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Pinchas: The Parable of the Fig Tree

Updated: 17 hours ago

כִּי־קִנְאַת בֵּיתְךָ אֲכָלָתְנִי

“Zeal for Your House consumes me.” Psalm 69:9

In Parashat Pinchas פִּינְחָס (Numbers 25:10-30:1), Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aharon HaKohen, is rewarded for a controversial act recorded in the final verses of the previous parshah,

Pinchas ben Eleazar

“And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought to his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And when Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aharon the kohen, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a spear in his hand. And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel. And those that died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.” Numbers 25:6-9

It appears that the two were being brazenly intimate in front of the entire congregation. Midianite promiscuity was spiritually weaponized against Israel by Bilaam and Balak, leading to the death of 24,000 people. Zimri’s act was a defiant statement, in the midst of the sanctity of HaShem and Israel, at the worst possible moment, in the worst possible place. The act of zeal of Pinchas saved thousands of lives, as the parsha opens,

“Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aharon the kohen, has turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, in that he was zealous with my zeal among them, so that I didn’t consume the children of Israel in my zeal. Therefore say, “Behold, I give to him my covenant of shalom, and it shall be to him, and to his seed after him, the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel.” Numbers 25:11-13

R’ Pinchas Winston defines what it meant that Pinchas was a “zealot” or in Hebrew, “kanoy”,

“Essentially, a “kanoy” is someone whose very being is intertwined with the truth of Torah and love of God, to the point that any violation of Torah is also a violation of his or her self. As such, it is impossible for the kanoy to stand back and watch the violation occur, but rather, he will take action—either peaceful or aggressive—to rectify the situation.” R’ Pinchas Winston, Talking About the End of Days: View Of Our Times Based On Revealed And Inner Teachings of Torah (pp. 152-153). Kindle Edition

He also explains that this connected Pinchas to Mashiach ben Yosef,

“Rather, what happened for him was the inevitable result of being a zealot for God, which automatically connected him to Heaven and allowed for the Ohr Ain Sof, the Ohr HaNissi — Miraculous Light — to flow to and through him — a descendant of Yosef (through his daughter). . . In a certain capacity this light has a different name: Nehura d’Moshiach Ben Yosef — the “Light of Moshiach Ben Yosef”. R’ Pinchas Winston. The Physics of Kabbalah. Kindle Edition

Like Pinchas, zeal consumed Yeshua of Nazareth when he saw the corrupt priesthood taking advantage of Israel, leading to his controversial cleansing of the Temple. The Gospel of Mark brackets the account with a curious story of a Fig Tree,

A Fig Leaf

“Yeshua entered into the Temple in Jerusalem. When he had looked around at everything, it being now evening, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. The next day, when they had come out from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came to see if perhaps he might find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. Yeshua told it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” and his disciples heard it. They came to Jerusalem, and Yeshua entered into the Temple, and began to throw out those who sold and those who bought in the Temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of those who sold the doves. He would not allow anyone to carry a container through the temple. He taught, saying to them, “Isn’t it written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers!” The chief priests and the scribes heard it, and sought how they might destroy him. For they feared him, because all the multitude was astonished at his teaching. When evening came, he went out of the city. As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away from the roots. Peter, remembering, said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered away.” Mark 11:11-21

Naturally, theologians have been confused about the chronology of the Temple cleansing. The Synoptics place the story near the end of the Gospels, as a catalyst leading to the crucifixion. John, however, places the story at the beginning of Yeshua’s mission. This has led some scholars to propose that there were two near identical Temple cleansings. While this remains a possibility, it is unlikely and unnecessary from a Jewish perspective. While everything in the Gospel of John actually happened, he was not writing on a literal level, but on the level of Sod, a mystical commentary. John chose and arranged the story to illustrate a deeper meaning behind the actions of Yeshua and the events in his life. The Talmud says,

“Said R. Menasia b. Tahlifa in Rab’s name: … there is no chronological order in the Torah.” Pesachim 6b, Soncino Press Edition

The Torah records actual events that happened in history, but it is beyond a mere history book. The same goes for the Gospel of John. This passage from the Talmud teaches us not to project 21st century literary expectations onto a 2000 year old Jewish text. In his Gospel, John adds an important detail from the Psalm 69, “zeal for your house consumes me”,

“The Passover in Judea was at hand, and Yeshua went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, and the changers of money sitting. He made a whip of cords, and threw all out of the temple, both the sheep and the oxen; and he poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew their tables. To those who sold the doves, he said, “Take these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” John 2:13-17

