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What “a Mother” Wants: Tale of Darkness – Season of Light

Blog Hannah courage of a mother Gustave Dore

Hannah, Gustave Dore

On this, the seventh night of Hanukkah, I would like to jump into the debate on the meaning of the festival – admiration for the fight against tyranny, esteem/excoriation of cultural separatism, paganism at midwinter  – the sky’s the limit. For my part, at the risk of being considered the Grinch who stole Hanukkah, I would like first to focus on a tragic heroine, Hannah.

This is not the Hannah whose fervent prayers at Shiloh were rewarded with the birth of a son who served the sacred and grew up to lead Israel through war, peace, and extreme regime change. This Hannah is still nameless when she appears in 2 Macc. 7:1 as “mother” and later in that chapter, “the woman,” who watched her seven sons tortured and executed one after the other, and who triumphed in their sacrifice to a higher cause.

Yes, I admit, I’m feeling more than a bit grinchy these days, in light of Arik’s and his mother’s ongoing medical challenges since their car was struck in May. And so I’d better quickly tell you that our little family, from great-grandma Tamar herself down to seven-month old Elia, enjoyed our holiday very much, lighting the candles, singing the blessings, eating jelly donuts we made and thinking of Nili and Ami who will be home with us soon. In the photos at the end of this post, you’ll see the Vamosh-Dubinsky family celebrating Hanukkah from generation to generation. Below is a teaser.

Hope of the future - Hanukkah 2014

“In the candles’ rays I see”* – the face of hope in the future.

But bear with me as I return to a tale of darkness at this season of light. We  learn that the story of this mother evolved as it wended its way from the Book of Maccabees to rabbinic tradition and on into Christian tradition. Scholars say that “the woman” of 2 Maccabees and in the version told by Rab Judah in the Babylonian Talmud (Gittin 57b) becomes Miriam in other rabbinic literature, and Maryam in Syriac Christian sources.

It was only in an early 16-century revision of a 10th-century work, “Josippon,” that she received the name that came down in history. There, the author apparently could not resist a connection with 1 Sam. 2:5, where the biblical Hannah praises her miraculous reversal of fortune: “Those who were full go out to work for bread. But those who were hungry are filled. She who could not give birth has given birth to seven.” Scripture teaches, by the way, that seven sons are the ultimate symbol of divine blessing (Ruth 4:15, Jeremiah 15:9, Job 1:2).

According to 2 Macc. 7: 20-23: “…the mother was marvelous above all, and worthy of honorable memory: for when she saw her seven sons slain within the space of one day, she bare it with a good courage, because of the hope that she had in the Lord. Yea, she exhorted every one of them in her own language, filled with courageous spirits; and stirring up her womanish thoughts with a manly stomach, she said unto them, I cannot tell how ye came into my womb: for I neither gave you breath nor life, neither was it I that formed the members of every one of you; But doubtless the Creator of the world, who formed the generation of man, and found out the beginning of all things, will also of his own mercy give you breath and life again, as ye now regard not your own selves for his laws’ sake.”

To the narrator, this horrific tale seems to be not much more than a human interest angle, because right after he completes his account with the death of the mother, like a news anchor pressed to get everything in before the commercial, in a meanwhile-in-other-news tone, he says: “Let this be enough now to have spoken concerning the idolatrous feasts, and the extreme tortures” (2 Macc. 7:42). He then moves on to a security-related story – Judah Maccabee’s draft efforts and subsequent battles, where his victories as a guerrilla warrior lionized him for all time.

I’ve learned in studying about daily life of women in the Bible that the convoluted family ties of the patriarchs and the matriarchs, with their subterfuge, violence, humiliation and other dysfunctions, were about the perpetuation of family lines at a time when so many died young. But martyrdom is a very different call, one whose circumstances I am fortunate not to be able to imagine.

Some people point out that the lessons of Hanukkah are best served not by glorifying the battles of Judah the Maccabee, but by focusing on the achievements of his brother Jonathan who succeeded him, and is said to have excelled at treaties. But eventually, “us against them” was supplanted (again) by “us against us.” Jonathan’s great-great grandnephews, the sons of Queen Alexandra (Salome) and her second husband, divided the nation in a deadly feud. It can be said that their unceasing and bloody machinations were what eventually brought on Rome’s conquest of our land.

In Gittin 57b Rab Judah intersperses his instances of martyrdom (interestingly, the story of Masada is not among them) with, as was the norm, appropriate biblical proof texts. Transforming the mother’s death at the hands of the tyrants into suicide in his retelling, Rab Judah says: “the woman went up on to a roof and threw herself down and was killed. A voice thereupon came forth from heaven saying, A joyful mother of children.”

