Low Hanging Fruit by Aviva Meshwork
Looking at old photographs is (sometimes) fun! I had the opportunity to leaf through the pages of my past the other day when a bunch of boxes filled with our photo albums arrived in Israel from Canada. These old relics had been graciously stored in my mother in law’s basement for the past three years so you can imagine how excited I was to tear into them after all this time! Late one night, when the kids were asleep my husband and I had a chance to open up the boxes having a good time reminiscing over memories of days gone by.
Of course, looking through photographs from my childhood makes me think about the experiences that I had back then. A memory from this time of year was jogged when I came across a nice picture of my mother standing on a ladder picking apples from atop an apple tree. I remember our yearly apple picking trips in September, when the air became cooler and crisper- just like the apples we were picking. This enjoyable family outing was not only a ritual of ours but it was also a time marker since it was generally right after school started and shortly before Rosh Hashanah. We kids always enjoyed seeing ‘our’ apples adorn the Rosh Hashanah table, all smothered in honey, as a symbol of our hope and prayer for a sweet new year.
So here we are again- September- school has started and Rosh Hashanah is coming up. While here in Israel apples are also very much symbolically connected to the Rosh Hashanah table, another bright red fruit also takes on quite a presence – the pomegranate. Pomegranates have been growing in the Mediterranean region for thousands of years and have become a symbol of sorts for Judaism, Israel and Rosh Hashanah. And for good reason! This emblematic fruit has many intrinsic and extrinsic qualities to it that we can draw from, in particular at this time of year.
According to our Sages the number of seeds in a pomegranate is 613, the same number as the mitzvot in the Torah! Those 613 pomegranate seeds symbolize fruitfulness, mitzvot and good deeds making it no surprise that they take up prime real estate at the Rosh Hashanah table. Just as seeds are connected to planting, we are connected to imparting. Both processes involve time, patience, proper care, the right environment and some help from Above. As women we are involved in many circles and as such have the potential to greatly affect the ones that surround us. Our potential to affect is even greater with our children and those whom we nurture. Come Rosh Hashanah we recite a prayer asking Hashem that our merits should increase like pomegranates. Essentially we are farmers planting the seeds of Torah, hoping and praying that one day our efforts should bear fruit in our children, our children’s children and the generations that follow. Just as a real farmer needs some help from Above to see their seeds bear fruit one day, so do we.
Imagine taking apart a pomegranate. First you have to cut it in half and then tear it open. Then, in order to remove the delicious seeds you have to separate them from the white, bitter and inedible membrane which surrounds them and holds them together. Slowly this is done until you end up with a bowl of tasty seeds to eat and some broken up parts of the fruit that no longer serve a purpose. Now apply this imagery (of removing the good from the surrounding bad) to the process we do before Rosh Hashanah–a personal and reflective process that enables us to begin the separation of our true and holy selves from the negative thoughts/actions/values and deeds that have been encompassing us since last Rosh Hashanah (or longer.) Why do this? Because these are our days of Judgment, with an opportunity for us to do some internal judging. A good judge is able to discriminate between truth and lies, good from bad and right from wrong. For us, we can do this by answering some less often asked questions. ‘Am I on the right path?’, ‘Do I have the right influences?’, ‘Am I doing my best at X?’ Each time we are genuine in our responses, we begin to liberate ourselves from the unnecessary components that have seeped into our psyche over time and have sullied our sense of what we really want and of who we truly are- holy and precious creations from the Almighty. It’s a good starting point if we want to enter Rosh Hashanah and appear before the Ultimate Judge to show that we are willing and ready to begin the process of ridding ourselves from the things that don’t matter in an effort to get closer to things that do.
Health Benefits- Physically and Spiritually
Pomegranates have medicinal properties and have been used by alternative doctors to treat illnesses for hundreds of years. First and foremost, pomegranates significantly boost the immune system and are known to fight off stomach illnesses, stabilize blood pressure, prevent cancer, and protect against arthritis. If you are looking at the pomegranate through a Jewishly symbolic lens even the appearance of it alludes to its protective nature. The pomegranagte develops from a flower in the shape of a six-pointed Jewish star much like the Magen David (literally the shield of David). King David, famous for many things including his numerous battles fought and won in defense of Torah, Judaism and the Land of Israel, adorned his battle shield (magen) with a six -pointed star. The deep sources tell us that there is an illusory protective element to the Magen David as it represents much of what a healthy Jewish soul requires, including G-d, the Torah and the Land of Israel. King David’s star-clad defending shield was a key object used in protecting him physically against invaders and his pursuers. Spiritually speaking, none of us are immune to the current societal invaders that are antithetical to our Torah values, often leading to assimilation and tremendous loss to our People. Accessing the health benefits of pomegranates can protect our bodies from physical sickness while accessing the spiritual potential from authentic Torah ways is a protection to our souls.
Fortunately, I have a pomegranate tree in my front yard and have watched these low hanging fruits grow to ripeness since their bright red flowers began to bloom. I just have to reach a little, no ladders required, to attain the richness they contain. And the same is true for a Jew towards G-d. G-d is right there, within reach, waiting for us to meet G-d, connect with G-d, and make a relationship with G-d- and to ourselves. Have a blessed and fruitful new year!
Shana Tova U’Metuka!
Aviva Meshwork is an educator, writer, and Trip Director for the JWRP. Originally from Toronto, she now lives in Israel with her husband and children.