Fruit of the earth

Dr. Rachel Zohar Dulin
Dr. Rachel Zohar Dulin

Leshon Ima – Mother Tongue with Dr. Rachel Zohar Dulin, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

On the sixth day of this month, the month of Sivan, we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. In biblical times Shavuot was celebrated as an agricultural holiday.

There is no reference in the Bible, which connects Shavuot with any historical event, including the giving of the Torah. On the contrary, the three names given to this holiday in the Torah point to the centrality of agriculture in this lovely celebration.

The first name, Shavuot, meaning weeks, marks the seven weeks of the count from Pesach to the day of the holiday (Deut. 16:9), thereby connecting the holiday with the end of the spring cyclical celebrations.

The second name is Chag Hakatzir, the harvest festival (Ex. 23:16), pointing to the first harvest after Pesach. And the third is Yom Habikurim, the day of the first fruits (Num. 28:26), referring to the first crops of the fields after Pesach. Since agriculture is the focus of the celebration of Shavuot, let’s direct our attention to the phrase pri ha’adama, the fruit of the earth.

It is a Jewish custom to bless God for the food we eat and drink. For example, before we drink wine we bless God acknowledging that He is boreh pri hagafen, “the Creator of the fruit of the vine.” And when we eat vegetables, fruits or any kind of greens we bless God with the words: boreh pri ha’adama, “the Creator of the fruit of the earth.”

The word pri, which means fruit, product, profit and interest, is derived from the root prh meaning to bear fruit, fertilize and fecundate. In the Bible pri generally means fruit. For example, pri haetz means fruit of the tree (Gen. 1:12), and pri habeten means fruit of the womb, namely children (Gen. 30:2). Also, pri means one’s labor as in pri yadeha, literally the fruit of her hands (Prov. 31:31).

Later, in the Mishnah, pri also meant income or interest from investments (Tosefta Peah 1:20).

There are many phrases in Modern Hebrew where pri is at the center. We will mention here that pri hadimyon means fruit of the imagination, a fantasy, and pri haet is the fruit of the pen, namely literary contributions.

As for adama, in Genesis tradition it means ground, soil, earth or land.

Adama is probably derived from adom meaning red, denoting the red color of the arable ground and connected to dahm, meaning blood.

In the biblical tradition the first human being was created from the adama, and hence was called Adam. Adam also refers to all humanity (Gen. 5:2). Interestingly, in English as well, the word human is derived from the Latin humus meaning ground or soil.

On Shavuot, let us bless pri ha’adama, acknowledging that it is not pri hadimyon, a fantasy we celebrate on this lovely holiday, but rather, pri yadeynu the fruit of our hands. Chag Sameach.

Dr. Rachel Zohar Dulin is a professor of biblical literature at Spertus College in Chicago and an adjunct professor of Bible and Hebrew at New College of Florida.

To read the complete June 2014 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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