Lessons from My Garden
Rabbi Eitan Mayer
A few years ago, I started growing berries in my garden – strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. I kept my expectations low. Between the Gush Etzion cold, the Neve Daniel wind, Israel’s punishing summer sun, armies of hungry Middle Eastern bugs, and my own spotty record in the garden, I was hoping for a few edible berries. In the end, my crop exceeded all my expectations. And I’m not even talking about the berries.
I grew up thinking that
Tu Bi-Shvat was when Jews gnawed sadly on “
bukser” (dried carob pods) from
Eretz Yisrael. It was Israel, I guess, but it wasn’t exactly flowing with milk and honey, so I was thrilled when my own garden in
Eretz Yisrael began to produce sweet, edible treats. And
Chazal tell us that there is no clearer sign of the redemption than
Eretz Yisrael’s offering her delicious fruits to her returning children (
That would have been more than enough for me. But the unexpected “bonus crop” was the lessons my garden has yielded about how to be a better person, a better Jew, and even a better teacher. Let me share some of what I’ve learned.
Work for it: We’ve all probably eaten some good pineapple. But when my first pineapple grew and ripened right here in my yard, it was not just pineapple, it was a pineapple
miracle, months of watching with wonder (disbelief?) as something so exotic actually grew, ripened, turned a luminous yellow, and was ready to eat. The lesson? Don’t compromise, don’t hold back, and don’t wait for pineapples to fall magically from the sky. Savor the amazing feeling of accomplishment of doing things yourself and doing them right. Being spoon-fed will never taste as good as the fruit you worked to produce.
Commitment. Sometimes, planting means depositing a sapling in a field and then getting back on the bus and disappearing forever. But I learned what happens when we “set it and forget it.” I set up a system to water my garden automatically, but then I didn’t check whether it was still watering a few months later. Only once the plants were literally dying did I finally realize that the batteries had died.
We need to plant and then stay committed. In all growth in life, if we “set it and forget it,” we’ll find that while we were away, the batteries ran out and the weeds arrived uninvited. The garden we planted with such excitement and investment is long gone, replaced by a jungle.
Final lesson: Being wrong. My garden taught me how to be
happy to be wrong. Time and again, I would decide that a plant was dead – and then watch, surprised and thrilled, as it shot out new leaves and beautiful flowers. Not only did I learn not to give up on plants (and people) so quickly, I also learned to be humble about my opinions and ready to learn that I’m wrong. Being ready to be wrong is another way of saying being ready to learn, to grow, and to experience wonder.
We’ve come a long way since “
bukser.” May we soon merit the full redemption… and until then, may we enjoy sweet fruit from our gardens and a generous crop of wisdom and insight.