The Ossuary (Bone Box) of Caiaphas, Israel Museum
The Ossuary (Bone Box) of Caiaphas, Israel Museum

Just as Pinchas experienced opposition after his action (Sanhedrin 82b), Yeshua also faced opposition from the Temple leadership. Notice how the text specifies that the “chief priests and scribes” were the ones who sought to destroy Yeshua. In the Second Temple era, the priesthood and the Sanhedrin were controlled by the Sadducees, who were the opponents of the Pharisees. Not only did they teach a warped theology that denied the resurrection, they were politically corrupt and in league with Rome. Annas the High Priest was seemingly working behind the scenes with the Romans to secure the position of High Priest for himself and family members, including his son-in-law, Caiaphas. Josephus reports,

“Tiberius Nero…sent Valerius Gratus to be procurator of Judea, and to succeed Annius Rufus. This man deprived Ananus of the high priesthood, and appointed Ismael, the son of Phabi, to be high priest. He also deprived him in a little time, and ordained Eleazar, the son of Ananus, who had been high priest before, to be high priest; which office, when he had held for a year, Gratus deprived him of it, and gave the high priesthood to Simon, the son of Camithus; and when he had possessed that dignity no longer than a year, Joseph Caiaphas was made his successor. When Gratus had done those things, he went back to Rome, after he had tarried in Judea eleven years, when Pontius Pilate came as his successor.” Josephus, Antiquities 18.2.2

John the Immerser prophesied from the beginning of his mission that Yeshua would cleanse the Temple,

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:12

The term “threshing floor” refers to the Temple, as David purchased the plot of land for the altar,

“Gad came that day to David, and said to him, ‘Go up, build an altar to HaShem on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” 2 Samuel 24:18

To unlock the deeper meaning behind the Temple cleansing, we must grasp the meaning of the Fig Tree. This is a key to understanding the cleansing of the Temple and the spiritual status of 1st century Israel. Why did Yeshua curse the Fig Tree? Anti-missionaries and skeptics have attacked Yeshua’s action as an unnecessary, petty tantrum. On the other side of the coin, some Christian interpretations attempt to use the text for theological proof that Yeshua was canceling God’s covenant with Israel, cursing the nation or the Temple. The Jewish Annotated New Testament notes,

“Christian tradition has held that Jesus condemns Temple sacrifices and worship in principle and is announcing the tradition from Jewish law to faith in Christ. The text nowhere suggests this.” The Jewish Annotated New Testament on Mark 11, Oxford University Press, pg. 83

The idea that the Temple service has been canceled explicitly contradicts the teachings of Yeshua (Matthew 5:17, 8:4). What then is the secret of the Fig Tree?

Fig Leaves

“Seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came to see if perhaps he might find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.” Mark 11:13

Why does Mark include the detail that Yeshua only found fig leaves? What do “fig leaves” represent? In order to understand a concept, you must go its first occurrence in the Torah, which will provide a template, a lens, through which one should view it. The Book of Genesis describes the fall of man, and his subsequent attempt to repair the damage,

“When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit, and ate; and she gave some to her husband with her, and he ate. The eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. They heard the voice of HaShem Elokim walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of HaShem Elokim among the trees of the garden.” Genesis 3:6-8

There is an opinion that the fig was the fruit of the tree of knowledge and good and evil,

“R’ Meir holds that the tree of which Adam ate was the vine, since the thing that most causes wailing to a man is wine, as it says, ‘And he drank of the wine and was drunken.’ R’ Nehemiah says it was the fig tree, so that they repaired their misdeed with the instrument of it, as it says, ‘And they sewed fig leaves together.” Berakhot 40a, Soncino Press Edition

Regardless of the identity of the fruit, the fig leaves were a cover-up for a degenerate spiritual condition. This text from Genesis is critical to understanding the incident with the fig tree. The Temple leadership’s corruption had lead Israel down a corrupt path resulting in a tragically low spiritual state, as the prophet Jeremiah says,

“From the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely. For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, saying, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” Were they ashamed when they had done an abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed, nor could they blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall, in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down,’ says Hashem. ‘I will utterly consume them,’ says HaShem, ‘there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade, and the things that I have given them, those who pass over them.” Jeremiah 8:10-13

Why then would Yeshua look for figs if it was not yet the season? On a literal level, he could have been looking for the fruit from last year, or perhaps desired to eat an unripe fig. However, fruit in this context has a deeper meaning, as the prophet Micah says,

Figs represent the righteous.
Figs represent the righteous.

“Misery is mine! Indeed, I am like one who gathers the summer fruits, as gleanings of the vineyard. There is no cluster of grapes to eat. My soul desires to eat the early fig. The godly man has perished out of the earth, and there is no one upright among men. They all lie in wait for blood, every man hunts his brother with a net.” Micah 7:1-2

The Artscroll commentary on Micah says,

“Micah compares the small number of righteous people of his generation to the spare number of summer fruit (Metsudos) or to the unripe figs of inferior quality that remain on the trees after the harvest (Rashi)...Alternatively, he is lamenting over Israel who refused to hearken to his rebuke. He grieves over the extent of their wickedness and the retribution that God has prepared for them (Radak).” Artscroll Commentary on Micah, Chapter 7, Trei Asar, The Twelve Prophets, Volume II, Mesorah Publications, ltd., pg. 52

Mashiach’s hunger was not for physical food. It was for spiritual righteousness,

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Matthew 5:6

He was looking for the qualities of the Israel of old, like the fathers before them, as Hosea says,

“I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness. I saw your fathers as the first ripe in the fig tree at its first season . . .” Hosea 9:10

Yeshua spoke this parable,

“A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it, and found none.  He said to the vine dresser, ‘Behold, these three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and found none. Cut it down. Why does it waste the soil?’  He answered, ‘Lord, leave it alone this year also, until I dig around it, and fertilize it.  If it bears fruit, fine; but if not, after that, you can cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-9

This links to the Jewish teaching from Parashat Shoftim that compares men to trees. John the Immerser said,

“Don’t think to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. “Even now the axe lies at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t bring forth good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire.” Matthew 3:7-10

Mashiach came to 1st century Israel to see if they were ready for Redemption. They had the leaves, the outward appearance of being ready, but that generation did not bear the fruit of teshuva, repentance. He came to hasten the Redemption, as  the book of Isaiah says,

“I, the HaShem, will hasten it (achishenah) in its time (b’ittah).” Isaiah 60:22

The terms אֲחִישֶנָּה achishenah (hasten it), and בְּעִתָּהּ b’ittah (in its time), appear contradictory. Will the Redemption arrive early, or in its appointed time? The Talmud comments on this passage,

“R. Alexandri said: ‘R. Joshua b. Levi pointed out a contradiction. it is written, ‘In its time [will the Messiah come],’ whilst it is also written, ‘I [the Lord] will hasten it!’ If they are worthy, I will hasten it: if not, [he will come] at the due time.’ R. Alexandri said: ‘R. Joshua opposed two verses: it is written, ‘And behold, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven’ whilst [elsewhere] it is written,’ [behold, your king comes unto you lowly, and riding upon a donkey! if they are meritorious, [he will come] with the clouds of heaven, if not, lowly and riding upon an donkey.” Sanhedrin 98a, Soncino Press Edition

The Ben Ish Hai, R’ Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad (1835-1909) explains,

“There are actually two different times in which the Messiah can come, expressed in the verse, “In its time I will hasten it” (Isaiah 60:22). The verse appears contradictory: will his arrival be “in its time,” or will God hasten it? We must explain that it refers to two different times: “its time” – a fixed time at which God swore to bring the Messiah regardless of Israel’s worthiness; “I will hasten it” – if Israel is worthy, God will bring the Messiah before the appointed time (Sanhedrin 98a).” Days of Peace, Ben Ish Hai Anthology, Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom Publications, pg. 4

That generation was not ready. In the Second Temple Era, Israel was consumed by an enemy more powerful than Rome: Sinat chinam, baseless hatred.

Sinat Chinam

“Whoever tends the fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who is attentive to his master will be honored.” Proverbs 27:18

As noted above, the corrupt Sadducees exerted control over the priesthood and the Temple services in cohorts with the Roman Empire. In addition to political corruption, the Second Temple era underwent a spiritual degradation characterized by a misapplication of the Torah’s mitzvot. When the Temple is standing, the laws of ritual purity become incredibly relevant, form an important part of the Torah, and are integral to the Divine Service. However, in the 1st century, ritual purity became the most important aspect of the Torah. The Talmud illustrates,

