Rabbi Yakov Haber
Rabbi Yakov Haber

The Fruits of Eretz Yisrael: Outer and Inner Dimensions

Parashas Eikev, perhaps more than any other single parasha in Chumash Devarim extolls the spiritual and physical blessings of the Holy Land. "A land flowing with milk and honey" (11:10), "a land in which you will not eat bread sparingly, nothing will be lacking in it, whose stones are iron and from its mountains you will hew copper" (8:9), "a land upon which Hashem's eyes rest from the beginning of the year until the end of the year" (11:12). Here, we would like to focus on one of the most famous aspects of Eretz Yisrael, its acclaimed fruits, specifically the "seven species".

"ארץ חטה ושעורה וגפן ותאנה ורמון, ארץ זית שמן ודבש - A land of wheat and barley and vine and fig and pomegranate, a land of oil-producing olives and honey" (8:8). Why are specifically these species enumerated in praise of the land? Why does the word "eretz" appear twice at specific locations dividing the list of seven into two groups of five and two respectively?

Several commentaries indicate that these fruits provide basic, important nourishment (see Ibn Ezra and Abravanel quoting the Greek physician Galen).[1] Seforno adds that the two groups of five and two preceded by the word "eretz" are divided into the nutritive fruits and the ma'adanei melech, the royal delicacies of olive oil and date-honey. R' Eliyahu of Vilna in Aderes Eliyahu similarly notes the division into two groups and, on a pshat level, states that the first lists mazon, food; the second comprises items which are a hybrid of both food and drink.[2]

The Gemara (Berachos 41b) concludes that the fruits are listed in order of importance with an emphasis being placed on the proximity of each fruit to the word eretz. This leads to the following list in order of importance: wheat, olives, barley, dates, grapes, figs and pomegranates. Sheim MiShmuel (Haggada shel Pesach) directs us to two Talmudic passages indicating the interrelationship between wheat-product (Berachos 40a) and olive oil (Menachos 85b) consumption and the acquisition of wisdom. Since Eretz Yisrael is known as a land most conducive to the acquisition of wisdom (Bereishis Rabba 16:4), whose very air induces wisdom - אוירא דארץ ישראל מחכים (Bava Basra 158b), the agricultural products most directly connected to wisdom are considered the most important.[3]

Bach (Orach Chaim 208) and Chasam Sofer[4] remarkably write that consumption of the fruits of Eretz Yisrael induce sanctity into those eating them. Based on this concept, Bach justifies the view that in the bracha mei'ein shalosh we recite "ונאכל מפריה ונשבע מטובה - and may we eat of its fruits and be satiated from its goodness". Several Rishonim (see Tur 208) struck out this phrase as it appears to focus on the importance of the physical side of land, something that Chazal seem to diminish by assuming that clearly Moshe Rabbeinu did not pray to enter the Promised Land לאכול מפריה ולשבוע מטובה(Sota 14a)! How can we then pray to Hashem for precisely that! Bach explains that even the fruits themselves of the Holy Land generate sanctity and are worthy of praying that we merit to partake of them. (Although Bach does not address the question from Moshe Rabbeinu, presumably Chazal understood that Moshe was praying for directly spiritual activities - the mitzvos dependent on the land.) Bach's actual words are extremely revealing both as to the benefits of partaking of the even the physical bounty of the land, but also the great danger in defiling its sanctity:

The sanctity of the land which emanates from the sanctity of the upper (supernal) Land also permeates its fruits which are nourished from the sanctity of the Divine Presence which dwells in the midst of the land. Therefore He adjures (Bamidbar 35:34) "Do not contaminate the land in which you dwell which I dwell in, for I am Hashem Who dwells among the Children of Israel.' He states that if you do contaminate the land, impurity will also be drawn into its fruits which nourish from it when the Divine presence has been removed from the land... What follows then is I will remove my Presence from bnei Yisrael whom until now have been "heichal Hashem"... for the Divine presence was literally dwelling among them... Therefore it is understandable that we say ונאכל מפריה ונשבע מטובה"" for by consuming its fruits we are nourished by the sanctity of the Shechina and from Its purity and we are satiated from Its goodness.[5]

