Inside Tefilin – A Land Flowing With Milk and Honey
Both words milk and honey instill positive connotations to virtually every human being. Their presence in the land demonstrates a good economy. This goes so far that honey is actually the word used to describe any “sweet” concept. Milk and milk products are universally rich and fatty substances.
In the Torah honey generally refers to date honey. However, several uses of the word honey refer to bee’s honey as well as others that refer to any honey like substance that easily exudes from fruit. Riesh Lakish was a Emora during the Talmudic period. He says that he saw a lamb grazing under a fig tree dripping with honey. The lamb itself was dripping its milk onto the honey. He said that this represented the land flowing with milk and honey. (Ketubot 111b)
Our Rabbis of Blessed Memory have additionally said that the fruit of Israel are fatty like milk and sweet like honey. (Ketubot 112a)
It seems that the term honey is in reality a difficult word to specifically understand. Above we saw that Reish Lakish leaves the term honey open ended by referring to fig “honey” while discussing the phrase, “A land flowing with milk and honey.” However, what the words milk and honey include seems to be a disagreement of Tanaim of the Mishnaic period.
According to Rabi Eliezer milk in “Milk and Honey” means that the milk of the fruits is very rich and that the honey refers only to Date Honey. However, Rabi Akiva disagrees and says that milk refers to real milk and that honey refers to “Yearot Dvash ” “Yearot Honey .“ (Mechilta Derashb”i)
There is further disagreement between Rashi and his school of thought and Radak as to what “Yearot Dvash” means. According to Rashi it means canes with honey in them that grow in Israel. It seems possible that Rashi refers to cane sugar or perhaps another sweet cane. However, Rada”k questions Rashi’s source material and then says that “Yearot Dvash” refers to ordinary bee’s honey combs. (Shmuel 1 14 25)
In Parashat Ki Tisa The Holy one Blessed be He stated that he would not himself lead the people of Israel into the Holy land instead an Angel will do this. “A land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go in your midst, since you are a stiffnecked people, lest I destroy you on the way.” (Shemot 33 3)
On this Pasuk Seforno points out that the Jewish people need a land that is naturally rich. They are a stiff-necked people. Do to this they will not be successful living in a place like the desert where they need constant miracles to survive.
Dairy products are central to many Jewish customs. On Shavuot we eat dairy. Many say that this is because the Jewish people did not have time to learn the laws of Shchita (ritual slaughtering) and Kashrut laws. Therefore, they ate dairy.
Honey has left a great impact on the Jewish people. Although a tiny portion of the worlds population is Jewish we consume 20% of the world’s honey. This was pointed out to me by the people at www.interhoney.com . The most famous of these sweet customs is on Rosh Hashana when almost every Jew in the world dips an apple in honey.