“Our Rabbis taught: It once happened that two priests were equal as they ran to mount the ramp and when one of them came first within four cubits of the altar, the other took a knife and thrust it into his heart…The father of the young man came and found him still in convulsions. He said: ‘May he be an atonement for you. My son is still in convulsions and the knife has not become unclean.’ [His remark] comes to teach you that the cleanness of their vessels was of greater concern to them even than the shedding of blood. Thus is it also said: Moreover Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to the other.” Yoma 23a, Soncino Press Edition

In the 1st century, ritual purity became more important than shedding blood. This is essential to understand the debates Yeshua had in the Gospels with the leadership and priesthood. Yeshua and the Talmud both lament this tragedy of the spiritual state of Israel whose baseless hatred merited the destruction of the Temple. The only other time that sinat chinam of this level existed was at the time of the selling of Yosef HaTzaddik, hence the story in the Machzor of Yom Kippur about the Ten Martyrs who stood in place for the ten brothers who sold Yosef. Rabbi David Hoffman perfectly sums up the problem,

“The rabbis of the Talmud give further consideration to religious conflicts that may arise, which pit love of God against love of human beings. One of the most poignant treatments of this dilemma is a text in the Tractate of Yoma (23a). There the rabbis tell a story of two priests who were eager to serve God by removing the ashes from the altar in the temple. They were so passionate in their desire to serve God, even in this seemingly small act that they would race up the ramp of the altar in order to win this honor. One day one of the priests, in his passion to win the honor to serve God, took out his ritual slaughtering knife and thrust it into the chest of his fellow priest. Love of God became a force for horrible violence in the world. And yet the tragedy of this story does not end there. The father of the stabbed priest comes over to his dying son and cradles him. Can we even begin to imagine this father’s pain? His son lies bleeding before him, dying, stabbed by a man who acted in order to serve God! Yet the tragedy of the story intensifies. The father tells those around him that they should pull out the ritual slaughtering knife from his son’s chest before he dies so that the knife would not be rendered impure by a dead body. The father concerns himself with the purity of the knife while his son dies! The Talmud concludes: “This story comes to teach us that the purity of their vessels was more important to them than the spilling of human blood!” The rabbis declare that this story offers a picture of love transformed into pathology. The rabbis offer a scathing indictment of a religious society where the love of God privileges the love of human beings…: “If your understanding of the love of God privileges your love of other human beings—stop. You are tragically mishearing the will of God.” Parasha Vayera, R’ David Hoffman, Jewish Theological Seminary [1]

The Talmud says of the High Priests,

“…Abba Saul b. Batnit said in the name of Abba Joseph b. Hanin: ‘Woe is me because of the house of Boethus, woe is me because of their staves! Woe is me because of the house of Hanin, woe is me because of their whisperings! Woe is me because of the house of Kathros, woe is me because of their pens! Woe is me because of the house of Ishmael the son of Phabi, woe is me because of their fists! For they are High Priests and their sons are [Temple] treasurers and their sons-in-law are trustees and their servants beat the people with staves.” Pesachim 57a, Soncino Press Edition

Commenting on the phrase “their whisperings,” the Soncino commentary says this is “Their secret conclaves to devise oppressive measures.” The Tosefta adds the following detail,

“Said R’ Yochanan b. Torta, “…but as to the latter [building] we know that they devoted themselves to Torah and were meticulous about tithes. On what account did they go into exile? Because they love money and hate one another.” Tosefta, Menachot 13:22, translated by Jacob Neusner, Hendrickson Publishers, pg. 1468

A reference in the Mishnah explains that the prices of some sacrifices experienced inflation. This may be due to market forces, but it is possible that some in the marketplace were over-inflating the prices of sacrificial animals for gain. The Mishnah says,

“It once happened in Jerusalem that the price of nest [a pair of sacrificial birds] stood at a golden Dinar [a specific unit of money]. Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel said: By this sanctuary! I shall not sleep tonight until it costs a [silver] Dinar! He entered the court and taught:[If a woman] had five certain births, [or] five certain blood discharges, she brings one sacrifice and may eat sacrificial meat, and the others [pose] no obligations for her. And the price of a nest stood at a quarter of a [silver] Dinar.” Mishnah Keritot 1:7,

The Jewish Theological Seminary comments,

“What is fascinating is the awareness shown by Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel (who lived in the late Second Temple period) of the impact of his court’s rulings on the economic situation of the people. A gold dinar was worth twenty-five silver dinarim; hence it seems that the rabbinic action caused a precipitous decline in the market price of pigeons. Rabban Shimon apparently considered the financial well-being of the people to be of greater concern than the quantity of sacrifices offered at the Temple.” Mishnah HaShavuah: Keritot 1:7, Jewish Theological Seminary [2]

Rabbi Samuel Tobias Lachs writes,

“Here we do have evidence of abuse, as a result of the profiteering in the sale of doves.” A Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament, Ktav Publishing House, pg. 347

The brilliant Jewish scholar Joseph Klausner comments,

“…according to the Talmud, the booths for the sale of pigeons and doves were not in the Temple at all, but in “the hill of anointing,” i.e. the Mount of Olives. But in Jesus’ time the Sadducee-Boethuseans controlled the Temple, and they may not have treated the outer court as too holy to permit the sale of doves and pigeons or of money-changing for the purchase of seals for the various Temple-offerings; and such may have been allowed in the Herodian basilica to the south of the outer court, the site of the present Mosque el-Aksa.” Joseph Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth, translated from the Hebrew by Herbert Danby, Macmillan Company, pg. 314

After Yeshua overturned the tables of the שלחנים (shulchanim), money-changers, the Gospel of Mark adds a fascinating detail,

“He would not allow anyone to carry a container through the temple.” Mark 11:16

This illustrates how highly Yeshua regarded the sanctity of the Temple Mount. The Mishnah agrees,

“Man must not be light with his head [frivolous] near the eastern gate, for it is near the foundation of the house of the Holy of Holies. One may not enter the Holy Mount with his staff, or with his sandal, or with his belt-pouch, or with dust on his feet, and may not make it a shortcut…” Mishnah, Berakhot 9.5,

Joseph Klausner comments,

“In other words, he forbade what the Mishna also forbade: “they may not make it (the Temple) a short-cut.” Joseph Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth, translated from the Hebrew by Herbert Danby, Macmillan Company, pg. 315

As stated above the Tosefta says that the priests, who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of Israel, ‘loved money and hated one another.’ Mark alludes to Jeremiah 7:1-11, which provides a key context to understand the Temple cleansing,

“Thus says HaShem of Hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Do not trust in lying words, saying, ‘The Temple of HaShem, the Temple of HaShem, the Temple of HaShem are these. For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if you thoroughly execute justice between a man and his neighbor; if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your own hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, from old forever. Behold, you trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods that you have not known, and come and stand before me in this House, which is called by my Name, and say, ‘We are delivered’, that you may do all these abominations? Is this House, which is called by my Name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it, says HaShem.” Jeremiah 7:1-11

This is the context of what ignited the righteous anger of Yeshua of Nazareth. The prophet Joel says,

“He has laid my vine waste, and stripped my fig tree. He has stripped its bark, and thrown it away. Its branches are made white. The vine has dried up, and the fig tree withered, the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all of the trees of the field are withered, for joy has withered away from the sons of men. Put on sackcloth and mourn, you priests! Wail, you ministers of the altar. Come, lie all night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God, for the meal offering and the drink offering are withheld from your God’s house.” Joel 1:7, 12-13

A Sabbath for the Land

In Parashat Behar (Leviticus 25:1–26:2), the Torah speaks of a Sabbath for the land,

“If you walk contrary to me…I will bring the land into desolation; and your enemies that dwell therein will be astonished at it. I will scatter you among the nations, and I will draw out the sword after you: and your land will be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. Then the land will enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies’ land. Even then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, even the rest which it didn’t have in your sabbaths, when you lived on it.” Leviticus 25:2-4, 26:21, 32-35

R’ Lazer Gurkow of summarizes a calculation of Tiferet Yonatan (R’ Yonatan Eybeschutz, 1690 – 1764 CE),

“It is true that we rest on Shabbat, but even as we rest, our fields continue to work. We plant on Friday, and the seeds germinate on Shabbat. During Shemittah, our fields make up for the lost Shabbats and festivals of the previous six years. There are fifty-two Shabbats in a solar calendar year. The total number of Shabbats over six years is 312. Seven festival days per year raise the total by another 42 (6 × 7) to 354, which is the precise number of days in the Shemittah, a lunar calendar year. Observing Shemittah for three hundred and fifty-four days, a full lunar calendar year, enables the field to “balance its accounts” and catch up with its owner in observing the full allotment of Shabbats over six years.” The Sabbatical Year: Six Reasons, Lazer Gurkow, [3]

Rashi comments on the Torah’s statement that the land will become a “desolation,”

