Updated: Feb 3, 2020
Living in Israel is a very special experience. We've got good and bad just like anywhere else, but there is a magic here that is invisible, yet totally recognisable . This is the Jewish homeland where we lived during biblical times and more recently in present tense. The Jewish connection here is both figuratively and historically. Israel was and is called "the land" by the Jews living here . We live very close to the land, farm it and and respect and love it deeply. It's soil runs in our veins as does what we grow here. It was mentioned many times in the Bible what grew here during those times, and how and when we harvested it.
There are specific crops are called The Seven Species. And they have a very special meaning and spiritual depth for Jews. We have always been herders and farmers. A people with humble beginnings and who knew the importance of self reliance and economy. God has given many clues, rites, traditions and laws throughout the Bible ,many of which revolve around plants and animals. We include them in our ceremonies, our holidays, and our everyday lives. Now that we have science to back up most of the folklore, we know that each of these plants contain many healing properties. Each fruit and herb has medicinal qualities , but because these were chosen as seven very specific plants, they are considered to be revered above all others in the land of Israel. Each of these seven species have a special place when it comes to celebrating Israel and all it has to offer the Jews living here. In Biblical times we brought our first harvests of these fruits to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem on the Festival of Shavuot . It is believed that these fruits were also used as standards for measuring various sizes. Our sages say each fruit represents a trait which coincides with the seven characteristics of man .
History: Ripening barley was always a sign of spring, It was brought to the Temple as an offering of the first harvest on the Festival of Sukkoth. Barley was used as food for livestock.
Facts: Barley as a crop is dependent on rainfall, It can grow even in tough climates, such as the Negev desert where there is little rainfall. It has a hard tough shell that provides animals with fiber and exercise for their jaws.
History: The trees we connected to kings because of their crown like palms leaves. Date trees have always been used on Israeli coins . The Torah tells us to use the baby palm leaf as one of the four species in the Festival of Sukkoth blessings. Dates signify victory, peace and tranquility. Their fruits are highly nutritious and were able to sustain the Israelites traveling through the desert.
Facts: Although coconuts and date trees are both palm trees of the same family, you won't find the two growing on the same continent. India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, etc have coconut trees growing in abundance near their oceans , but Israel, Syria , Jordan and other Middle Eastern nations have date trees growing in their deserts. The coconut trees require salt water to grow coconuts and date trees require very little water to produce dates. Both are some of the most nourishing fruits available in their respective parts of the world. Palm tree leaves are also used to braid and make into roofs . Dates are harvested once a year at the time of Rosh Hashanna then kept all year to be eaten as a snack or a natural sweetener. We hang them in the Sukka as decoration and to remind us of the Israelites traveling through the desert and living in tents.
History: Because of their abundance of seeds, natural sugars and short ripening times, figs signify fertility, endurance, engagement, and being present. Some believe that this is the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge that Adam and Eve ate from, they also used its leaves for clothes. There were pressed and dried into cakes, making them both nourishing and easy to harvest, store and carry
Facts: Figs are a healing food, they are shaped like a woman's womb and filled with seeds , it's leaves can be made into a healing tea to help bring down blood sugar and blood pressure also as a gargle for sore throats. Figs contain vitamins, antioxidants and fibre. Also great to use as a poultice on inflamed or infected areas. It's milky white sap is used for healing cuts and warts well as in cheese making. Fig trees grow all over Israel and produce fruit a few times throughout the year.
History: Grapes have their own blessing, separate from other foods. We give blessings over wine or juice before eating festive meals ....Our sages teach that everything is enhanced when joy is part of our life: love, learning curiosity, appetite, search for meaning etc.
Facts: Summer grapes contain exactly the right sugars and minerals that we require during the hot summer days. The Hebrew word for "grape" is the similar to the Hebrew word for "humble person" , Anav. This is not a coincidence. Grapes are part of a cluster. Each grape learns from the beginning where it's place is among the group. They shape themselves and place themselves exactly where it is comfortable for themselves, all the while respecting every other grape's space . They never crowd or squish each other as they continue to grow and ripen. They grow together as individuals working and staying close together without pressing or trying for predominate attention. They are supporting, communicating and respecting each other all the while knowing that they belong as an integral part of the group. Our lesson here, of course, is that ego has no place in us all getting along. We each play an important part and bring our own individuality to our experiences, but rather than seeing everything as the small isolated picture, we need to strive for the big, all encompassing view.
History: As people struggling to better ourselves, we need challenges to achieve greatness, so too do olives only release their oil when they've been squeezed, ground up and pressed. Olive trees signify many things: foundation, peace, Jewish continuity, wisdom , hope and long life. The oil was used in lighting the menorah during the Festival of Hanukka in the Holy Temple. Priests and kings were anointed by mixing special herbs, finely ground, into the oil. Olive wood was used to build alters and pillars in the Temple.
Facts: Olive trees have grown in and around Israel, for thousands of years . Some of the oldest trees dating back 3000 years still give fruit. Black olives are ripened, green are unripened, although both are used for oil and for curing. Olive leaves and fruit are both medicinal foods It is believed that if you plant an olive tree in your yard, it will bring you good fortune.
Represents: True Potential
History: Pomegranates signify majesty, it's designs were used for the hem of the high priest's robe , on the pillars of the Temple, and on Torah scrolls, Sukkah decorations , Jewish art, and coins. They represent prosperity, fertility and beauty, good deeds. It is said that each pomegranate contains 613 seeds, corresponding to the 613 mitzvot in the Torah. The red color was used as a dye for the high priests robes, curtains and sashes and in cosmetics.
Facts: These trees grow throughout Israel. They don't require a lot of water, and yet eat seed is surrounded with a healing water that contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and more. It's thick protective peel is used for skin cosmetics for it's ability to repair and renew .
History: Wheat is a close cousin to barley, yet they represent opposite characteristics. Barley represents restraint ,yet wheat signifies giving, abundance and peace. It's harvest was a sign of what was coming , in terms of yields, for the other crops. It has always been a fundamental part of the Israeli diet since Biblical times. The Jews brought wheat and other later harvests to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at Shavuot. Just as barley signifies our animal side, wheat signifies our Godly side (humanity) Barley was offered to the Temple at Sukkoth, wheat offered at Shavuot, so that both would be atoned for and accepted by God. One of Joseph's two dreams was 12 sheaves of wheat bowing down to him, then when his brothers came to buy wheat from him, the Prince of Egypt, they bowed down to him.
Facts: Wheat relies on rainfall during the winter months in Israel. Farmers alternate between wheat and potatoes. They use the wheat to enhance and replenish the soil after a potato harvest. Sadly, growing industrial wheat has changed a lot in recent decades. It has been genetically modified, heavily pesticided, and hybridized so that each grain is much larger than it originally was. These changes cause havoc both in people and in animals alike. (Check out my post on "My Unintended Experiment with Wheat") The original wheat of Israel is still being grown quietly on small farms dedicated to keeping to the original Seven Species alive.
The number seven in Hebrew tradition is representative of completion, blessing, rest and wholeness. "All sevens are blessed" Vayikra Rabbah (29:10).
1. Seven days of the week
2. Shabbat day, the seventh and holiest day of the week
3. Seven days of cleanliness before the mikve
4. Seven years until Shmitta
5. Omer is the seven weeks between Peasch and Shavuot
6. Yovel, or the Jubilee Year is the 7th cycle of seven years
7. Seven is the number of times the Children of Israel circled Jericho in the story of the bible
8. Seven is also the number of each animal (we would be allowed to eat in the future) Noah was told to bring with him into the ark.
9. The fifteenth day of the Hebrew month , Shvat (seventh month), is the holiday of Tu B'Shvat, the New Year of the Trees.
10. Seven days of the Shiva. A spiritual transition time spent in a close family member's home after they have passed on.
11. The letter zayin is the seventh Hebrew letter in the aleph-bet. It represents remembrance , spiritual warfare/ rulings , and God's light . Many words in Hebrew are based on this letter/number for their relation to importance or to God's connection to us.
Incidentally, the Latin translation of Deuteronomy 8:8 "A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig-trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and (date) honey" is written on the Dome on the California Building in Balboa Park, San Diego (my hometown) referring to the Seven Species' importance to California agriculture when it was built in the 1910's.
These seven special crops represent Israel's potential for abundance, perfection, our connection to God and to our holy land. When we seek out, celebrate , and partake in these holy foods, we are bringing ourselves closer to God both physically and spiritually.
Just like when we read the Torah and take in the words which nourish our soul, eating these foods of the Torah, of Israel, and taking them into our body heals us and brings us to a higher level of spirituality.