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By Ted Roberts
When my son and his family went to Israel last month I gave him detailed instructions on my gift. He WAS going to bring me a gift, was he not? Using the same subtle techniques I used for birthdays and wedding anniversaries (“I want a new, large-head tennis racket”) I gave him careful direction. No plastic temple bookends for me. And no antiquities stamped “158 Israelite BCE bronze vase, made in China”.
No, I wanted my own personal symbol of the land of Milk and Honey. the celestial signer of the covenant - and I mean no disrespect - was also the world’s first salesman because he lauded the rocky, poorly-watered slice of Mideastern earth he calls a land of Milk and honey. Just like the guy at the car lot gushes over the new Lincoln MKZ. I mean who is going to abide by 613 rules and never snatch a peek at his neighbor’s voluptuous wife or drop a rock on the head of the guy looking at yours - for a sandy sanitary landfill of boulders, grit, and tumbleweed, a path of earth rich in history, but poor as a synagogue mouse in vitamins? No, says creation’s first marketing man - it is a sweet land of milk and honey. (The Negev, too?) And that’s not all. “Every man shall sit under his own Fig tree.”
And Pomegranate trees will flourish. If you check your concordance, you’ll see that giant, red fruit with juicy nectar is mentioned maybe forty times. It is almost a metaphor for the sacred land that the Lord has promised to us. It is required in the trappings of the temple and the decorations of the priests’ robes. Thinking back to my visits to Israel, I remember them in mosaic floors. I remember seeing as many pomegranate as fig trees. Evidently, they thrived in 3000 BCE as well as in the 70’s of the 20th Century.
This antique fruit has inspired storytellers for ages. It figures in Greek explanations of seasonal change. Remember Persepone, who spent her winters in Hell - and the world of nature mourns - because she ate a few pomegranate seeds? It goes back that far. And of course, even further in our Chumash. What an ancient and honorable pedigree is the seed of this fruit.
Such an unusual fruit. A huge cluster of juicy red seeds (613 like the mitzvahs, say the sages) covered by a leathery red skin. More fitting as a descriptor of the sabra (the native Israeli) than the traditional fruit. Tough as hell on the outside - sweet as sugar within. I prefer the symbol of the pomegranate.
So, about now you’ve figured out my request to my kids: bring me, I asked, a couple of pomegranates, which I will not devour like a hungry heathen, but invest in the fertile earth of my backyard! What a machaya that would be - my own little piece of Jerusalem. I specifically requested one from Jerusalem. Who wants one from Tel Aviv, which was a stretch of sand in Bible times? That’s where you buy those plastic temple bookends. And perhaps selfishly I gave my neighbor, a kind and devout Christian who shares with me the fruit of his garden, a handful of seeds. I use the world “selfish” because I’m thinking that if my seedling fails, his won’t. Evidently, he is a man of virtue who the Lord rewards with a bountiful garden. He has only to say “GROW” to a tomato plant and we have salads and spaghetti sauce and fried green tomatoes for six months. I fertilize, weed, and pray and here comes a barren weed that never achieves the sexual maturity of blossoms. So, I’m taking no chances.
I planted bunches of seeds. Using the scientific methods of modern, experimental technology to compensate for my botanic ignorance. I planted seeds everywhere. Inside and outside and in pots and in the earth and in sand and in clay. Meanwhile, I bought pomegranates in the grocery and settled down in front of the TV and waited. And sure enough, little green things came up. But suddenly, with overwhelming logic, it struck me. How will I recognize a pomegranate seedling from shrubs, weeds, and bushes that don’t bear big, red, leathery-skinned clusters of juicy seeds? I never saw an adolescent pomegranate. How will I know her when I meet her? I might be nourishing Forsythias for five years before I figure out it is an impostor. Oh well, they bear after three or four years. I guess I can wait. I’m a youthful 77 - let’s see - 77 plus 4. Hey, that’ll work.
Ted Roberts is known as "The Scribbler on the Roof"} visit his website at:
Buy Ted's collected works at Amazon: The Scribbler on The Roof
from the August 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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