“This is actually a blessing for Israel – that their enemies will derive no satisfaction from the land, for it shall remain desolate as long as the people of Israel are exiled from it.” Rashi, cited in [4]

How would the land becoming a wasteland be a blessing for the Jewish people? In the year 363 CE, the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate attempted to rebuild the Temple in order to undermine the prophecy of Yeshua of Nazareth. During his attempt, strange events began to happen. His friend, Ammianus Marcellinus (325 – 390 CE) wrote,

“Julian…proposed to rebuild at a vast expense the once magnificent temple of Jerusalem, which after many deadly contests was with difficulty taken by Vespasian and Titus, who succeeded his father in the conduct of the siege. And he assigned the task to Alypius of Antioch, who had formerly been proprefect of Britain. But though Alypius applied himself vigorously to the work, and though the governor of the province co-operated with him, fearful balls of fire burst forth with continual eruptions close to the foundations, burning several of the workmen and making the spot altogether inaccessible. And thus the very elements, as if by some fate, repelling the attempt, it was laid aside.” Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae, 23.1.2–3 [5]

Like the event described above, every time in history when non-Jews attempted to settle the land, wars, earthquakes, and unusual phenomena began to take place. In the year 1267 CE, after the Disputation at Barcelona, Ramban, R’ Moshe ben Nachman (1194 – 1270 CE), fled to Israel and visited the ruins of Jerusalem, he wrote to his son,

“Many are [Israel’s] forsaken places, and great is the desecration. The more sacred the place, the greater the devastation it has suffered. Jerusalem is the most desolate place of all.” Ramban, R’ Moshe ben Nachman [6]

“There was hardly a tree or a shrub any where. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country…” Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad

When Mark Twain visited Israel in 1867, he wrote,

“The pilgrims took what was left of the hallowed ruin, and we pressed on toward the goal of our crusade, renowned Jerusalem…The further we went the hotter the sun got, and the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became…There was hardly a tree or a shrub any where. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country. No landscape exists that is more tiresome to the eye than that which bounds the approaches to Jerusalem.” Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, Chapter 52 [7]

R’ Menachem Kohen describes the prophetic history in a shocking way,

“We know that in some areas of the world famines do occasionally occur because of scarce amounts of rainfall. Unfortunately, it does happen – but, for the most part, they are short-lived because countries of the world are provided ample water to sustain life. This condition has been true for every country except one. Israel is that exception. It is a country that was once exceedingly fertile and subsequently was deprived of rain for the better part of 1800 years – beginning from 70 C.E. and continuing until the beginning of the 20th century, for nearly every single one of these 660,000 days…” R’ Menachem Kohen [8]

In addition to countless wars, revolts, and crusades, numerous natural disasters have befallen the land of Israel since Rome destroyed the Temple in 70CE:

  1. 363 CE – Earthquake of Galilee during the reign of Julian the Apostate

  2. 749 CE – The ‘Seventh Earthquake’

  3. 1202 CE – The Syria Earthquake

  4. 1347 CE – The Black Death Pandemic

  5. 1402 CE – Locust Plague Prevented Timur from Conquering Jerusalem

  6. 1546 CE – Earthquake

  7. 1759 CE – The Near East Earthquakes

  8. 1837 CE – The Safed Earthquake

  9. 1915 CE – The Locust Plague*

  10. 1927 CE- The Jericho Earthquake

As noted above, there was a plague of Biblical proportions in the land of Israel in 1915,

“The 1915 locust plague, which lasted from March to October 1915, was a plague of locusts that stripped areas in and around Palestine of almost all vegetation. This invasion of awesome proportions seriously compromised the already-depleted food supply of the region and sharpened the misery of all Jerusalemites.” Wikipedia, 1915 Palestine Locust Infestation [9]

Before and After Photos of a fig tree devastated by the 1915 Locust Plague of Israel. Hand-colored silver gelatin prints. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
Before and After Photos of a fig tree devastated by the 1915 Locust Plague of Israel. Hand-colored silver gelatin prints. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

The New York Times reported in 1915,

“…as far as the eye could reach, the fields were covered by locusts…” New York Times, Remarkable Details from American Consul on Palestine Locust Plague,  November 21, 1915 [10]

The Library of Congress says,

“Witnesses to the locust invasion that befell Jerusalem and the nearby Syrian region in 1915 agreed that they had seen nothing to equal it in their life-times. It was truly a natural disaster of biblical proportions.” The Locust Plague of 1915 Photograph Album, Library of Congress [11]

In the mid-1800s, Jerusalem had only 8,000 inhabitants. R’ Menachem Kohen states the reason for all of these things happening,

“One should note that if the Turks had not run away from the Holy Land in the mid-16th century, there would have been millions of Turks living in the Land by 1947. Under these conditions, could the returning Jews (in 1947) have been allowed to supplant a resident population that would have numbered i n the millions by that time? Under these conditions, could any world body, in good conscience, have demanded that the (theoretical) millions of Turks (in 1947) abandon their businesses and homes, just like that, and return to a Turkey that they didn’t even know, only being told that they had ancestors who did migrate from that country four centuries earlier?! The League of Nations and the United Nations would never have proposed a homeland for the Jews in Palestine – not as long as millions of Turks were living there. Jews were only able to reclaim the Land in 1947 because no indigenous people were living there at the time – except for Jews. In fact, except for Jews, there were very, very few families who had been living in the Land uninterruptedly for even two generations.” R’ Menachem Kohen [12]

The purpose of the land becoming desolate, so desolate that not even the enemies of Israel could benefit from it, is so that the slate would be clean, and the area prepared for the return of the People of Israel.

The Voice of the Turtledove

We live in incredible days, the times of restoration. The book of Ezekiel spoke of this,

“But you, mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people Israel; for they are at hand to come. For, behold, I am for you, and I will turn into you, and you shall be tilled and sown; and I will multiply men on you, all the house of Israel, even all of it; and the cities shall be inhabited, and the waste places shall be built; and I will multiply on you man and animal; and they shall increase and be fruitful; and I will cause you to be inhabited after your former estate, and will do better to you than at your beginnings: and you shall know that I am HaShem.” Ezekiel 36:8-11

The Talmud comments on this passage,

“R. Abba also said: There can be no more manifest [sign of] redemption than this: viz., what is said, ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Israel, for they are about to come.” (Ezekiel 36:8)” Sanhedrin 98a, Soncino Press Edition

The Soncino Talmud cites Rashi, R’ Shlomo Yitzhaki (1040 – 1105 CE) on this passage,

“When Israel becomes so very fertile, Messiah’s advent is near, and there can be no clearer sign than this.” Rashi

It is critical to note that Rashi said this BEFORE the Jewish people returned to the land. Since their return to Israel, the land has become incredibly fertile. Israel produces crops of fruits, vegetables, vineyards, cotton, and has become a major force in the global flower export industry. reports,

“Some 125 million flowers And ornaments, weighing More than 5,000 tons, will Be flown to Europe ahead of Valentines’ Day, the Flower Growers Association reported. . .” YNet News, Israel to export 125 million Flowers to Europe, 1-31-07 [13]

As we see with our own eyes the land of Israel bloom, Yeshua spoke about the future restoration of Israel,

“Now learn the parable of the fig tree. When its branch is still tender and puts out leaves, you know that summer is near. So you, likewise, when you see all these things, shall know that it is near, at the doors. Truly I say to you, this generation shall not pass until all these things are fulfilled.” Matthew 24:32-34

Under the Fig Tree

1 Kings says regarding the reign of Solomon,

“Judah and Israel lived safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon.” 1 Kings 4:25

The prophet Micah speaks of the days when shalom will return during the Messianic era,

“Many nations will go and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of HaShem, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths. For out of Zion will go forth the Torah, and the word of HaShem from Jerusalem; and he will judge between many peoples, and will decide concerning strong nations afar off. They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more. But they will sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and no one will make them afraid: For the mouth of HaShem of Hosts has spoken.” Micah 4:2-4

Yeshua alludes to this in John,

“Yeshua saw Nathanael coming to him, and said about him, “Behold, a true Israelite, in whom is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Yeshua answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are King of Israel!” Yeshua answered him, “Because I told you, I saw you underneath the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these!” He said to him, “Amein, I tell you, hereafter you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” John 1:47-51

The prophet Hosea spoke of the revival of Israel after “two days”,

“After two days he will revive us. On the third day he will raise us up, and we will live before him.” Hosea 6:2

The book of Psalms unveils the secret to comprehending both the past and the future.

“For a thousand years in your sight are just like yesterday when it is past, like a watch in the night.” Psalms 90:4

Peter comments,

“But do not forget this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” 2 Peter 3:8

Therefore, in HaShem’s time frame, one day equals 1,000 years. The Ben Ish Hai, R’ Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad explains,

“The Psalmist is teaching us that although almost two thousand years have passed and we have not yet been redeemed, we should not give up hope. For if to us it seems like an eternity, to God two thousand years are like two days…The appointed time is at the end of the six millennia from the creation of the world, which means some time after the year 5500. No one, however, can know the date exactly…Thus God said, “The vision is yet for an appointed time, it declares the end and does not lie; if it tarries, wait for it, for perhaps Israel will do the mitzvot that bring about the redemption. The verse continues: “because it will surely come [בא יבא, also: בא will come]. The extra word בא can be split into ’ב’ א, “two thousand.” The verse can then be understood: At the end of two thousand (the fifth and sixth millennia), the appointed time will come; it will not delay, for nothing can stop it.” Ben Ish Hai, Od Yosef Hai, Derushim Bo, Bamidbar cited in Days of Peace, Ben Ish Hai Anthology, Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom Publications, pg. 5

Thus the Book of Revelation says,

הַמֵּעִיד הָעֵדוּת הַזֹּאת אֹמֵר אָמְנָם כֵּן אֲנִי בָא מַהֵר אָמֵן בֹּאָה־נָּא הָאָדוֹן יֵשׁוּעַ׃

“He who testifies these things says, “Yes, I come [בא] quickly.” Amen! Yes, come, Lord Yeshua.” Revelation 22:20

The Song of Solomon says,

“The voice of my Beloved! Behold, He comes leaping on the mountains, skipping on the hills. My Beloved is like a gazelle or a young deer. Behold, He stands behind our wall, He looks forth at the windows, peering from the lattice. My Beloved spoke, and said to me, ‘Rise up, My love, My beautiful one, and come away.’ For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over; it goes to itself. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land, the fig tree puts forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, My love, My beautiful one, and come away. O My dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let Me see your face, let Me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is beautiful.” Song of Solomon 2:8-14

Midrash Rabbah comments on the identity of the Kol HaTor, the Voice of the Turtledove,

“Who is this? This is the voice of the Messiah proclaiming, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger of good tidings (Isaiah 52:7)” Song of Songs Rabbah 2:33, Soncino Press Edition

As the land blooms, we have seen the reappearance of the biblical color techelet, the re-creation of the garments of the High Priest, a heightened awareness of the sanctity of the Temple mount and a movement to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash (including blueprints), Gentiles awakening to the importance of the Torah, and Jews discovering the real Yeshua of Nazareth.

According to the Gospels and the Talmud, 1st century Israel was not worthy of the Geulah (Redemption). In fact, that generation merited the destruction of the Temple. However, the Jewish people of the 21st century will be worthy of the rebuilding of the Temple and the return of Mashiach. Yeshua will come riding upon the clouds of heaven. As we yearn to sit under the shadow of the fig tree, our own ears hear the Ikvata d’Meshicha, Footsteps of the Messiah, as he is at the door! The Ben Ish Hai says,

“I sleep,” but forever “my heart is awake,” yearning for the Messiah. Through this yearning of heart, I will merit hearing, “the sound of my Beloved knocking!” Then God will do His part; He will “open for me” the gates of redemption, and bring the Messiah.” Ben Ish Hai, Even Sheleimah, cited in Days of Peace, Ben Ish Hai Anthology, Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom Publications, pg. 15

The Voice of the Turtledove, the Holy Mashiach, calls to us,

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20



  1. Parasha Vayera, R’ David Hoffman, Jewish Theological Seminary

  2. Mishnah HaShavua’: Keritot 1:7, Jewish Theological Seminary

  3. The Sabbatical Year: Six Reasons, Lazer Gurkow,

  4. Parasha in Depth,

  5. Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 23

  6. How Nachmanides Rebuilt Jerusalem, Larry Domnitch,

  7. Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, Project Gutenberg

  8. R’ Menachem Kohen, Prophecies for the Era of Muslim Terror, Lambda Publishers, pgs. 25-30

  9., 1915 Palestine Locust Infestation

  10. New York Times, Remarkable Details from American Consul on Palestine Locust Plague,  November 21, 1915

  11. Library of Congress, The Locust Plague of 1915 Photograph Album

  12. R’ Menachem Kohen, Prophecies for the Era of Muslim Terror, Lambda Publishers, pgs. 25-30

  13., Israel to Export 125 Million Flowers to Europe, 1-31-07

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