It’s Shabbat lunch and we’re sitting around the table after the “meal”, talking and “schmoozing”, when the host brings in a tray of nuts and dried fruits and some chocolate dessert. Should we say a special blessing? Should we say the blessing after the meal and then start a new “set”? what blessing shall we say before and what after? And what order should we bless and eat this food?
First, let us note – again, the extensive amount of time our sages spend on how we should consume food appropriately. That is the seemingly primary topic. Behind it is a discussion about setting priorities and preferences. Is there room for individual taste? Or is everything prescribed? We join a discussion about the Mishna. Here we are in Brachot 41:a:
הָיוּ לְפָנָיו מִינִין הַרְבֵּה וְכוּ׳: אָמַר עוּלָּא: מַחֲלוֹקֶת בְּשֶׁבִּרְכוֹתֵיהֶן שָׁווֹת, דְּרַבִּי יְהוּדָה סָבַר מִין שִׁבְעָה עָדִיף, וְרַבָּנַן סָבְרִי מִין חָבִיב עָדִיף. אֲבָל בְּשֶׁאֵין בִּרְכוֹתֵיהֶן שָׁווֹת — דִּבְרֵי הַכֹּל מְבָרֵךְ עַל זֶה, וְחוֹזֵר וּמְבָרֵךְ עַל זֶה.
The mishna cited a dispute with regard to the order in which one is supposed to recite the blessings when there were many types of food before him. Ulla said: This dispute is specifically in a case where the blessings to be recited over each type of food are the same. Rabbi Yehuda holds: The type of the seven species takes precedence, and the Rabbis hold: The preferred type takes precedence. However, when their blessings are not the same, everyone agrees that one must recite a blessing over this type of food and then recite another blessing over that.
There are two opinions: Rabbi Yehuda thinks that if we have on the table something from the “Seven Species” for which the Land of Israel – ״אֶרֶץ חִטָּה וּשְׂעֹרָה וְגֶפֶן וּתְאֵנָה וְרִמּוֹן אֶרֶץ זֵית שֶׁמֶן וּדְבָשׁ״. wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive oil and dates, then those take precedence, and in this order of importance; The sages think that one can say a blessing over whichever food they prefer and want to start eating first.
So if I have on the table olives, grapes, avocado, persimmon, dates, figs, apples and pomelo, for example, rabbi Yehuda would say to start with the grapes, since they are the ones mentioned first in the verse above (form Deuteronomy 8:8), while the rabbi will have no problem with me starting with the pomelo, then the avocado, then the olives… while saving the grapes for last.
On the surface, this may be a simple discussion, slightly intruding, slightly minutia, ‘oh, you again, caring about the 10 seconds between my eating a grape, a date and an apple? They all share the same blessing of “creator of the fruit of the tree” – בורא פרי העץ – why bother??
But maybe, it’s about my relationship with the greater community of Israel. Food, is not just about “food”. Food is about relationship, between me and myself, between me and my G-d and between me and my community. This is not a theoretical thing but something we practice daily. To what extent?? In this case, can I eat whatever I like first, or must I pause, reflect on the Land, possibly far away, and put that first, even before the slice of fruit I really, really want? Do I ever get a break from my “peoplehood” or am I constantly first of all a member of the klal, community, and only then, me, myself and I? This is a constant tension in our life, whether as partners, parents, workers… Rabbi Yehuda says, you’re “on” all the time, sort of like a wedding ring you never take off; any move away is a move away. The sages say, you’re within “range”; you’re not eating anything not kosher; you’re saying your blessings and you just want a minute to be an individual, so — we “let you”, maybe so that you stay a unique human being, and our community remains both diverse and cohesive. They do hold the majority opinion, but the debate continues to this very day.