Fine Characteristics

This week, we celebrated Tu B’Shevat (Hebrew for the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat), the “Birthday/New Year of the Trees.” The holiday celebrates the trees in our world and the seven fruits and grains singled out in the Torah (Deuteronomy 8:8) -- wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. These seven species were the staple foods consumed by the Jewish people in the land of Israel during biblical times. Many have a Tu B’Shevat seder or incorporate the “seven species” into meals at this time. 

Although the holiday has already passed, I thought I would share a little about it. According to, these seven species have special significance and Kabbalist (Jewish mystic) Rabbi Isaac Luria attributed meaningful characteristics to each fruit:

Wheat corresponds to chesed (kindness). The characteristic of chesed is expansion, to reach out and extend oneself toward others. Wheat likewise reflects the nourishing food of kindness and to this day remains our main sustaining food staple. 

Barley corresponds to gevura (restraint). Its characteristic is contraction, reduction, and setting boundaries. This is reflected by each barley seed being enclosed in a strong hull (boundary) which remains intact even during threshing. 

Grapes grow in beautiful clusters and correspond to tiferet (beauty). This trait is characterized by the balance between its different and sometimes contrary components. Since tiferet is the perfect balance between chesed and gevura, grapes include both nourishing and eliminating qualities.

Figs correspond to netzach (endurance), which engenders longevity. The fig tree reflects everlasting fruitfulness as it has one of the longest periods of ripening, spanning more than three months. 

Pomegranate, a very beautiful and majestic fruit, even has a crown. It corresponds to hod, which means majesty and glory. Hod is also related to the Hebrew word todah, which means thanks and recognition.

Olive oil corresponds to yesod (foundation). Olive oil is the foundation of most Mediterranean foods and has many health-related qualities.

Dates correspond to malchut (kingdom). Malchut is the channel that allows everything to manifest below. 

The Torah’s mention of the seven species is not incidental. Rather, these foods are central to a Jewish spiritual path that endeavors to elevate the physical through intentional living. Eating the seven species in a conscious way can promote our well-being, help us connect to the land of Israel, and deepen our relationship with God.


I would be remiss not to mention disturbing news that the Polish Senate passed legislation Thursday morning that criminalizes accusing the Polish state of the crimes committed by the Germans during World War II. This is on the heels of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, designated as January 27 by the United Nations as an international day of commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. The legislation is designed to make it clear that Nazi Germany is responsible for the crimes against humanity that took place in the camps on Polish soil. The law would make it illegal to use terms such as “Polish death camps” to describe the camps set up by the Nazis in Poland. Violation of the law could result in up to three years in prison. It does contain a provision to exclude scholarly or academic works. The legislation must still be signed by the country’s president, Andrzej Duda, to become law.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced it as a “distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a condemnation of the legislation, tweeting “The State of Israel opposes categorically the Polish Senate decision. Israel views with utmost gravity any attempt to challenge historical truth. No law will change the facts.”

The U.S. State Department has asked the Polish government to reevaluate the policy. And, Yad Vashem, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and numerous scholars have all criticized the law.

Germany occupied Poland in 1939, annexing part of it to Germany and directly governing the rest. Unlike other countries occupied by Germany at the time, there was no collaborationist government in Poland. The prewar Polish government and military fled into exile, except for an underground resistance army that fought the Nazis inside the country.

There were many cases of Poles killing Jews or denouncing them to the Germans with deadly anti-Semitic pogroms continuing during and in one case even after World War II.

Join us this coming Monday, February 5 to hear Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent and analyst for The Jerusalem Post. He will speak on Peace, Politics and Plutonium: Israel’s Challenges and Opportunities During the Trump-Netanyahu Era. Hoffman will provide a behind-the-scenes look at this relationship and provide potential ideas for the future. The program starts at 7:00 p.m. at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center. 

For those ages 18-32 (note expanded age range), registration for Birthright Israel is now open. Please click here to learn more and to register. 

Finally, we are proud to announce a call for nominations for the 2018 Laurie Rogoway Outstanding Jewish Professional Award. The award was established four years ago to honor our esteemed colleague and friend Laurie Rogoway, a pillar of Jewish professional leadership for over 30 years in Portland. This award recognizes an early to mid career Jewish professional currently working in a professional capacity at a Jewish communal organization in Greater Portland. The nominee must demonstrate outstanding professional work and a commitment to the field of Jewish professional leadership.

The award will be presented at Federation’s Annual Meeting on June 14 and the recipient will receive up to $1800 to participate in a professional development experience. 

This is your opportunity to celebrate and recognize the excellence in Jewish professional leadership in our midst. Please fill out the form online here prior to March 2nd.

Shabbat shalom and enjoy the Super Bowl!


P.S. Here are six Jewish facts about this year's Super Bowl.


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