D’var Torah: The great olive oil must suffer

By Rabbi James Stone Goodman

It shall be when you enter the Land that Hashem your God gives you as an inheritance and you possess it and dwell in it; that you shall take of the first fruit of the ground that you bring in from your land where Hashem your God will choose. – Deut. 26:1-2

I was speaking with Rashi (vintner, 11th century, northeastern France) this summer.

Me: Of the seven species associated with the Land wheat, barley, grape, fig, and pomegranate, a land of oil-olives and honey [Deut.8:8] — what kind of honey?

Rashi: Not bee honey date honey [I’m translating], oil-olives, the olive she grows where winters are temperate, I am too far north. I am loving a good olive, but I often summer by south Italia, where the oils in the southern provinces are heavy. In the northern provinces, the oils are milder.

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Me: Liquid gold.

Rashi: Exactement. Parfaitemente.

Me: You know, of course, to domesticate the olive comes from the homeland, Middle East, 6000 BCE. Olive trees make fruit in arid, stony soil all around the Mediterranean.

Rashi: Tell me something I don’t know. I have heard that there is a tree in the Maremma near Tyrrhenian coast, 3500 years old, before the Greeks, before the Etruscans even. The Romans made the commerce with the olives, they created the classifications too: vergine, extra vergine all that. The Benedictines took over after the fall of the Empire.

Me: I hear the first pressed oils are sometimes blended with lesser oils. This troubles me.

Rashi: Troubles you? I live for this, for everything that issues from the mouth of God. Extra vergine the oil must be extracted from first press, mechanical only no chemical, must contain less than 1 percent acid. Vergine, same extraction, less than 2 percent acid.

Me: It’s the olive oil that’s one of the seven species, not the olive.

Rashi: The midrash says the olive releases its best qualities when squeezed. Don’t you love that?

Me: I do. I do love that. The Italianos have a wonderful expression. I will translate for you: the great olive oil must suffer.

Rashi: Oh, that’s so Jewish.

Ki Tavo

Rabbi James Stone Goodman serves Congregation Neve Shalom and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.