Tuesday, August 07, 2012

A land of oil producing olives and honey

Summary: According to Chazal, the word דְבָשׁ in our pasuk refers to dates, rather than specifically the honey of those dates (or the honey of bees). Rav Chaim Kanievsky is troubled by this, since halachically, they have the status of zeiah bealma. And he explains how it is not synechdoche, but rather, devash is a generic name for sweet fruit. I am not entirely convinced by this. I also give two novel ways of interpreting this pasuk, at the end, the latter of which will indeed produce an interpretation of dates rather than date honey.

Post: In parshat Ekev, we hear of Israel as a land of milk and honey:
8. a land of wheat and barley, vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of oil producing olives and honey,ח. אֶרֶץ חִטָּה וּשְׂעֹרָה וְגֶפֶן וּתְאֵנָה וְרִמּוֹן אֶרֶץ זֵית שֶׁמֶן וּדְבָשׁ:
So too in Vayelech, it is describes as a land flowing with milk and honey:

20. When I bring them to the land which I have sworn to their forefathers [to give them], a land flowing with milk and honey, they will eat and be satisfied, and live on the fat [of the land]. Then, they will turn to other deities and serve them, provoking Me and violating My covenant.כ. כִּי אֲבִיאֶנּוּ אֶל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לַאֲבֹתָיו זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ וְאָכַל וְשָׂבַע וְדָשֵׁן וּפָנָה אֶל אֱ־לֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וַעֲבָדוּם וְנִאֲצוּנִי וְהֵפֵר אֶת בְּרִיתִי:

In Onkelos, it is explained that eretz zeit shemen udvash means producing shemen and devash:

ח,ח אֶרֶץ חִטָּה וּשְׂעֹרָה, וְגֶפֶן וּתְאֵנָה וְרִמּוֹן; אֶרֶץ-זֵית שֶׁמֶן, וּדְבָשׁ.אֲרַע חִטִּין וּסְעָרִין, וְגֻפְנִין וְתֵינִין וְרִמּוֹנִין; אַרְעָא דְּזֵיתַהָא עָבְדִין מִשְׁחָא, וְהִיא עָבְדָא דְּבַשׁ.

though without specification that it is specifically the date fruits which are producing the devash, even as it states that the olives produce the shemen. In Targum Yerushalmi and Targum Pseudo-Yonatan, however, that it is the dates which are producing the devash is made explicit.

Ibn Ezra asserts he has already explained what devash is:
ודבש -פירשתיו.

and this is a reference to his commentary on Vayikra 2:11, where he defined it as date honey; possibly. In particular, he writes there on parashat Vayikra:

[ב, יא]
שאור -
הוא המחמיץ גם כן הדבש. 

ורבים אמרו: 
שפירושו דבש תמרים, וכן כל ארץ זבת חלב ודבש ויש להם כדמות ראיה בספר עזרא.

"that Seor (sour-dough is something that causes other things to become chametz; and so too the devash; And many say that its intent is the devash of dates, and so too our pasuk here, a land of milk and honey, and they have something approximating a proof in sefer Ezra."

I'm not going to investigate this at this point.

Some members of Chazal interpret the devash to mean dates, rather than date honey. Thus, e.g., we see in Yerushalmi Bikkurim 2b, discussing this very pasuk in Ekev:
ודבש אלו התמרים יכול דבש ממש רבי תנחומא בשם רבי יצחק ב"ר לעזר כתיב (דברי הימים ב לא) וכפרוץ הדבר הרבו בני ישראל ראשית דגן תירוש ויצהר ודבש.  ודבש חייב במעשרות.  אלא אלו התמרים שהן חייבין במעשרות.

Since a pasuk in Divrei Hayamim speaks of devash as one of the things one brings bikkurim of, and one does not bring bikkurim of honey, it must be that devash refers to the dates themselves, not of the honey that exudes from it.

