The Land of Israel is praised for many qualities. One of the most famous are the Seven Species mentioned in Deuteronomy / Devarim chapter 8.
What are the 7 Species?
Here’s the text of the relevant passage:
7 For the Lord your God is bringing you to a good land, a land with brooks of water, fountains and depths, that emerge in valleys and mountains,
8 a land of wheat and barley, vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of oil producing olives and honey,
9 a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, you will lack nothing in it, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose mountains you will hew copper.
Let’s start by clarifying what exactly are the species mentioned in verse. Five of them are very clear, but the other 2 are not as clear.
Here are the Seven Species:
- Vines in the verse means grapes
- Honey in the verse means date honey
That answers the easy question of what are the seven species of the land of Israel. If that’s all you came here for, I understand and no hard feelings if you don’t stick around for more.
Now let’s explain a little bit about each of the species and what makes it significant.
Traditionally wheat has been the main ingredient in bread. And bread is rightfully called the “staff of life.”
For example, here is how bread is described in Psalm 104:
14 He [God] causes grass to sprout for the animals and vegetation for the work of man, to bring forth bread from the earth.
15 And wine, which cheers man’s heart, to make the face shine from oil, and bread, which sustains man’s heart.
Bread is considered to be so essential that it merits a unique blessing before and after eating a meal with bread.
Wheat also has a significant role in the Temple service. The Torah mentions 13 different grain / flour offerings, called in Hebrew “minchah offerings.” All but two of these minchah meal offerings are made with wheat.
Every animal offering is accompanied by a minchah offering made of wheat. These minchah offerings were entirely burnt on the altar.
For other minchah offerings a handful was burned on the altar and the remainder was eaten by the priests.
In the Tabernacle and Temple was a piece of furniture called the Table. On the Table was placed 12 loaves of bread called “show bread” (in Hebrew, lechem hapanim). These loaves were baked of wheat flour.
5 And you shall take fine flour and bake it [into] twelve loaves. Each loaf shall be [made from] two tenths [of an ephah of flour].
6 And you place them in two stacks, six in each stack, upon the pure table, before the Lord.
Shavuot is the one-day festival celebrated 50 days after the 1st day of Passover. On Shavuot is brought what is called “a new meal-offering” to God.
This meal offering is two loaves of leavened bread baked with fine wheat flour. After these loaves were waved before God, they were eaten by the priests.
16 You shall count until the day after the seventh week, [namely,] the fiftieth day, [on which] you shall bring a new meal offering to the Lord.
17 From your dwelling places, you shall bring bread, set aside, two [loaves] [made from] two tenths [of an ephah]; they shall be of fine flour, [and] they shall be baked leavened, the first offering to the Lord.
In the time of the Torah and Mishnah, barley was mostly considered an animal food. That doesn’t mean that people never ate it, but primarily it was for animals.
So we see that the first two of the seven species are for the nourishment of people and also our livestock.
Every year, starting after the first day of Passover, there was brought a special offering in the Temple called the Omer Offering.
9 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
10 Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When you come to the Land which I am giving you, and you reap its harvest, you shall bring to the kohen an omer of the beginning of your reaping.
11 And he shall wave the omer before the Lord so that it will be acceptable for you; the kohen shall wave it on the day after the rest day.
For the Omer Offering, the harvested barley was ground into a flour. It was mixed with oil. Then a handful of it was burnt on the altar. The rest of it was eaten by the priests.
I’m sure you noticed that the Torah does not tell us what grain was harvested! Why do we assume it’s barley? Maybe wheat is meant?
We see from the plagues in Egypt, that barely ripens before wheat. Therefore, the first of the harvest will be barley.
Here is part of the aftermath of the plague of hail:
31 though the flax and the barley have been broken, for the barley is in the ear, and the flax is in the stalk.
32 The wheat and the spelt, however, have not been broken because they ripen late.
We see from these verses that barley was destroyed by the hail because it was starting to ripen. However, the wheat and spelt (a type of wheat) were unharmed because they ripen later.
In the book of Ruth we get another hint that barely ripens before wheat. We read that Naomi and Ruth returned to Israel at the time of the barley harvest.
22 And Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, returning from the land of Moab. And they came to Beit Lechem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Ruth Chapter 2
17 And she [Ruth] gleaned in the field until evening, and she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. …
23 And she stayed with Boaz’s maidens to glean until the completion of the barley harvest and the wheat harvest, and she dwelt with her mother-in-law.
Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz during the barley harvest and, after that, during the wheat harvest. Again, another indication that barley ripens before the wheat.
The word in the verse is “vines,” but is understood to mean the fruit of the vine which is grapes.
The fruit of the vine is eaten fresh (grapes), dried (raisins), and as a beverage (wine).
I already quoted above the verse from Psalm 104 that wine “cheers man’s heart.”
Wine, like bread, is a food that is so special it gets a unique blessing said on it before and after drinking wine.
Many animal offerings are accompanied with a minchah meal offering and a wine libation.
The wine libation is taken by a priest to the altar. He then pours the wine on the altar. None of the wine is reserved for the priest to drink.
Figs are another fruit that is eaten fresh and dried. These days some folks do make fig wine, but I don’t see any mention of such a beverage in Tanach.
Figs are one of the first fruit trees mentioned by name in the Torah. Unfortunately, this mention of the fig is not in a good context.
7 And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves and made themselves girdles. …
21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife shirts of skin, and He dressed them.
Adam and Chava (Eve) sewed fig leaves to make a covering for themselves. They were willing to make use of a tree to cover their shame. However, they were not willing to make use of an animal to produce a more durable covering.
Later, God made them clothing out of animal skins.
On a more positive note, in Song of Songs figs are depicted as evidence that spring has arrived:
11 For behold, the winter has passed; the rain is over and gone.
12 The blossoms have appeared in the land, the time of singing has arrived, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree has put forth its green figs, and the vines with their tiny grapes have given forth their fragrance; arise, my beloved, my fair one, and come away.
But the imagery of figs reaches a much higher level. Figs and grapes are paired together to give an idyllic image of people living in peace and security.
During the reign of King Solomon we read:
5 And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig-tree, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all the days of Solomon.
As described in the verse, a person was able to rest from his labors and enjoy the fruits of his labors. He could enjoy the shade of the tree while eating its fruit.
Many years after the reign of Solomon, Israel was threatened by Assyria. One of the leaders of Assyria tried to entice the Jews to peacefully surrender:
31 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for so has the king of Assyria said, “Make peace with me, and come out to me, and each man will eat of his vine and each man of his fig tree, and each man will drink the water of his cistern.
32 Until I come and take you to a land like your land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil yielding olives and honey, and you may live and not die, and do not heed Hezekiah for he will mislead you, saying, ‘The Lord will save us.’
The Assyrian spokesman was trying to convince the Jews that the King of Assyria could be in place of God and take care of them. He claims their new land will be as good as the Land of Israel. However, his words make it clear that Israel is the better land.
The image of the grape vine and the fig tree also appears in the prophets speaking about the future.
3 And He shall judge between many peoples and reprove mighty nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift the sword against nation; neither shall they learn war anymore.
4 And they shall dwell each man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them move, for the mouth of the Lord of Hosts has spoken.
The Prophet Micah is describing a future with the entire world living in peace. Therefore, the image of dwelling under the vine and the fig is extended to all mankind, not just the Jews as at the time of King Solomon.
The pomegranate is a beautiful tree that blossoms in early spring. The fruits grow all summer and become ripe in September and October, right around Rosh Hashanah time.
Similar to figs, pomegranates were not used in the Temple service.
However, they were used in the Tabernacle and the Temple as decorations.
33 And on its bottom hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and crimson wool, on its bottom hem all around, and golden bells in their midst all around.
34 A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, on the bottom hem of the robe, all around.
35 It shall be on Aaron when he performs the service, and its sound shall be heard when he enters the Holy before the Lord and when he leaves, so that he will not die.
The garment described in the above verses was a robe (in Hebrew, m’eel) which was worn by the High Priest.
According to tradition, the robe had 72 bells and 72 pomegranates spaced along the entire hem of the robe.
The Temple built by King Solomon used pomegranates in another decorative way.
18 And he made the pillars; and two rows round about upon the one net-work, to cover the chapiters that (were) upon the top, with pomegranates; and so he did for the other chapiter.
19 And the chapiters that (were) upon the top of the pillars (were) of lily work in the porch, four cubits.
20 And (there were) chapiters above also upon the two pillars, over against the belly which (was) by the net-work; and the pomegranates (were) two hundred in rows round about upon each chapiter.
21 And he set up the pillars in the porch of the temple; and he set up the right pillar, and called the name thereof Jachin; and he set up the left pillar, and called the name thereof Boaz.
The word “chapiter” means the capital or the top part of a column.
I could not find any explanation for why pomegranates were chosen to be used as these decorations.
However, there may be a hint in the Song of Songs. (Just to be clear, the word “temple” in the next two verses means the side of the forehead, not the building!)
3 Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your speech is comely; your temple is like a split pomegranate from within your kerchief.
7 Your temple is like a split pomegranate from beneath your kerchief.
12 Come, my beloved, let us go out to the field, let us lodge in the villages.
13 Let us arise early to the vineyards; let us see whether the vine has blossomed, the tiny grapes have developed, the pomegranates have lost their flowers; there I will give you my love.
Song of Songs is a difficult book to understand. Let’s consider one allegory that’s applied to the first two verses quoted above.
When you cut open a pomegranate it’s always a bit shocking to see how many seeds it contains. Rashi and others explain that even the Jew who appears to be “empty” of mitzvot is actually filled with mitzvot just like a pomegranate is filled with seeds.
I would suggest this idea: even the Jew who appears to be estranged from God, has many more merits than are obvious on the outside. When that person does come to the Temple, those pomegranate decorations are there to encourage him. He can see those decorations and be encouraged to improve himself and become even more filled with merits.
And that’s where the verses from Song of Songs Chapter 7 come into play. The blossoming of the pomegranate and the other trees are a sign of spring. The earth is coming back to life after the bleakness of winter.
So too, each one of us, no matter how distant we are from God, can come “back to life.” Each person can experience a renewed connection with God. The Temple itself and the robe of the High Priest beckon us to draw closer to God.
The verse calls it “a land of oil producing olives.” Why not just say olives?
Probably because often the olive oil is more important than the fruit. It’s true that olives are eaten. However, olive oil is:
- eaten alone or as a dip
- used for baking
- used to anoint the skin
In the Temple service, most of the meal offerings were combined with olive oil. For example, the basic meal offering of wheat flour is described this way:
1 And if a person brings a meal offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil over it and place frankincense upon it.
The High Priest and kings were anointed with olive oil. So too vessels used in the divine service anointed were anointed with oil.
10 And Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the Sanctuary and everything in it and sanctified them.
12 And he poured some of the anointing oil upon Aaron’s head, and he anointed him to sanctify him.
Here is how Samuel anointed David to designate him king in place of Saul.
12 And he [David’s father] sent and brought him [David], and he was ruddy, with beautiful eyes, and handsome appearance. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.”
13 And Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And a spirit of the Lord passed over David from that day forth, and Samuel arose and went to Ramah.
7. Honey / Dates
As mentioned above, the last of the seven species is called “honey.” Based on tradition, this is not bee honey but rather the juice that flows out of dates.
Date honey is mentioned several times in the Torah. For example, date honey is mentioned in this verse in relation to meal offerings:
11 No meal offering that you sacrifice to the Lord shall be made [out of anything] leavened. For you shall not cause to [go up in] smoke any leavening or any honey, [as] a fire offering to the Lord.
Rashi explains on this verse that any fruit extract that is sweet is called honey.
Also, in all of the places where the Land of Israel is described as a land flowing with milk and honey, this means date honey.
Why the strange language? Why not just say dates?
Since the verse spoke about what comes out of the olives (the oil), it used a similar language about dates.
In this article I’ve looked at the seven species of the Land of Israel. I’ve explained what are the 7 species and their significance in Jewish life.
Many people who live in the modern state of Israel try to grow the seven species of the Bible.
I’ve included in this article photos of the 7 species. In particular, I wanted to show the species growing in our small town of Mitzpe Ramon in southern Israel.
Here are the other articles I’ve written about the 7 species:
Almonds in the Bible which explains my theory why almonds are not included in the 7 species.