretz Yisrael is missing nothing, as Scripture states “A Land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, you will lack nothing (kol) in it.”

[Devarim (Deuteronomy) 8:9] Sifrei, Eikev 37

Though at first glance this Midrash seems clear and understandable, it raises a certain measure of surprise. Clearly, the posuk (verse) which the Midrash cites as its prooftext is not presented in its simple meaning (p’shat). When the Torah states that Am Yisrael will lack nothing in its Land, it does not mean that there is no type of produce which is not grown within her, but merely that there will be an abundance of food, and the Israelites will not go hungry within the Land. Why does the Midrash choose to ignore the simple meaning of the posuk and state that it teaches that Eretz Yisrael produces all types of food?

It appears that reflection on another Midrash, which also expounds the meaning of “kol” will provide an explanation.

The Orchard of King Solomon

King Solomon, in describing his wealth and abundance of worldly pleasures, in the second chapter of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), writes “I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted in them all (kol) sorts of fruit trees.” [v.2] Though the simple meaning of the verse is that Solomon planted numerous types of fruit trees, Midrash Tancḥuma [Parashat Kedoshim, 10] expounds the posuk to mean literally that Solomon planted every type of fruit that exists. However, in contrast to our Midrash, Tancḥuma explains itself:

Rabbi Yanai said: “Solomon even planted peppers in the Land,” to which the Midrash responds by questioning this possibility, since (in Solomon’s times) peppers were grown only in Cush (today’s Ethiopia). The Midrash answers “Solomon was wise and knew the basis of the world, as we have been taught ‘Why was (the site of the Holy of Holies called “the Foundation Stone?” Since it was there that the world was founded (i.e., the place from which God commenced creation of the world).’” Solomon knew which point in the Land connected to Cush, and planted peppers there, which immediately blossomed. Thus the verse says ‘I planted in them all sorts of fruit trees.’”[1]

The Midrash states that since the world was created from the אבן השתיה (Foundation Stone), which is found in the Beit HaMikdash (holy Temple), that site incorporates all the life forces of the world. Knowing this, King Solomon understood that if somewhere in the world peppers grow, there must be a spot near the אבן השתיה (Foundation Stone) where growing peppers is possible, since the ability of any place to grow peppers must be flowed from the אבן השתיה (Foundation Stone) to that point through some channel. Thus, throughout the length of that channel, it is possible to cultivate peppers.

The closer one gets to the center of the circle, the greater the convergence of diameter lines drawn from various points on the circle. The אבן השתיה (Foundation Stone) can be seen as the center of a circle; hence, the closer one gets to the אבן השתיה (Foundation Stone), the variety of fruits which can be grown increases. Peppers which can be grown in Cush can be grown along the entire of the axis from the center of the circle (אבן השתיה the Foundation Stone) to Cush. With his great wisdom, King Solomon knew that everything began with and at the אבן השתיה (Foundation Stone), and he knew the exact axis which allowed cultivating every type of fruit tree, and thus he was able to grow every type within Jerusalem.

Eretz Yisrael – Center of all life forces

The Midrash concerning King Solomon teaches that Eretz Yisrael is the central place where all life forces converge. Whatever exists in the world must exist in some measure within Eretz Yisrael, since all creation stems from and is nurtured by the Land. This being the case, the Midrash with which we began is understandable. Since the Land is the source of everything, everything that grows must be found within her. It is not possible for something to grow anywhere in the world without roots in Eretz Yisrael.

The Nation of Israel – Root of all nations

As Eretz Yisrael is the center and the root of everything in the world, so too is the Nation of Israel. Rabbi A. Y. Kook z”tl writes that whatever wars rage in the world, even if they are between two countries geographically far from Eretz Yisrael, still influence the Am Yisrael (Nation of Israel). A war between Britain and France impacts the development of Am Yisrael. This seems strange, why should events in Europe affect Am Yisrael within its Land? Rabbi Kook explains that every nation has its own unique qualities, and when one nation fights another (whether on the battlefield or a trade war) it highlights the distinctions between it and its enemy, and its own unique traits. Am Yisrael, says Rabbi Kook, is the mirror of the world, that is, whatever happens in the world is reflected in some manner by Am Yisrael, since it is the center of the world. Rabbi Kook adds a novel insight: for Am Yisrael, which, as it were, is the root of all nations, to fully develop itself, it is necessary that all “branches” which spring from it be fully developed; for the unique qualities of Am Yisrael to develop to their maximum, the nations of the world must develop their own special qualities. Therefore, though war is essentially destructive and harmful, it does have the positive aspect of allowing the combatant nations to express and develop their unique qualities, and in that way, further the development of Am Yisrael.

The Roots are Influenced by the Branches

Rabbi Kook’s comments provide a new understanding of the meaning of being the source from which everything is nurtured: not only is everything nurtured through the roots, and in a sense are found within the roots, but everything which springs from the roots influences the roots. If the branches do not bring forth all the fruit which they can produce, there will be something lacking with the roots. We explained the Midrash’s statement that everything in the world is necessarily found in Eretz Yisrael because the Land is the source of everything and based on Rabbi Kook’s approach we can suggest that if all lands do not produce their fruit or develop their national traits to the fullest degree, correspondingly, there is something lacking in Eretz Yisrael. Eretz Yisrael can reach the apex of its development only when all lands and nations actualize the forces hidden within them, forces whose roots are to be found in Eretz Yisrael, the Land which is spiced with everything.

May it be God’s will that Eretz Yisrael actualize all the forces within her and be a beacon for the entire world, which is nurtured by her.


[1] In the Talmudic literature, peppers are considered as trees, e.g. Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 81b.

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