R' Yaakov Zvi Mecklenburg in his HaKesav v'HaKabbala opines that the division of the seven species of fruits into two groups splits them into fruits in their original form and products which are pressed from the original fruits (olive oil and date honey). Conceptually, perhaps one of the messages in this division is that Hashem is conveying to us two aspects of His Providence over His people in the land, one without (or minimal) human involvement and one with a significant amount of human endeavor. Hashem grants both salvation and success, the former without human effort, the latter with.[6] To be sure, some agricultural labor must be invested into growing fruits as well, but the product is consumed as is. With olive oil and date honey, the final product itself only emerges after human involvement. This then is directly parallel to verses immediately following ours. "Lest you eat and be satiated ... and your heart will grow arrogant, and you will forget Hashem, your G-d... and you will state in your heart 'My might and the strength my hand have amassed for me this great wealth.' And you shall remember that it is Hashem, your G-d, who has granted you the strength to amass wealth..." (8:12,14,17-18). In partaking of Divine blessing anywhere in the world, even of the sanctified fruits of the Holy Land, even if produced with much human effort, one must always recall that ultimately all of this great bounty is meant to bring us closer to the Almighty by being recipients of His kindness and not chas v'shalom to cause distance.

A final thought on the division of the fruits into two groups: I heard from Rav Mendel Farber shlit"a, a longtime Rebbe at Yeshiva Darchei Noam where I have been privileged to teach for the last thirteen years, that the difference between the two sub-lists of fruits is that the first represents the apparent, the external fruit itself, the second denotes the inner dimension, the extract inside. This helps explain why the spies only took grapes, figs and pomegranates as samples of the fruits of the land (Bamidbar 13:23) and not olives and dates. The Torah's description of olives and dates in our parasha as olive oil and date-honey represents their inner essence. Thus, the spies only looked at the outer surface of the Holy Land they entered, and therefore returned with a negative report. Had they looked beneath the surface, they would have fallen in love with the land and returned with a positive, even excitedly gushing report of its physical and spiritual beauty. Moshe Rabbeinu knowing this truth, asks Hashem "Let me pass over and see the land" (Devarim 3:25). Kli Yakar explains that the physical part of his request was denied - he was not permitted entry. But the spiritual aspect of his request - to see the land - was granted. Indeed, Moshe's looking at the land allowed him to see its inner quality, a land infused with the Divine presence and partake, even if from a distance, of its supernal pleasure.

May Hashem grant us the ability to always partake of the sanctified, physical bounty of the Holy Land, to avail ourselves of all of the land's spiritual and physical blessings and to create the opportunities to do so. When the world situation does not allow us to enjoy those blessings, may we increase our longing for the Coveted Land's abundant gifts. More importantly, may we always appreciate the "Land upon which Hashem's eyes rest" constantly.


[1] Much has been written about the health benefits of olives, grapes, dates, pomegranates and figs, but many other fruits also have significant health benefits. The particular nutritive advantage - if there is one according to current nutritional knowledge - of these fruits over others, intuitively true and taken for granted by at least some of the commentaries, remains a fascinating topic of research.

[2] See there that on an deeper level the five and two division is directly parallel to the hatavas hamenorah, the cleaning out of the menorah in the mikdash, which was divided into cleaning five receptacles of oil and then the remaining two later. Also see there where the Gaon analyzes each fruit in the list kabbalistically.

[3] See Maharsha (Horayos 13b) and Pardes Yosef (Eikev 8:8) who explain based on this concept why olive oil and date honey are mentioned rather than olives and dates.

[4] See Seifer Eretz Yisrael b'Mishnas HaChasam Sofeir (2:52 ff.).

[5] Fascinatingly, the Bach's words concerning the fruits of Eretz Yisrael are directly parallel to Ramban's understanding of the mann in the desert (see his comments to Shemos 16:6). This directly follows from the thesis that the midbar experience supernaturally gave a foretaste of what would be happening in Eretz Yisrael in a more hidden way. This can be generalized to Torah study, parnassa, and Providence in general. See Mann and Parnassa and The Mishkan, Har Sinai, Torah and Eretz Yisrael for further elaborations on these themes.

[6] Also see Sukkos: Two Types of Divine Providence.

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