אמר רבי אבא אין לך קץ מגולה מזה שנאמר (יחזקאל לו) ואתם ערי ישראל ענפיכם תתנו ופריכם תשאו לעמי ישראל וגו’. וברש”י: כשתתן ארץ ישראל פריה בעין יפה אז יקרב הקץ ואין לך קץ מגולה יותר.
Rabbi Abba said: There can be no more manifest (sign of) redemption than this: viz., what is said, “But you, mountains of Israel, you will sprout your branches and bear your fruit for my people Israel, since their arrival is near.” [Ezekiel 36:8] (Gemara Bavli, Sanhedrin 98a)
Rashi comments: “When Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) gives its fruit generously, then the redemption is near, and there is no more manifest sign than this.”
Astonishment at the Talmudic comment
Seemingly, the Gemara’s comment is totally incomprehensible: the sign of the impending redemption is trees which sprout and bear fruit? That, and not rebuilding the Temple, re-establishing the Sanhedrin, not the inspiration of the Shechina, (the Divine Presence) only trees and fruit? Is this indeed what we so eagerly await? After all, branches and fruit exist throughout the world, not merely in the Land of Israel. At first glance, when we speak of redemption, of the impending end, the intention is something much loftier. How is it possible that the sign which Rabbi Abba sees that redemption is near is the fact that the tree branches are full of fruit?
First Answer: Physical Development Precedes Spiritual Development
When a child is born we do not teach him math, or Gemara, nor do we try to educate him, but simply see to it that he eats and sleeps properly. We do not ask: “Are the parents concerned only about his physical situation? Why don’t they teach him values and educate him?” It is clear that, with God’s help, the child’s parents will teach and educate him at the appropriate time, but infancy is not that time. It is the time for physical development which in the future will allow strengthening the child’s intellectual and spiritual sides. If, God forbid, the parents invest their efforts in education rather than in the child’s physical needs, the child will not survive. True, parallel to caring for the child’s physical development, the parents speak to him, sing to him and tell him stories, which certainly contribute greatly to his intellectual and emotional development; nevertheless, the major effort and the most obvious advancement in the early developmental stages are physical.
On the simple level, this is Rabbi Abba’s intention. When Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) returns from its exile and, as it were, is reborn. The nation requires a firm basis upon which its spiritual powers can be developed in the future. It is not possible to commence with lofty spiritual matters, for the nation cannot survive solely on a spiritual plane. It is first necessary to establish the tangible situation in Eretz Yisrael, in which the nation’s physical powers are revealed. Only after this foundation has been set is it possible to properly develop the spiritual structure. Of course, as with the child, so too with the nation, in the early developmental stages attention is given to spiritual development as well. Just as the child is spoken to and sung to, so the nation studies Torah even before its physical side has been fully cared for, but the major efforts will be invested in its tangible situation, and the main results will be seen in the tangible realm.
This is similar to what Chazal (our Sages) taught [Avot 3:21]: “אם אין קמח אין תורה” (“If there is no flour, there can be no Torah”). Without a sound physical base, it is not possible to develop Torah, since it cannot survive.
Therefore, Rabbi Abba says “When Eretz Yisrael gives its fruit generously, then the redemption is near,” since the Land’s physical development is the necessary precursor to perfecting its spiritual aspect, and when this happens, it is already possible to see the end, the development of the spiritual aspect which is based upon the Land’s tangible development.
Second Answer: Physical Development Follows Spiritual Development
Above we quoted the Mishna’s statement that if there is no flour there can be no Torah. In the continuation of the Mishna, Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya states that if there is no Torah, there can be no flour. Rabbi Ovadya of Bartenura explains that if there is no Torah, flour can have no meaning. Or HaChayim, commenting on the posuk in Parashat Ha’azinu [Sefer Devarim 32:2]: “יערוף כמטר לקחי” (“May My teaching fall like rain”) writes that if there is no Torah, meaning that the spiritual aspect is lacking, there can be no flour, since the two are mutually connected. God gives flour to those who will use it to allow themselves to deal with Torah; if the flour will not be used to facilitate Torah, God will withhold it.
