This summer I became a gardener. I never had a green thumb before – in fact I had never wanted to get my hands dirty or be anywhere near worms or creepy insects. So, for the last four years, my small patio garden was your basic mix of mulch and weeds and a couple of overgrown bushes planted by the previous owners of our townhouse. Every spring my husband or I would clear out the weeds, but they only grew back. In the fall my husband would do an extra good job of weeding to beautify the surroundings for our Sukkah.
My small patio garden was your basic mix of mulch and weeds
This spring I couldn’t look at the weeds anymore and bought a few colorful, leafy plants and a small garden spade. Planting all six plants took only an hour. We all marveled at how those plants beautified the patio area! Then, in early May, I decided to plant tomatoes with my children to observe and understand how vegetables grow. It was then that I got bitten by the bug – no, not one of those creepy insects – the gardening bug. I became addicted.
Flower baskets and pots, a variety of different plants and a multitude of garden books and tools were all acquired over the course of the summer. I couldn’t pass a home improvement store or garden center without buying something! I started reading seed catalogs and garden magazines more than the newspaper. Hours were spent planning, weeding, watering, fertilizing and planting around my patios, but my greatest pleasure was tending to my tomato plants. The tomatoes needed more care than the others and they quickly became my babies.
They soon grew tall and straight and I started staking the plants so they wouldn’t fall over. One of the plants began flowering with delicate little yellow buds all over the place. Then I realized I had a problem - the flowers weren’t turning into fruits. I planted impatiens nearby hoping to attract more bees to pollinate the tomato flowers. Several weeks passed but not one tomato developed from a flower.
My children and I would excitedly water those plants every day but still nothing happened. The children lost interest, but I didn’t. It occurred to me to ask my mother-in-law, an avid gardener, for some advice. Her tip actually "bore fruit." She advised me to take a small makeup brush and touch each flower to pollinate the plant manually. Within days I rejoiced as I noticed tiny tomatoes starting to grow on one plant. Twice a day I brushed those little flowers, and I was gradually rewarded with more and more tomatoes. The other plant, though equally tall and strong, just never flowered at all.
All the time, effort, worry and care finally bore a delicious little fruit
When my first ripe tomato came in, it was already mid August – pretty late for the first tomato in Baltimore, Maryland. The excitement about that tomato was almost like that of my first born child. All the time, effort, worry and care finally bore a delicious little fruit to adorn our Shabbat salad. It was that Shabbat, as we eagerly ate that precious first tomato, that the analogy for how G‑d cares for His people struck me.
As I cleared out the weeds and dug out the ground with great effort and excitement and prepared an area for my much anticipated and beloved tomato plants I thought of our Creator as He created our world. He must have really "looked forward" to our future existence and our fruits to have done so.
After creating the world G‑d created Adam and Chava, Eve, His seedling human beings. He placed them in the Garden of Eden, a garden of bounty and beauty. My seedling tomatoes also found a place in a garden, a much smaller, humbler and human-made one of course.
Once established in the garden, plants need the proper conditions to thrive. Judging by all the weeds which had previously ruled my yard, I was pretty sure you just placed a plant in the ground and it would grow, well, like a weed. Boy was I ever wrong. Some plants need more care than others, just like people. The daily tending I gave my tomatoes is what kept them alive and eventually enabled them to bear fruit. This was a joyful 10 minutes for me each day. I lovingly tied the plants to the stakes, watered them, and brushed each little flower I saw, taking note of each baby, pea sized tomato that developed and excitedly following its slow progress into tomato adulthood.
Just think about, comparatively, the tending G‑d has done for each of us and all those that have come before us to get from babyhood to adulthood. Be awed at all the food (sun and water), shelter (plant cages), gardeners (our loving parents), support (stakes) and help in our times of need (like the brush-pollinating trick) that He has arranged for each of us. How many billions of people does He tend to each day, around-the-clock? How much pleasure He must get from the growth and development of His creations: amoebas, mosquitoes, snails, mice, foxes, elephants, trees, flowers, vegetables and mankind – as we flower and bear fruit. In my limited, human way I can imagine the love with which He runs the world, rejoicing at the progress of His multitudinous creations.
G‑d can step in and change a person’s situation at any time
Through the garden I can also better understand the ways of the world. Some plants live long and some get diseased. The neighbor’s tomato plants bore fruit in July, mine only in mid-August, and one of mine not at all. Some plants thrive in extreme surroundings and some wither without precise sun, water and soil conditions. G‑d created a world with laws of nature to which all people, animals and plants are subject. As I helped those flowers pollinate, something most tomatoes need no help with, I would think about how G‑d can step in and change a person’s situation at any time too.
It is mid autumn now and my tomato plants are done producing this year and will soon wither and die. One of them did its job in this world to my satisfaction – it produced fruits for my salad. The other, well it never lived up to my expectations this summer. But last week, at the end of its life cycle, I saw to my amazement a few flowers and even one small tomato on that plant. How symbolic of the growth and change we can always achieve, even in the end of our lives.
We all look forward to enjoying the fruits of our labors, be they tomatoes, children or something else. I hope G‑d is looking down enjoying the fruits of his labors, too. Just as I excitedly watched each tomato grow and ripen I feel that G‑d is watching me, with love for me as one of His creations. I want to flower, grow and ripen just as He expects me to, and for Him to be proud enough of me, like I was of my tomatoes, that my merits will adorn His Shabbat table.