“A joyful mother of children”: That reference to Psalm 113:9 is simply chilling. It forces us to ask when death might be perceived as a preferable alternative, even a glorious one. And thus, it forces us to demand of our leaders and those of our neighbors – in our “own language, filled with courageous spirits” – everything possible to rein in extremists, a task we must undertake in honor of the exhortation of Deuteronomy 30:19: “Choose life, that that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed.”

Hanukkah 1985

Our own little seeds, candle-lighting on Nili’s first Hanukkah, December 1985.

 

Hanukkah 2014

Maya, at right, now with her own seeds, Tamar and Elia, lighting the candles with us, Hanukkah 2014.

* “In the Candles’ Rays I see,” by Elma Ehrlich Levinger, a Hanukkah hymn written in 1960.

The Wagtail: a Wintertime Tail…I mean Tale

In the craziness that threatens to engulf us at any given moment, I leave the macro of our political maelstrom to wiser thinkers, and the micro of medical challenges faced by Arik and other loved ones to the experts and to the higher power that guides their hands. For a little peace of mind in the midst of it all, I flee briefly to the natural world no further away than the edges of my Judean Hills hometown. In previous blogs I introduced you to a cucumber that spits to survive and to the symbiotic Atlantic terebinth. This time, I want to tell you about a peripatetic little neighbor of mine that you see in this picture. It’s called the white wagtail (Motacilla alba). Read on, there’s a legend in it for you, too.

 

White wagtail. Photo: Miriam Feinberg Vamosh

White wagtail
Photo: Miriam Feinberg Vamosh

I found the particular wagtail and his mate darting around the bushes they call home on the edge of my little community of Har Adar, just across from the skating park that overlooks the ancient Canaanite city of Hakfira, the biblical Chephirah (there aren’t too many places in the world where a skating park overlooks an ancient Canaanite city, now, are there?). Just beyond Hakfira, by the way, I can see the Ayalon Valley on the edge of which – don’t blink, here’s the Hanukkah connection – at Emmaus, Judah Maccabee defeated the Syrian Greeks (1 Mac. 4:1-25).

Canaanite city of Hakfira (at top left of hill in center) with Qatanah on the slope and the Ayalon Valley in the distance. In the foreground: Har Adar. Photo: Miriam Feinberg Vamosh

The Canaanite city of Hakfira (at top left of hill in center) with Qatana on the slope and the Ayalon Valley in the distance. In the foreground: Har Adar. Photo: Miriam Feinberg Vamosh

But back to our wagtail. This species is well established around the world and very common in Israel, except in the desert. In fact, Israeli schoolchildren learn to recognize it as one of the signs that winter is here, because these tufted tweeters fly in around November and abide with us until March. And while we’re on the subject of their tweet –  to me it sounds something like what you get when you let the air out of a balloon by the neck, very, very slowly (which you might do, once, to amuse grandchildren up to a certain age).

Winging their way to us from points north, each wagtail pair picks a territory and guards it zealously. In fact, because they are so fiercely protective of their small dominion, a wagtail can sometimes be seen doing battle against its own reflection in a car or house window.* Yes indeed, we know a lot about that kind of thing in our part of the world.

Of the 227 bird species the experts say nest in Israel, 143 increased their size and distribution in the 20th century.  The veteran Israeli ornithologist Dr. Uzi Paz just published a new book in which he focuses on several avian species that seem to be thriving due to human presence. In answer to my email query as to whether the white wagtail was among them, Paz responded that this was not his impression, but it was certainly possible. That’s enough for me; I love these little guys.

The wagtail got its name in English because when it’s hopping around searching for insects to eat, it bobs its tail up and down like some old-time telegraph operator beating out an urgent message. In Hebrew it’s called nahlieli – a name that relates to its habitat rather than its body language. The word nahlieli comes from the word nahal, which means stream. Interestingly, it was the famous Jewish writer Mendele Mocher Sforim, all the way back in 1862, who first named the nahlieli, in his book about nature called Toldot Hateva.

