Tending The Spiritual Garden

January 16, 2014
BY Joshua Runyan

runyan_josh_otIf you’ve ever planted a garden, you know that in just a couple of months after setting the tomato plants, you’ll be able — barring any unforeseen calamity — to enjoy the precious fruits of your labor. Planting a tree, though, requires much more work over a much longer time span.

There’s the pruning and the tending, the fertilizing and the watering. In just the first few years, before a tree has even sprouted fruit, it can fall
victim to disease and rot. To nurture a tree takes patience and energy. And to manage an orchard takes the longest of views; the Talmud relates that when planting a carob tree, for instance, its owner knows that he might not be around to enjoy its bounty as it takes 70 years to bear fruit.

But despite the cost and frustration, we have no lack of orchards in the world.

Tending the world is like maintaining an orchard; as Jews, we can do our part to reveal the fruits of “the garden” in any number of ways. As you’ll read about in this issue’s cover story, caregivers are some of the most selfless people on the planet. In caring for the long-term needs of an aging parent or spouse, they risk disease themselves in the ultimate expression of love. Theirs is an unenviable task, a labor they would not have sought out. But when called by circumstance, they rose to the occasion.

Their sacrifices, whether financial or physical, should inspire every one of us. In every task that merits our attention, in every good deed that comes our way, we should invest ourselves no less fully than those tending the aging garden of their families.

By now, dear readers, you’ve already celebrated Tu B’Shevat, the so-called New Year of the Trees. The day’s lessons go beyond the worthwhile pursuit of planting an actual tree, for it demonstrates that life is so much more than the here and now.

Just last week, Jewish communities the world over rejoiced at the completion of the near-yearly cycle of studying and completing Maimonides’ legal code known as the “Mishneh Torah.” Since the mid-1980s, lay people and scholars alike — men, women and children — have taken part in this daily regimen, reflecting a global Jewish unity rooted in the study of what our tradition calls the “tree of life.”

Many in our community take part in similar daily study sessions, whether picking apart a selection of the Talmud or grappling with the finer points of an ethical text. The ultimate expression of such scholarship comes when it is manifested in the realm of action.

For just as an arborist’s jobs are endless, tending the spiritual garden requires the inquisitiveness of scholars and the dedication of teachers such as those examined in stories this week about the Center for Jewish Education’s REmida Project. It requires the warm embraces found at synagogue brotherhoods and even sometimes the self-sacrifice of a soldier such as the late Ariel Sharon, who famously said that he looked not to worldwide Jewry’s next 30 years, but the next 300.

We all enjoy the delicious satisfaction of a freshly picked tomato in season, but many a meal is made so much more complex by the carob whose original planter may have only dreamed one day to be able to taste.

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

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