Rafi Abrahams, writer for Triangle shows, reflects on wheat, one of the seven species as part of the Tu Bishvat dinner
A Tu B’Shvat Presentation
Wheat is a plant, and is the most important food for humans. World trade for wheat is higher than that of all other crops combined. Wheat is the leading source of vegetable proteins for human consumption, and notably surpasses rice and corn. It is true that people eat more rice than wheat, but they should be eating wheat instead.
Wheat originated as a wild plant, but the domestication of wheat has been traced back to about 9000 BC, or roughly 5772 years ago. Wheat was first farmed in modern-day Turkey, and wheat-based agriculture fed the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations, as well as ancient Israel. Wheat was used by the Jews in bread, including pita, and regrettably, matzah. Wheat was so important to ancient Jews that the Hebrew word for bread, lechem, has come to serve as a substitute for food in general, and the consumption of a wheat product is necessary to constitute a Jewish meal. The shalosh regalim, or three pilgrimage festivals of ancient Jews revolved round the agricultural wheat cycle: Passover marked the planting of wheat, Shavuot celebrated the emergence of bikkurim, or the first fruits, and Sukkot signified the final harvest of wheat at the end of the season. There are also historical accounts of a lost fourth holiday where it is said that wheat husks were bundled up into the shape of small boats.
For Jews, wheat is not only delicious and nutritious but also beautiful. In Shir HaShirim, or the Song of Songs, King Solomon’s poem chronicling the love between God and the Jewish people (maybe), God favorably compares the Jewish physique to wheat. As Chapter 7 Verse 2 describes: “Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine; your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies.” This line is still in common use by young Jewish men in attracting women, and is reportedly effective.
Wheat prevails as a highly regarded academic subject today. As evidence, consider the length of the article on “Wheat” on Wikipedia, which stretches to over 8000 words. Indeed the “Wheat” article’s word count far exceeds that of the other six species, as can be seen below:
Phoenix Dactylifera (Date Palm): 3602
Common Fig: 842
Wheat is also a powerful force in contemporary popular culture. “Wheat” dominates Google searches: Google Trends reveals that of the seven species, wheat surpasses all but olive in total searches, except in Denver, Colorado and Winnipeg, Canada, where wheat reigns supreme. It is no coincidence that Denver and Winnipeg are commonly regarded as international centers of prudent dietary choices and general aesthetic excellence.
Finally, wheat has remained an essential part of modern Jewish culture. Jews today continue to sanctify wheat through the weekly Sabbath tradition of gathering the family around a table on Friday evenings and playing a round of the popular board game Settlers of Catan. Do any of you have any wheat? I would gladly trade for a sheep. No, I am absolutely not building a city.