Biblical texts are rife with metaphors, particularly metaphors that are connected to nature. Throughout the Biblical canon, many such “nature” metaphors are used for the Children of Israel, and each one has specific meaning behind it.
Jeremiah the Prophet referred to the Jewish people as “a leafy olive tree, fair with goodly fruit” (Jeremiah 11:16). In a discussion about the significance of God’s command to bring pure olive oil for the menorah (Exodus 27:20), the Midrash provides several explanations for Jeremiah’s metaphor, that have had an astounding resonance throughout history. Here is just one example:
In truth, [he comes to teach us] that just as the olive is marked out for shrivelling while it is yet on its tree, after which it is brought down from the tree and beaten, and after it has been beaten is brought up to the vat and placed in a grinding-mill, where it is ground, then tied up with ropes, and then stones are brought and then at last it yields its oil, so it is with Israel: the nations come and beat them about from place to place, imprison them and bind them in chains, and surround them with officers, and then at last do Israel repent [of their sins] and God answers them (Exodus Rabbah 36:1).
The language may seem archaic on first read, but if one looks at the resurgence of anti-Semitism time and again throughout history, and particularly of late when one may presume that widespread democracy would make anti-Semitism anathema, it’s applicability is eerie.
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