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1586: Eikev 23 Av 5775 08/08/2015

In this week's portion the Torah describes the praises of Eretz Yisrael, specifically mentioning the seven species which grow in the land: "A land of wheat and barley, and the grape and the fig and the pomegranate, a land of oil-producing olive trees and honey (dates)" [Devarim 8:8].

Our rabbis derived from this verse the priority of blessings within the seven species. This law involves the case wherethe blessings for different species are the same, but we must first discuss the law when different blessings must be recited for the different items.

(1) Different blessings

This case is summarized in an acronym, "Maga Eish" (mezonot, gefen, eitz, adamah, shehakol – baked goods, wine, fruit, vegetables, and anything else). For example, when there is a choice of foods with different blessings, one should start with mezonot (of course, if there is bread for a meal, the blessing should be "hamotzi"). And the blessings continue in the sequence of "maga eish," as above. This corresponds to the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (211).

This rule means that the importance of the blessing takes precedence over the quality of the fruit! The factor which sets which food should be eaten first is a rule to start with the most significant blessing. Only if the blessings are the same for different foods do we check the fruit or the food to see which is more significant, in order to decide the sequence of eating.

(2) This is Relevant only if We Want to Eat Both Foods Now

It can happen that a person is ready to eat one food, say meat, but on the table there is also some cake to be eaten as a desert. Even though mezonot takes precedence over shehakol, it is possible to recite the shehakol (for the meat) first, since he is not interested in eating the cake yet. This was written by the Ritva (Berachot Chapter 2) and accepted by the RAMA as a practical halacha (211:5).

(3) Seven Species, with One of Them a Favorite

There is a dispute whether the sequence of the seven species is most important, or if we should start with what we prefer most:

"If a person has many species in front of him, Rabbi Yehuda says, If he has in front of him from among the seven species he should start with that. The Chachamim say, He can recite the blessing on any species that he wants."

[Mishna, appearing in Berachot 40b].

Rav Hai Gaon , the Rambam (Hilchot Berachot 8:13), and some of the early commentators rule in accordance with the opinion of the Chachamim, that one should start with what he likes best. However, Tosafot, the ROSH, the Rashba, and most of the early commentators accept the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda, that one should begin with something from the seven species.

What is the basis of this dispute? Which fruits are included in the seven species is an objective judgement, stemming from the importance of the various species themselves. On the other hand, a preference depends on personal feelings of a person. According to the Chachamim, what is most important is the feeling of the person, and if he or she wants to eat a specific fruit first he can start the blessings with this one. However, Rabbi Yehuda and the majority of the early commentators feel thatthe importance of Eretz Yisrael is what establishes the proper sequence. And therefore the sequence must always be as it is set by the seven species – since Eretz Yisrael gives the fruit a special significance.

The Shulchan Aruch (211:1-1) brings the opinion of the majority of the early commentators – to start with the seven species - and he then brings the opinion of the Rambam, that one is allowed to start with his own preference. This implies that the main ruling of the halacha is to start with the seven species.

However, the TAZ writes that it is possible to follow the ruling of the Rambam and start with personal preference, but in the Mishna Berura it is written that one should start with the seven species, because this is the opinion of the majority. This means that a person who begins with his own preference is able to rely on a recognized ruling. And the Mishan Berura also recognizes this possibility (11).

(4) The Priorities within the Seven Species

The Talmud explains that within the seven species themselves, whatever appears in the above verse closest to the word "land" should come first (Berachot 41b). If two species are the same distance from the word "land," the one closest to the first time the word "land" appears comes first (this has little practical significance, since usually wheat and barley come before olives and dates, since the blessing mezonot comes before eitz).

The sequence is outlined in the following table:

1

2

3

4

5

"land"

Wheat

Barley

Grape

Fig

Pomegranate

"land"

Oil olive

Honey (date)

Thus, the proper sequence is: Olive, date, grapes, figs, pomegranate. This is the sequence given in the Shulchan Aruch (111:4).

Here is a memory device to keep track of the sequence within the seven species: Whatever has fewer seeds comes earlier in the sequence. An olive has one pit (and it is first), a date has a divided pit (as if it is two), grapes have several seeds (usually three or more), figs have many seeds, and the pomegranate is full of seeds.

It may be suggested that the sequence within the seven species stems from the participation of mankind in preparing the food. Wheat and barley are mostly eaten as bread, and that is why the Torah views bread as something very special. Olives, dates, and grapes are fruits from which man makes important products (oil, honey, and wine), and they therefore come before the fig and the pomegranate. The Holy One, Blessed be He, created a world which demands that we put in an effort in order to mend and improve it. Therefore, the greater the effort we put into any fruit before we eat it, the greater is its importance.

Summary in Practice – the Sequence of Blessings

(a) The importance of the blessing – following the sequence "Maga Eish" – mezonot, gefen, eitz, adama, shehakol. For example, the fruit of a tree (such as an apple) will always come before produce from the ground (such as potato or pineapple). Thus, when wheat is eaten in such a way that its blessing is adama or shehakol, and one also wants to eat an apple, he should recite the "eitz" for the apple first. And this also means that even when one eats food whose blessing comes first he should start with that food.

(b) The seven species – When the blessing is the same, the seven species should be eaten first.

(c) Within the seven species – whatever is closest to the word "land" in the verse comes first (olive, date, fig, grape, pomegranate).

(d) A whole fruit – a whole grape comes before a cut salad.

(e) A favorite food – When all other elements are the same, one should start with what he prefers the most.

(f) If a person wants one species right now and will only want another one later on, he can recite the first blessing for the food that he wants, and the rules of priority of the blessing is no longer binding.

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