Based upon Or HaChayim ‘s exposition, we can say that this is Rabbi Abba’s intention: When the trees provide bountiful fruit it is a sign that the nation of Israel is worthy because they are on an appropriate spiritual level, and it is an indication of their spiritual progress. When this occurs, it is a sign that redemption is near, that Am Yisrael is well developed spiritually and therefore God provides economic bounty.
Third Answer: Physical Development Reflects Spiritual Development
Beyond the concept that spiritual progress must be preceded by physical progress and the idea that the Land’s economic development indicates that God is rewarding His people for their appropriate spiritual level, there is additional significance to Eretz Yisrael giving its fruit.
Clearly, the various organs of the body are interdependent. A heart problem affects the brain as well, and conversely, a brain problem affects the heart. Concerning a nation and its land, the general assumption is that the situation is different and the two are not connected. A nation’s land is typically thought to be merely a means for that nation’s existence, physically and conceptually. A nation cannot survive without a place to live, but there is no inherent connection between the nation and its land.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook zt”l, at the beginning of his sefer (written work) Orot Eretz Yisrael [Piska (section) 1] writes that this is indeed true in most instances. Generally a nation’s land is only a necessary condition for its existence, not more than that. Therefore, theoretically, the nation can exist in a similar way in a different land. However, the Land of Israel, says Rabbi Kook, is unlike other lands. “The Eretz Yisrael is an inherent unit which is connected to the nation with life-bonds”. There is a real connection between Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. This connection is comparable to the connection between the heart and brain mentioned above, neither can live without the other. The Land is not merely the place where we can live, it is the only place on earth where we can develop our powers – physical and spiritual.
Based upon this, it is clear that when Eretz Yisrael blooms, it is an indication that the nation too blooms. If the Land is destroyed, it indicates that the nation too is in a state of destruction. Accordingly, Rabbi Abba’s comment is quite simple: when one sees the Land of Israel developing and being perfected, it is clearly a sign that Am Yisrael is developing and being perfected. When the trees of the Land provide fruit, it is an indication that the nation is healing and developing, thus, there is no more manifest sign.
Summary of the Answers
We have seen that fruit growing on the trees of Israel indicate three things:
1] That Am Yisrael is healing and developing, and as with an infant, physical development precedes spiritual development.
2] That Am Yisrael is engaged with Torah and therefore God sees to it that the nation’s physical condition is positive. “If there is no Torah, there cannot be flour.”
3] That Am Yisrael is progressing and perfecting itself and this progress is evident in the physical condition of Eretz Yisrael which is closely connected to the condition of the Am Yisrael.
Based on all of these, Rabbi Abba declares that “When Eretz Yisrael gives its fruit generously, then the redemption is near, and there is no more manifest sign than this.”
Eretz Yisrael in Our Days
It is not necessary to elaborate on the contemporary physical state of Eretz Yisrael. After almost two thousand years of exile, during which the Land was destroyed and desolate, we have been privileged to see her blossom and prosper. The Land’s prosperity is expressed in the blooming and blossoming of its tress and its fruit, as Ezekiel described. Beyond this, Israel blossoms in all tangible areas, in medicine, technology, science and other areas. The Israeli economy is robust. We are privileged to see the fulfillment of the prophecy: “ואתם ערי ישראל ענפיכם תתנו ופריכם תשאו לעמי ישראל” (“But you, mountains of Israel, you will sprout your branches and bear your fruit for my people Israel”).
As we have explained, the physical condition of the Land is directly dependent upon the spiritual condition of Am Yisrael, and this too can be seen today. Seventy years ago, when the Land was not yet developed physically, there was only a small number of yeshivot. Today there are hundreds of yeshivot and kollels, with tens of thousands of students.
It is said that Rabbi Avraham Shapira (Rosh Yeshiva of Rabbi Kook’s yeshiva) would call the Ministry of Religious Affairs annually on the eve of Independence Day and inquire as to the exact number of yeshiva and kollel students in order to appreciate the advancement of Torah study in Eretz Yisrael, which rose annually.
In our days we can clearly see the connection between the Land’s tangible aspects and the nation’s spirituality.
There is no more manifest sign than this. May it be speedily in our days. Amen.