The Seven Species (Hebrew: שבעת המינים, Shiv’at HaMinim) are seven agricultural products – two grains and five fruits – which are listed in the Hebrew Bible as being special products of the Land of Israel.
The seven species listed are wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranates, olive (oil), and date (honey) (Deuteronomy 8:8). Their first fruits were the only acceptable offerings in the Temple. – Wikipedia
With this stanza, we reach the conceptual center of the chiastic structure of this poem: The acceptable sacrifice, the first fruits.
The conceptual center of this poem focuses on these seven species that were acceptable as sacrifice in the temple. The New Year of the Trees/Rosh HaShana La’Ilanot dictated when a crop could be consumed relative to when the sacrificial tithes were brought to the temple and when the food was planted or ripened.
If this stanza was to be simply restated, it would be: There was bitter suffering, hard to remember, but seemingly in a moment, and in unaccountable kindness, there was complete and merciful deliverance. This deliverance came because of sacrifice.
As the title and the language in the stanza reminds of acceptable offerings and first fruits, I think of the Deliverer – the Mighty One of Israel. Christ, the great “High Priest of our profession” (Hebrews 3:1), was the acceptable sacrifice and the first fruits (1 Corinthians 15:20), and through his sacrifice we are delivered. We also can sacrifice our own first fruits unto God (Leviticus 23:10-14) (see also Doctrine and Covenants 4:2, Deuteronomy 30:6, Mark 12:29-31, and Luke 10:27-28).
Some terms and their use/meaning in the stanza:
“Chicory and memory,” “bile,” “maror” – Bitter herbs , or “maror,” are consumed to remember (or in “memory” of) the bitterness of captivity (Exodus 12:23-27 and Numbers 9:11). Maror include chicory, horseradish, lettuce, and others. Interestingly, maror and myrrh may have the same linguistic root (wikipedia).
“memory bound” – As previously mentioned, tefillin are worn to bind memory. As described above: One commandment was to remember delivery out of Egypt/the Passover (Exodus 12:24-27) – which marked the beginning of months (Exodus 12:2). The service of remembering the Passover was to be done annually and in perpetuity. Further, a constant remembrance has often been physically retained “for a memorial between thine eyes” and “[bound] … as a sign upon [the] hand” as tefillin (Exodus 13:8-10 and Deuteronomy 11:18). However commemorated, the command was a standing one to remember deliverance from Egypt.
“bile, brick, and back bent in service, and afraid” – These words recall captivity and “thy sorrow, and … thy fear, and … the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve” (Isaiah 14:3). Though that verse from Isaiah references Babylonian captivity, it is universally applicable. These verses (Exodus 1:13-14) also paint the picture of hard service in captivity (boldface added to connect to this stanza):
13 And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour:
14 And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.
The word “service” – meaning ‘memorial’ – is also there in this stanza line to recall the Passover ‘service,’ and the word is also there to remind of delivery from this hard “service,” meaning ‘captivity’ (boldface added to Exodus 12:23-27 below):
23 For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.
24 And ye shall observe this thing for an ordinance to thee and to thy sons for ever.
25 And it shall come to pass, when ye be come to the land which the Lord will give you, according as he hath promised, that ye shall keep this service.
26 And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service?
27 That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshipped.
“A line cut off” – This is the meaning of the term “linea abscissa.” This is the before and after. Some events create such change that there is always before and after. This is true of the Israelite deliverance from Egyptian captivity. This is the New Year of the Trees. This is to me the atonement of Christ. This is our personal deliverance and our personal conversion, when we first learn to lay down the burdens of our captivity and take up light and rest (Matthew 11:28-30):
28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Some things are forever and profoundly “before and after.”
“Redeemed at cost” – One of those things that is “before and after” is deliverance from captivity. Delivery/redemption from Egypt came at cost (Exodus 12:30): “there was not a house where there was not one dead” – see also the stanza/verse “Drupelet.”
Christ, the promised Messiah, also redeemed us at cost – see Isaiah 53 and the stanza/verse “Ficus Carica.”
“maror, tithe, and tack in trade” – Bitter herbs, a tithe of the first fruits (echoing “Shiv’at HaMinim”) and consumption of matzah/tack/unleaved bread are a small “trade” or recompense for extraordinary deliverance. This is the little we give back in gratitude when we have been given so much.
Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget?No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat,Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet.
“Lashes to ashes, ‘must’ to dust” – I loved this play on words from “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” traditionally spoken at funerals. Instead of death being ultimate destiny, there is deliverance – the lashes and whips of the taskmasters fall to ash, the ‘must’ or the compulsion of captivity falls to dust.
“By sweep of hem of priestly robe” – Aaron had a pomegranate motif in the hem of the priestly robes. (Exodus 28:33-34 boldface added):
33 ¶ And beneath upon the hem of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof; and bells of gold between them round about:
34 A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about.
In this line, I think of divine deliverance – from Christ, the great “High Priest of our profession” (Hebrews 3:1), while echoing the ancient Israelite priestly robes. With divine deliverance in a moment – we are brought from death and despair to hope and light in what feels like unforeseeable and unimaginable grace. “By sweep of hem of priestly robe…”
“the boundless gift in grace bestows each vine and fig…” – “Each vine and fig” is language from 1 Kings 4:25:
25 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.
It is also from this beautiful passage in Micah 4 (boldface added):
1 But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it.
2 And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
3 ¶ And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
4 But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lordof hosts hath spoken it.
This passage was loved by President George Washington, who cited it in his letters nearly 50 times. Additionally:
United States President George Washington, writing in 1790 to the Touro Synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island, extended the metaphor to denote the equality of all Americans regardless of faith. wikipedia.
This lovely passage speaks to peace after war, domesticity after travail, shelter after exposure, solace after grief. This is deliverance, provided in “boundless grace.”
“each vine and fig, and honey flows” – Included with the “each vine and fig” language just described, the “honey flows” language echoes Exodus 33:3: “Unto a land flowing with milk and honey” – again, deliverance.
This stanza is the center of the chiasm. It is about the acceptable sacrifice, about the first fruits, about deliverance.
Jump to any part of the annotation here (including directly to the stanza by stanza descriptions):
- The conceptual outline of the poem, generally
- The basic layout, in reference to the concept of the jubilee.
- The use of the word “selah”
- The sets of sevens
- A stanza by stanza review of some of what it all means
Links to the stanzas for their individual “behind the scenes”: