From the Rabbi - June 2009 Print
Dear Friends:

Many of you know that we have begun a special land development project at CBI. As you walk around the parking lot or inside the curved sign that fronts on our southwest corner, you will notice a number of new plantings. All of these follow a single theme: they are plants that are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.

In the front garden, we have already harvested some onions and carrots (We substituted carrots for tares, not being entirely sure what those are or were!), and we are looking forward to a fine crop of various herbs and melons as the summer progresses.

Along the eastern end of the parking lot, you will notice two pomegranate trees. They were planted on Tu Bishevat by the children of the religious school, and they have been thriving and blooming full-force over the Spring. In mid-May, those trees were joined by a fig tree which is now only four or five feet tall, but which will grow to ten or fifteen feet when it is mature. If you take the time to look, you’ll notice that there are already small figs growing on some of the branches. We don’t know what kind of fig trees grew in ancient Israel; Jerusalem is about 4 degrees of latitude farther north than Corpus Christi; our climate is more like that of the Negev! This tree is a special hybrid that was bred to do well in south Texas – so it forms a linkage between our area and the land of the Bible. It will certainly become a living example for our students of what the Bible means when it refers to a fig tree – or any of the other vegetation that we shall plant.

Whenever I think about fig trees, a passage from the prophet Micah always comes to mind:

They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war any more.
But every man shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid;
For the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. (4:3b, 4)

One of these days, our fig tree will be tall enough that you will be able to bring a folding chair and a bottle of water or soda and a sandwich and sit under it in safety and without fear. As you get relief from the hot sun of south Texas, you’ll perhaps understand in a new and vital way the promise that Micah was making to his contemporaries.

Yes, we want you and your children and grandchildren to have a first-hand appreciation of what biblical vegetation looked like and tasted like, and we very much hope you will come to treasure the symbolic messages that the biblical authors attached to various kinds of plants and trees. But shelter and peace are not the only messages that we ought to receive from our long-ago ancestors. A community of Jews who lolled about in a sedentary, but secure existence was far from what the biblical authors (and especially the prophets) wanted. To them, religion was as much challenge as it was comfort, as much demand and expectation as it was solace and security. Their vision involved a community that actively sought to create a fair and equitable and righteous society on earth. Micah also taught

What is it, O man, that the Lord requires of you: only to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God. (6:8b)

And his colleague, Amos, put it this way:
Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. (5:24)

So, when you look at our new fig tree and rejoice in its growth and the savor of its succulent fruit, I hope you will also remember that its message must be paired with the message of Jewish activism and social conscience. Sitting under a fig tree without simultaneously pursuing justice makes a mockery of real biblical Jewish values, of the values that have come down to us over the last three thousand years. Our tree will flourish only if we can accept and pursue both dimensions of the biblical expectation.

Shalom,
Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi