Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tu b'Shvat - The Seven Species of Israel

15th of Shevat  is designated as "the new year for trees". On Tu b'Shevat it is customary to eat different fruits, including some listed below, known as the seven species of Israel.

"It is a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates - a land of olives and honey-dates." [Devarim 8:8]

Wheat has many therapeutic properties. It strengthens the body, improves digestion, increases blood volume, and improves circulation. It is an effective treatment for dissolving kidney stones and promotes lactation.

Bread cleanses and purifies the blood and raises body tempeature. Wheat bread strengthens the brain and sharpens mental acuity (Horayos). Our Sages tell us that "bread is the food of the heart" [Midrash Rabba 48]

Grains are in many ways superior to all other forms of vegetation. Grain is nourishing and filling, the mainstay of the human diet. The Hebrew words dagan (grain) and zan (nourishment) have the same gematria - 57. This is the origin of the time-honored custom of reciting Psalm 23 ("G-d is my Shepherd, I shall not want") before making the blessing hamotzi on bread. In Kabbalistic tradition, reciting this psalm daily is helpful for a good livelihood. It consists of 57 words, the numerical equivalent of dagan and zan. In other words, G-d is my shepherd, and I shall not want: it is He alone who provides grain and nourishment for all mankind.

Barley is mentioned in the Torah more than thirty times. It is the first of the winter grains to ripen and was used for the Omer offering brought in the Temple on Pesach. It's Hebrew name "seora" is similar to "se'ar" (hair), probably referring to its hair-like spikes.

Barley tea helps dissolve stones in the kidneys. It soothes the nerves, counteracts dizziness, and relieves the suffering of diabetics. Gargling with barley tea relieves infections of the mouth, throat and tonsils. Applied externally, it is good for open, infected wounds. Barley baths relieve swelling and rashes.

The Talmud warns that barley may cause intestinal worms. Also, because it is difficult to digest, barley should be avoided by those with gastrointestinal problems.

Fig (Te'enah)
Rich in minerals, especially iron. Current research has shown that the food value of figs is three times greater than that of bread. Figs are also high in calories.

Our ancestors found figs to be of great medicinal value. The Bible mentions dried whole figs as a cure for boils. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra writes that "fresh or dried figs stimulate blood circulation, and thus preserve life". Our Sages said that "one gripped with a powerful hunger should be given figs to eat" because they increase the flow of blood and are rejuvenating.

Both figs and fig leaves have therapeutic properties. Ripe figs help open wounds form scabs. Figs are helpful for digestive problems. They serve as a mild laxative and are especially helpful for infections of the stomach, intestines and urinary tract. Figs are excellent for heart patients. They stimulate and refresh the body, cleanse the blood and improve circulation, give good colour to the skin, and stimulate the appetite. Fresh or dried, they are wonderful for physical debility, exhaustion and anaemia.

Blessing on figs: Borei peri ha'etz.

Date-honey (devash)
The Talmud provides a wealth of information about the cultivation, nutritional value, and halachos surrounding dates. For example, in Kesubos we find that "dates are warming, laxative, filling and strengthening". In addition, "dates eliminate depression, anxiety, intestinal disorders, and haemorrhoids".

Extremely rich in minerals and vitamins, dates help treat anaemia and general debility. They regulate the digestive tract, work wonders for heart conditions and male infertility.

Our sages tells us [Berachos 57a] that when one sees dates (tamar) in a dream, it is a sign that his sins have been eliminated (tamu).

The blessing on dates is Borei peri ha'etz.

Pomegranate (Rimmon)

Mentioned in the Song of Songs six times, and many times elsewhere in the Torah. It is likely that the famous six pointed Star of David was inspired by the "crown" of the pomegranate. When its spikes are flattened, they form the familiar star. According to a Kabbalistic interpretation, the six points of the star are composed of two superimposed triangles.

Blessing on pomegranates : Borei peri ha'etz

Blessing on pomegranate juice : Shehakol niheya bidvaro

Grapes (Anavim)
Generous daily consumption of grapes and controlled intake of wine are helpful for a multitude of problems such as infections of the throat, stomach and intestines, pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases including clogging of the cardiac arteries and angina, high blood pressure, kidney stones and infections, hepatitis, gastrointestinal diseases and hypersensitive stomach, digestive problems and lack of appetite, and chronic colds.

Wine has an astringent effect which promotes the elimination of toxins, germs, mucus, and fatty deposits on the walls of the arteries. It relieves abdominal swelling and gas, and the pain of migraines. Wine stimulates the flow of blood through the tissues and is excellent for elderly people who lack natural body heat. Wine improves eyesight and strengthens the memory. Raisins appear to be beneficial for all the internal organs especially the lungs. Eating grapes and chewing the seeds stimulates blood circulation and prevents clogging of the arteries.

Blessing on grapes: Borei peri ha'etz. Blessing on wine: Borei peri hagafen

Olive (Zayit)
Our Sages had a tradition that fresh olives cause forgetfulness, while olive oil strengthens and sharpens the memory. Massages with olive oil have been used to treat joint pains and arthritis. Children's coughs were successfully treated with olive oil and honey.

Assaf the Physician, who lived in Babylon between the eighth and ninth centuries, wrote that "olive oil soothes intestinal pains, aids the digestive process, alleviates disorders of the mouth and teeth, and is beneficial for illnesses of the head. It increases hair growth and strengthens the hair, so that it will not tear out easily." Applied to the scalp, it strengthens hair roots.

Olives are very rich in iron and vitamin A. Both olives and olive oil possess numerous healing properties. Olives stimulate and increase the appetite and olive oil lowers cholesterol levels.

The olive tree will not accept a graft from another tree, and all its shoots are its own.

Blessing on olives: Borei peri ha'etz.

Source: "Nature's Wealth" -  Rabbi Moshe Cohen Shaouli and Rabbi Yaakov Fisher - based on the teachings of the Rambam

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