My Garden Does Not Let Me Mourn

img_3773By Rabbi Howard Shapiro

It is summer. That means I am in North Carolina and my fingernails are dirty with the soil of my garden. I am trying to grow things like beets and tomatoes. The cucumbers grow themselves and the yellow squash is so prolific that we have taken to eating the flowers just for birth control. Although if you haven’t tried a squash flower, dusted, stuffed and sautéed, you don’t know summer.

It is hard to be a farmer, even a pseudo one like me. The fire ants are poised to attack and it is good to be at one with the buzzing of the honeybee who is the real miracle worker in the yard. And then there is the rain or the sun. Too much of either demands attention. And then there are the rabbits and the deer. They like beet greens and the lettuce. It is their forest after all.

It is a good lesson in humility. We are so cocky in our supermarkets of plenty. Picky too – the tomatoes have to be just right; there is a science to choosing the right banana – green to yellow, never too much brown. But grow the stuff and know how dependent we are on so much that is beyond our control. Grow the stuff and begin to feel the limits of your humanity. Grow the stuff and feel the power of God.

I don’t mean God the father. I mean God who is Every-thing beyond the boundaries of my body. I mean the unforeseen and unpredictable. I mean life with all its challenges and blessings. I mean the wind that comes up unexpected, the rain that turns to hail, the tomato plant struggling to stand tall and straight against the sky.

I mean fighting for survival – a tactic my people know so well. It is summer and the dramaturgical calendar of Judaism sets us in a waiting game. It is the Hebrew month of Av and the Romans are at the gates of Jerusalem. They are determined to end this rebellion, this spirit of resistance. Within two weeks, the Temple will be destroyed. Judaism will be changed forever. What was will no longer be; yet, the seeds of what will be are pushing through the soil.

It is not easy to let go of the past. It is tough to see the Temple burning in flames. Eicha: “How deserted lies the city, once so full of people…” Some of us mourn and don’t officiate at weddings, don’t cut their hair; fast and read Lamentations. I respect their sense of loss; I affirm their sorrow. For many the fallen Jerusalem is the persecuted Jewish people. And I know with them that to our amazement, it is not over and the fire the Romans started still burns in strange and way too familiar places.

But my garden does not let me mourn. My garden demands I tend to its survival. My garden does not let me stand defeated. I am fiercely loyal to every branch and every shoot. I know it needs my constant care. My garden makes me stronger. This historical memory of what happened on this day and date two thousand years ago fills me with resolve that is both quiet and affirmative. I will live; we will blossom and bear fruit – this people we call Israel, wrestler, struggler, perseveres and limping walks on to the next round of blessings.

Rabbi Howard Shapiro is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel in West Palm Beach, FL. He consults with the Synagogue Institute of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County. He writes as a rabbi who feels a great affinity with the category: Spiritual but not religious.

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