The Seven Species Come First
Our connection to the Land of Israel is strengthened every time that we eat fruit, especially the Shivat HaMinim, the seven species of the Land of Israel.
In Dvarim 8:7-8 we learn about the beauty of the Land of Israel, which B’nei Yisrael are about to enter, as well as the seven foods for which the Land was praised:
For HaShem, your God, is bringing you to a good Land: a Land with streams of water, of springs and underground water coming forth in valley and mountain; a Land of wheat and barley, grape, fig and pomegranate; a Land of olive oil and date-honey.
Before we choose a fruit to eat, we have a few things to consider. As we see in the Mishna, Brachot 40b:
If there were before him many species of food, Rabbi Yehuda says: If there is among them one of the seven species for which the Land of Israel is praised, he recites the blessing upon it. But the Chachamim (Sages) say: He recites the blessing on whichever one he prefers.
There are two ways to determine the Halakha:
According to the Rosh, the Halakha follows Rabbi Yehuda which is explained in the Gemara: If the fruits have the same bracha, he should first bless and eat from the seven species. If the seven species are not on the table, he can bless and eat from the fruit that he likes the most.
The Rambam (Hilchot Brachot 8:13) states that the Halakha follows the Chachamim. You can have what you prefer first but if you like both fruits equally then first you should bless and eat the fruit from the seven species.
Even among the seven species, there is an order in which they should be eaten as we see in the Talmud Brachot 41b:
Rav Chisda and Rav Hamnuna were sitting at a meal in the course of which they brought before them dates and pomegranates. Rav Hamnuna took the date first and recited the blessing on it. Rav Chisda said to him: Don’t you follow what Rav Yosef (and some say Rav Yitzchak) said: Whatever is mentioned first in the verse is first with regard to the recital of the blessing? The pomegranate is mentioned in the verse before the date! Rav Hamnuna said to him: I do follow that teaching. However, the date is the second fruit mentioned after the word “Land”, while the pomegranate is the fifth fruit after the word “Land”. Dates therefore take precedence over pomegranates.
This Halakha is codified in the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 211:4:
Whichever is first in the verse of “A Land of wheat and barley…” is blessed first. The second mention of the word “Land” breaks up the topic so the fruits mentioned immediately after the second “Land” are more important and eaten before the fruits mentioned later after the first “Land.” Therefore dates are eaten before grapes, since dates are mentioned second after the second “Land” while grapes are mentioned third after the first “Land.”
The order that we should eat the fruits at our Tu B’Shevat seder should be: olive, date, grape, fig, pomegranate.
On a regular basis as well as on Tu B’Shevat (where some have the custom to eat over 30 types of fruit!) it is important to keep in mind that the seven species of the Land of Israel come first and even among the seven species the ones closest to the word “Land” take precedence, helping us strengthen our deep connection to the Land of Israel.
Rav Kook (Olot Reiya, section one) points out that the details of the mitzvot teach us good values as well as principles of faith. The order of the blessings on the fruits is connected with their proximity to the word “Land” to teach us that whoever is more connected to the love of the “Land” and works harder in settling our Holy Land, will be blessed.
There are those who long for the spiritual aspects of the Land and yearn to observe the mitzvot that are specific to the Land of Israel, while others recognize the material importance of building up and settling the Land.
Those who feel close to the Land, even if it is for material rather than spiritual reasons should be strengthened and blessed as loving and settling the Land is a very lofty pursuit which will ultimately bring us to greater spiritual heights.
May we all be blessed to eat the fruits of the Land of Israel in the modern State of Israel.