Rather than saying that devash is now a synonym for temarim, this is likely to be understood as a synecdoche, such as where a part stands for the whole. Here, what exudes from the fruit is used to refer to the fruit itself.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky
Rav Chaim Kanievsky explains this pasuk in a rather surprising way:

אֶרֶץ זֵית שֶׁמֶן וּדְבָשׁ, יל״ע למה קראה התורה התמרים בשם דבש הא קי״ל דדבש
תמרים זיעה בעלמא הוא ואין עליו שם פרי כלל כמ״ש בברכות ל״ח א׳ ועי׳ רא״ש ברכות פ״ו סי׳ י״ב, ונראה דדבש דהכא אין זה על שם היוצא מהן אלא כל פרי מתוק נקרא דבש כדפי׳ רש״י בסוכה ו׳ א׳ ד״ה דבש ע״ש, והוא מבואר בהדיא בשבועות י״ב ב׳ כבנות שוח למזבח והכתיב כי כל שאור וכל דבש וכו' ופירש״י כל פירות האילן בכלל, ולפי שתמרים מתוקין יותר מכל הפירות קרי לי׳ דבש לשבחו שהוא מלא מתיקות ודבש, ועי׳ בד״ה גבי חזקי׳ וכפרוץ הדבר הרבו בנ״י ראשית דגן תירוש ויצהר ודבש וגם שם צריך לפרש כנ״ל כי דבש לבד זיעה בעלמא הוא

That is, he takes it as a given that the Torah is not referring to honey, but is calling the dates by the name "honey". But this is surprising, because of the insignificance of the honey. To cite Berachot 38a:
Mar son of R. Ashi also said: Over honey of the date-palm we say, 'by whose word all things exist'.2  What is the reason? — Because it is merely moisture [of the tree]. With whose teaching does this accord? — With that of the following Tanna, as we have learnt: With regard to the honey of the date-palm and cider and vinegar from stunted grapes3  and other fruit juices of terumah. R. Eliezer requires [in case of sacrilege] payment of the value and an additional fifth,4  but R. Joshua exempts [from the additional fifth].5
It seems that we say shehakol rather than haetz on honey because of its insignificance. And Rashi there says:
זיעה בעלמא הוא - ואינו פרי לברך עליו בורא פרי העץ:
And, perhaps, he is saying, if they are only zei'ah, why would the fruit be called by them? He refers to various gemaras and Rashis where devash refers to all sweet fruits. And since dates are sweetest of all fruits, they are called 'devash' as a way of praising them. And he refers as well to that pasuk above in Divrei Hayamim.

Honestly, I don't see the problem as so severe. I understand that halachically, it is not considered significant enough, and that seems contrary to the synecdoche of calling dates by the name honey. I would still be willing to let that awkwardness remain and see devash as synechdoche. Saying that the honey which exudes is simply zeiah does not mean that people don't know that honey comes from dates.

I think that devash, on a peshat level, indeed means honey, parallel to a land flowing with milk and honey, and parallel to the liquid shemen which immediately precedes. These are things which flow. However, I will close with two other interpretations of the pasuk, and in particular the phrase אֶרֶץ זֵית שֶׁמֶן וּדְבָשׁ.

1) What does זֵית mean? Usually olives. But looking at Jastrow, he gives a first meaning of 'outflow, run':

If so, we can distribute the word זֵית across שֶׁמֶן and וּדְבָשׁ, and render it 'a land of flowing of oil and honey'. This would then be parallel to זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ, a land flowing with milk and honey.

2) If זֵית indeed carries this meaning of flowing, and zayit refers to a particular fruit which has this outflow, the olive, then perhaps it can be used in the more general sense of fruit which exudes. If so, then once again we can distribute the word זֵית across שֶׁמֶן and וּדְבָשׁ, but this time render it as "a land of 'olives' of oil and 'olives' of honey'. In other words, a land of olives and dates. And in this way, we arrive at the same conclusion we saw above, without really redefining devash as dates. (Divrei Hayamim would still need to be dealt with, if we agree that they held by the halacha of not bringing date honey but just dates.)


eliavs said...

a little (not much) off topic, there is an interesting commentary by r' reuven margaliyo that shows that the meaning of milk in the land of milk and honey is actually white wine. it is not in front of me right nnow but I will bring the source later

joshwaxman said...

nice. sounds interesting.


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