In honor of Tu-biShevat, New Year for Trees, we will talk about an interesting and important fruit, the fig. The importance of it can be seen from the fact that it is one of the five kinds of fruit with which the Promised Land was praised. Indeed, it is mentioned in the second place, after the grapevine, about which we have already talked in this column. The fig is also the first tree mentioned by name in the Torah.

The fig is a small fruit that grows on small, broad trees. The trees are about fifteen to twenty feet high. There are over a hundred different kinds of figs. Most of them grow in the countries around the Mediterranean Sea. Some are grown in the southern and western parts of the United States, especially in California.

Unlike other tree-fruits, the fig does not grow from a flower, but contains the flower inside its walls. The fruit is actually a fleshy growth filled with tiny flowers which later become the seeds. It is these seeds that are the actual fruit.

The fig is eaten fresh, canned, preserved, stewed, or dried. Dried figs are most nourishing. They are almost as nutritious as dates. A pound of figs contains 1,500 calories. This is almost three times that of a pound of peas.

Figs grow in clusters close to the stem, and are surrounded by large leaves. If the figs are to be dried, they are allowed to remain on the tree until they shrivel and fall. Then they are dipped in salt water and placed in the hot sun to dry.

Fig trees are grown from stems and branches cut from mature trees and planted in the fall. The trees do not bear fruit for several years.

Though best grown in warm climates, the fig can tolerate cooler temperatures. In the winter it sheds its leaves and goes into its wintersleep. At this time it can stand frost up to 10 degrees F.

Italy leads the world in the production of figs. The center of the fig orchards is south of Naples and on the island of Sicily. Next comes Turkey, with its famous Smyrna figs. Spain, the U.S.A., Algiers, Greece and Portugal also have important fig industries.

How the Fig Came to America

The trees grew well, but the fruit fell off before it ripened. The growers discovered that Calimyrnas, like their ancestors the Smyrnas, will not mature without pollination, that is, the transfer of the powderlike cells (pollen) from the flower of the male tree to the flower of the female tree. The California growers tried to solve the problem by importing male trees-the wild caprifig, the fruit of which is no good for food, but its pollen is necessary for fructifying the Smyrna and Calimyrna. The growers used toothpicks to transfer the pollen. This worked, but it involved too much labor. