Commentary for Eikev

10 Aug

This week’s parshah gives us the list of the seven species of the Land of Israel, a list of seven agricultural products with which the land is specifically associated with by God. Deut. 8:8 describes Israel as “A land of wheat, barley, grape-vines, fig, and pomegranates; a land of oil-olives and date-honey.” While the foods on the list seem rather normal, this leads to the question of “why even have a list in the first place?” These are not crops exclusive to the Land of Israel, and they are certainly not the only crops that are grown there, either, so why group these seven products together and specifically identify the land with them?

 

All seven of these crops require relatively little water, and thus would grow even in years of drought.   Due to having staggered harvesting and ripening seasons, at any point during the year, at least one of these products would be available for harvest, ensuring sustenance year round. This made them important parts of the ancient Israelite diet.

 

In addition to their nutritional qualities, all of these products have symbolic religious and spiritual significance as well. The vestments of the High Priest included little bells called pomegranates. The pomegranate is also often a used as a symbol for the Torah because the pomegranate is said to have 613 seeds, the same number of mitzvot in the Torah. The date-honey is a sign of the abundance of the Land of Israel, as shown in the famous quote “A land flowing with milk and honey (Ex. 3:8).”  In the Talmud, the fig is compared to the study of Torah, saying that just as there will always be figs on a fig tree no matter when you pass by (due to its multiple growing seasons), so to is there always something new to learn when you study Torah (Eiruvin 54a). Wheat, barley, grape wine, and olive oil all played important parts in many sacrifices and rituals.

 

These crops are all symbolic of the Land of Israel because they fulfill both a practical purpose and a spiritual one for the Jewish People. The Land of Israel is a physical place to live and make a home in, but it is also a sacred and profoundly spiritual place, full of our culture and history, where many Jews go on journeys of self-discovery. The growing of these particular crops in this particular land is a fantastic illustration of our relationship with God. It can be purely material: God makes food that sustains us- but it can be so much more if we choose to seek out the spiritual part so of it as well.

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