White wagtail use this 2

And now for the tale: Nehama and her Mama

A story is told of a little white wagtail named Nehama who lived in Kiryat Ye’arim on the western border of the Tribe of Judah (Josh. 10:9; 1 Sam. 6:21; now Abu Gosh), with her parents and seven brothers and sisters. One day, while Nehama’s mama was busy weaving twigs into a new nest for the next round of family, and her father looked the other way for just a second, little Nehama fledged. She flew over Mount Haruah and over the canyon of Nahal Kfira, and landed in Chephirah (Josh. 9:17, Nehemiah 7:29; now Qatana). But right then, clouds blew in from the west, covered the sky and dropped so much rain that before long Nahal Kfira was a ranging stream. Nehama Wagtail, far from the warmth and comfort of her nest, cried out in terror. Her mother heard her, and immediately took off over the narrow, frothing stream. Her tiny wings tired as they beat against the wind and rain, but with the last of her strength she reached the other side, where she was reunited with her daughter. Nehama’s mama stayed by her side for as long as it took to teach her daughter everything she needed to know to build her own nest, which she did that very year and for many years thereafter.

This story was told to me by…me.  And yes, the similarity to a tale about a certain Willie Wagtail is not coincidental. However, the original ending is rather gruesome and we have enough of those endings around here, so I like my version better and I hope you do, too.

Happy Holidays!

For more of my short stories, all with happy endings and biblical associations, see my book Teach it to Your Children: How Kids Lived in Bible Days. 

* www.yardbirds.org.il.

A spray of pyracantha in its natural setting in my Judean Hills home, with my wishes for a wonderful holiday

Here’s a sprig of pyracantha in its natural setting  near my Judean Hills home, together with my wishes for a wonderful holiday to you and yours.
Photo: Miriam Feinberg Vamosh

 

Go to the Aphid: Because the Alternatives are Galling

I’d like to think the Atlantic pistachio, the biblical terebinth, has something to teach us about ourselves.

Last week on my daily walk in my community of Har Adar I spotted a beautiful red-leaved tree that I had never noticed before. Captivated by the colors, I snapped a few pictures because I wanted to share with you a rare hint of fall foliage in my adopted Holy Land home. Here, fall doesn’t usually trumpet its arrival in a riotous changing of the leaves, but is much more subtle (unlike most everything else around here…).

A terebinth (Atlantic pistachio) showing off that it knows how to do autumn, down the street from my house.

A terebinth (Atlantic pistachio) showing off that it knows how to do autumn, down the street from my house.

Then I realized I didn’t know what kind of a tree it was! But with help from my wise friend, Yaacov Shkolnik and his botanical buddies, I found out it’s a terebinth, a.k.a. Atlantic pistachio (Pistacia atlantica).

The terebinth in the Bible

I didn’t recognize our local tree because it stands a lot taller than its bush-like relatives I point out to tour groups in the Valley of Elah (1 Sam. 17:2), where David fought Goliath (and where I explain that elah is the name of this tree in Hebrew). I also know some of this species that are a lot bigger and more powerful looking in the rare places where such trees have survived for centuries.

The “nuts” among the choice fruit of Canaan that Jacob instructed his sons to take back to Egypt (Gen. 43:11) were pistachios. And in the grisly tale of the Absalom’s death, it was from the boughs of a “great terebinth,”  (alright, yes, some versions do say oak) that the prince was helplessly dangling by the hair when his father’s General Joab found him, and ran him through (2 Sam. 18: 9–15).

Reading more about this species, I found out that Atlantic pistachio seeds were unearthed in an excavation stratum going back some 9000 years in Jarmo, in northeastern Iraq, near the oil-rich, dispute-steeped region of Kirkuk. These seeds were also among seven types of edible nuts found – along with the stone tools to crack them open – at Gesher Bnot Ya’akov near the banks of the northern Jordan River, where our prehistoric ancestors apparently depended on them to enrich their diet some 780,000 years ago.*

Over the ages, the Atlantic pistachio has found many uses – the fruit produced oil used for lighting and medicine and the wood was carved into olive presses and other agricultural devices.  The tree can also be used as rootstock on which true pistachios (Pistacia vera) are produced.

The God factor

God is in the terebinth tree – literally. The Hebrew name of the tree, elah, is derived from the word El – God. Elah, the feminine form of that word, means goddess and is yet more evidence of the sanctity of trees, and their association with goddess worship that the Bible mentions frequently (for example, Jer. 17:2).  On that subject, for more information, I take the liberty of referring you to the chapter in my book Women at the Time of the Bible about women and worship.  Those big old trees that I show people as we travel the country together usually survived because people believed them sacred and brought them their prayers.

