February 11, 2020
by Meira Weber
I was not prepared for my first day out in the organic garden. To begin with it was hardly a garden – the “garden” was actually two giant fields plowed into neat rows, far more land than I had imagined. It was barely 6 AM and the Jordan Valley sun was already blazing upwards from behind the mountains, lighting up the misty morning with a pale ethereal glow. Humidity was beading under the brim of my cap and trickling down my neck, and as I trooped out between the rows of tilled black soil, I knew the heat would only get worse. Summer was ending, but my time in the organic garden had just begun.
That first day, everything I had ever thought about farming went right out the window. I hauled heavy irrigation tubes and I hacked at spiny weeds between the neat rows of sprouting green-tipped onions. Thorns scratched the backs of my hands and burrs caught on my pants, and I sweated more than I’d ever sweat in my life. And somehow, it all felt amazing.
The dirt on my hands was the dirt of the Promised Land. The weeds I pulled were evidence of the ingenious drip irrigation system pioneered by Israelis, a system that worked so well it supported not just plants and produce but weeds as well! That warm winter I spent in the garden, I harvested the sweetest red and green bell peppers and eggplants so ripe and heavy their stalks were bending from the weight. I tasted garlic cloves so fresh and intense they made my eyes water. And through it all, I was nearly intoxicated by the holiness emanating from the very ground that I had the privilege to cultivate.
What I connected with so deeply in the organic garden was that spiritually satisfying act of planting something and watching it grow, a feeling that’s visceral, triumphant. It’s the feeling that the seed you planted and watered was simultaneously nurtured by God; that you provided the circumstances for Him to coax bright budding life out of barren ground. For me at least, it also cultivates a specific kind of awe of God – that the same God who promised Abraham the Land of Israel, the same God who split the Red Sea and brought my People out of Egypt is also the same God who nurtures each leaf of a stretching sapling and shapes fruit along its branches.
These are the thoughts I brought with me into this year’s holiday of Tu B’shvat, the yearly Jewish celebration of plant growth in Israel, called by some the “new year for the trees” which we celebrate this week. Many have the custom to plant a tree on Tu B’shvat, and this year I hope you do the same. Planting a tree in Israel is one of the most special ways that you can connect more deeply to the Land that God promised to Abraham. On Tu B’shvat, even if we do not physically plant the tree ourselves, by facilitating that growth we can take an active hand in the ultimate fulfillment of prophecy: the resettlement of Judea and Samaria, the rejuvenation of the land that God promised to Abraham, and the prosperity of the Jewish People in the heart of Biblical Israel.