Reading on, I learned that the Atlantic pistachio has quite an amazing symbiotic relationship with a certain kind of aphid. Now that gave me pause for thought. Proverbs says: “Go to the ant” – and I’m sure old King Solomon wouldn’t mind if I took a leaf, so to speak, from his book, so we can “go to the aphid” for some wisdom. But first, a little botany.

The fist-sized growths you see in the picture (they’re black now, but in spring they’re coral-colored and so they’re also called “coral galls”) are formed by aphids called Slavum wertheimae. These little guys create a kind of an incubator out of the leaves apparently only of this particular tree. Their young are nourished by the nutrients in the leaves and eventually emerge fat and happy from an opening in the gall.

Blackened galls among the leaves of our local terebinth.

Blackened galls among the leaves of our local terebinth.

Galls – baaaaaad.  At least that’s what the goats apparently tell each other when they come to feed on Atlantic pistachio trees and catch of whiff of the aroma these galls emit. In fact, chemical analysis of these things showed that they emit quantities of stinky organic compounds called terpenes. Scientists observing foraging goats report that the animals turned up their noses at the Atlantic pistachio and went on to seek something less odiferous for lunch. That way the lowly aphids protect the tree from overgrazing.

Research has also shown that the galls release antibacterial and antifungal agents that also protect the tree, and scientists say they look forward to exploring possible agricultural and pharmaceutical value to these natural guardians.**

Thus, what at first glance we see puncturing and deforming the leaves of the terebinth – the aphids in their little gall cradles – actually defend the trees and help them thrive from season to season, century to century (if no one cuts them down).

An ancient terebinth, the kind people worshipped, or, in Absalom's case, could have hung from by the hair. Courtesy of Yaacov Shkolnik.

An ancient “great terebinth,” the kind people worshipped and Absalom could have hung from. Courtesy of Yaacov Shkolnik.

What the terebinth taught me

“For is a tree of the field a man…” (Deut. 20:19): Thus begins an important question Moses asked the Israelites rhetorically when instructing them not to cut down fruit trees when they besiege cities. “For is a tree of the field a man, that you make war against it?”

The Atlantic pistachio says it all: It radiates beauty, its wood is useful, its nuts nourishing, it protects itself and even hosts entities that seem poised to destroy it. No, a tree is not a “man” – “to make war against.” Humans have perfected the “art” of warfare, no doubt about that, and in our country, some are trying their best right now to rip apart a  symbiosis that many believe has sustained our society for decades. And then there’s the Atlantic pistachio, which can teach us a thing or two about symbiosis and  coexistence, most essentially when threats abound.

 

First winter cyclamen leaves poking through a terebinth-leaf carpet under our local tree.

First winter cyclamen leaves poking through a terebinth-leaf carpet under our local tree.

 

 

* Science Blog from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, February 2002 

** “Gall Volatiles Defend Aphids Against Browsing Mammals.” M. Rostas, D. Maag, M. Ikegami and M. Inbar.www.unboundmedicine.com.

 

 

 

Of Good Deeds and Donkey Scum

As I was taking my daily walk around my hometown of  Har Adar the other day, I came across a weird plant that grows wild in the Galilee and Judean Mountains – as well as in urban abandoned lots, junkyards and cemeteries.  It’s called the “exploding cucumber.” Of course it is. It lies there hugging the ground, looking as innocent as you please, with pretty yellow flowers to boot. But if you step on it, kick it or even touch it, it will explode – literally – catapulting its seeds into the wind. That’s what ensures its survival, botanists tell us.

 

The exploding cucumber (Ecballium elaterium). Late October: Most of the pods are still not ready to pop.

The exploding cucumber (Ecballium elaterium). Late October 2014: Most of the pods are still not ready to pop.

In the Mishnah, in a discussion about how to hang on to ritual purity, an issue that intensely preoccupied the ancient Jewish sages, they note that the “squirting cucumber” as they called it “gives passage to uncleanliness and serves as a screen against it” (Mishnah, Ohalot 8,1).  They might have gotten wrapped up in this because of the plant’s prevalence in cemeteries, where ritual impurity from contact with the dead was considered serious risk.

 

The innards of this plant, which in Hebrew goes by the evocative name yeroket hehamor – “donkey scum” ­ – is poisonous according to botanists. Yet, like many toxins, they say that in the right dosage it can be therapeutic; in folk medicine the exploding cucumber is used in treating jaundice, cataracts, ear and skin ailments.

Call me a masochist, but on my morning walk I like to listen to Israel Radio’s daily talk show, where interviewers elicit outrageous statements by the great and powerful wizards who control our lives. Or call me hope-filled when the show interviews people with ingenious and inspiring startups, studies and initiatives for a better society. On a recent walk, right at the moment I was catching my breath and surrendering to the urge to give our botanical bombshell a little nudge, the radio interviewee was Prof. Oren Kaplan, of the College of Management in Rishon Letzion, Israel. His research: how do people’s reports of good deeds affect others. The study showed empirically what most of us realize instinctively – that good deeds are “catching” – hearing about them spurs some people to do good deeds themselves.  However, according to Oren’s data there’s a catch: Once a person had done a good deed, there’s some tendency to feel smug enough to skate right on by the next opportunity to do good.

Exploding cucumber, November  2014 -  most of the pods are gone with the wind, leaving empty stalks.

Exploding cucumber, November 2014 – most of the pods are gone with the wind, leaving empty stalks.

But I also heard the professor say that morning that he believes we can fight that tendency and go for the good. We can go either way, he says. I say, we can be a “screen for cleanliness or uncleanliness.” Genesis 8:21 has a reflection of that: “The imagination of a man’s heart is evil from his youth,” God says, but right then and there vows never again to punish all of us for being that way.

That day as I watched the lowly plant disperse its seeds so vigorously at the merest touch, I thought: the Exploding Cucumber.  Yes, that definitely works in the part of the world. There are other plants, in the Holy Land and elsewhere, that disperse their seeds through the air more gently, like the milk thistle, or the make-a-wish dandelion. But I like to think of our exploding cucumber as a symbol of the enormous energy we need to keep on doing good. We need this very badly, in a world where we have allowed the power to impact larger events to be taken from us by those who have let impurity through the screen, a world where every one of us “great” or “small” has the capacity to hurt or heal in a heartbeat.

 

Read more about the unusual plants and spices of the Bible in Food at the time of the Bible: From Adam’s Apple to the Last Supper.

As for hope, leadership and losing both, read The Scroll

 

 

 

Turning Ourselves Inside Out

 Another Yom Kippur has passed. Our family shares the hope it symbolizes for Jews everywhere, that our efforts to forgive ourselves and others bear redemptive fruit. For Arik it is a more “awe-ful” day, as it marks the beginning of the war in which he was catastrophically injured in 1973, and the beginning of his successful, unceasing efforts to build a new life outside the parameters of what would ever be possible again.

As I write, I can hear my neighbors beginning to build their sukkah, the temporary dwelling in which they will have their meals. For friends less familiar with our Jewish traditions, I would like to introduce you to this wonderful concept. Yom Kippur is devoted to our inner selves. It is a time to focus on rebuilding our spiritual bridges as we consider how more to strive for our better selves in the year to come. Later this week we will begin the week-long celebration of Sukkot, the “feast of booths.” Like so many of our holidays, it has at least two levels: Leviticus 23:33–44 tells us that we are to dwell in booths to remember that the Israelites lived in such flimsy temporary dwellings during the 40 years of wandering in the desert, and it’s the time of the fall harvest.

 

 

Maya and Nili, now a mother of two and a mother-to-be respectively,  having breakfast in our sukkah.

Maya and Nili, now a mother of two and a mother-to-be respectively, having breakfast in our sukkah way back when.

Jewish tradition tells us that we should begin to build our sukkah immediately after Yom Kippur ends – that same evening – four days before Sukkot actually begins. We are told that this is a way to bring together the personal (the soul-searching of Yom Kippur) with the universal (the outside world). For one week, leaving our perfectly good four walls, we turn ourselves “inside-out”. Arik and I taught our girls, Maya and Nili, that as we sat in the sukkah we built on our porch, we should think about families the world over who live their whole lives in structures no stronger than this, or people who have far less than this due to natural disaster or war.

These are the perfect moments to focus on the universal aspects of Judaism – the oft-repeated commandment to do justice (Prov. 21:3; Micah 6:8). At this special time, when the Muslim festival of Id al-Adha, the holiday of the sacrifice and our Yom Kippur coincide for the first time in 34 years, I like to think of the verse where God ponders the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah and God’s hopes for Abraham, the father of both our faiths and ponder the possibilities in interfaith relations: “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” (Gen. 18:19).

What the bee-eater told me

Last fall, while guiding a group at Qumran National Park, I had the most wonderful opportunity to snap a picture of a bee-eater. Every fall and spring these iridescent migrants visit us.  In a 2011 article in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, researchers Nir Sapir, Martin Wikelski, Roni Avissar, Ran Nathan inform us that the bee-eaters apparently know the best time do depart on their migration (see Jeremiah 8:7 re the storks’ talent at this). Their research suggests “that a trend of increasing temperature and decreasing barometric pressure lasting a few days can potentially provide a reliable cue for the birds to adjust their digestive, muscular, and circulatory systems in preparation for the enduring cross-country flight.” High temperatures, these scholars say, facilitate soaring – an energy saver as opposed to flapping their wings. Individual birds have to gauge their go-no-go for that day on a mechanism they evolved for gauging temperature and pressure. These abilities can be essential to the survival of the species.

Bee-eater at Qumran

Bee-eater at Qumran

Now, I’m no bee-eater, but this is what I glean:  Abraham sensed the changing conditions when he smashed the idols in his father’s “idol store,” according to legend, and he soared upward. We, his descendants seem to have lost the ability to soar, constantly doing the wrong thing at the wrong time and flapping our wings to exhaustion or with great harm to our species. It is the responsibility of each of us to get it a little more right in the year to come.

 

 

 

Read my version for children of the ancient legend “Abraham in the idol store” in the chapter on worship in my book Teach it to Your Children: How Kids Lived in Bible Days.

Pomegranates and the Personal

I love pomegranates. I love looking at them – on the tree and the table, the way the tangy juice, bursts out of the seeds when I spoon them into my mouth. I even love extracting the seeds from the fruit, which I now do with the help of a cool little kitchen utensil invented by an Israeli lady who live on a farm in the Golan Heights.  You can see that utensil in the photo here, next to a little basket of the fruit a neighbor brought over. That particular neighborly offering had special significance for my family; read on and you’ll see why.

 

Pomegranate and seed extractor Miriam

Pomegranates are one of the quintessential fall fruits in the Holy Land, and so its beauty has become a symbol of our High Holy Days that occur in this season. Solomon compared the temples of a beautiful woman “behind the veil” to two halves of a pomegranate (Song of Songs 6:7). The crown-shaped top of the pomegranate reminded our ancient sages of a crown, and so it became symbolic of the Five Books of Moses, the Torah, which is considered our “crown of wisdom.” To describe someone who does good deeds all the time, the sages said that such a person was “as full of good deeds as a pomegranate has seeds,” an expression we still use today in modern Hebrew.

Now for the personal angle – the basket of pomegranates. The pomegranate tree you see in the background is a photo I took as I noticed it hanging heavy with fruit from a neighbor’s garden into the street when I was talking a walk.

I actually never met these neighbors, and when we finally did cross paths, it was not over something good. This son of these neighbors smashed into my husband Arik’s car in May, leaving Arik still bedridden and struggling to recover. His 84-year-old mother was also in the car and was seriously injured.

Pomegranates 4 long

Our whole family had been expending a great deal of energy being angry not only at the young man whom we understand caused the accident, but also at his family. The parents had made a few attempts to meet with us, the mom delivered a cake more than once, but we rejected their overtures. The other day the mom came by, Arik was in bed as usual, and when Lea, our caregiver opened the door, the mom handed her the basket of fruit and said just two words: “only health.”

 

When I came home, spotted the basket of fruit and Lea told me who had brought it, something moved. In the spirit of the High Holy Day season, which begins on the New Year and culminates after the “Ten Days of Repentance” with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, I recall a bit of our sages’ wisdom that I had been preaching but not practicing: “For transgressions that are between man and God the Day of Atonement effects atonement, but for transgressions that are between a man and his fellow, the Day of Atonement  effects atonement only if he has appeased his fellow” (Mishna, Yoma 8, 9). The idea here is that this is a special time to ask others for forgiveness. That basket of pomegranates led me to realize that this mom had been trying to do that very thing since the beginning, and I could not accept it.  As far as the parents go, I’m going to try and put myself in their shoes and think about them differently. Matthew 6:14–18 talks about those who are being asked to forgive – that would be my family in this case – doing their part as well. Perhaps when the sages did not broach this part of the equation in their wisdom, they assumed that everyone who asks for forgiveness will indeed  “appease his fellow” and that person, now appeased, will automatically be in a forgiving mood. My work over this “holiday of the clean slate” is to move ahead on a journey to forgiveness. It feels good to have started.

 

For more about Rosh Hashannah, enjoy my article:  “Happy Jewish New Year!”

 

Pomegranate Wikimedia Commons 2

Read more about pomegranates in my book, Food at the Time of the Bible: From Adam’s Apple to the Last Supper.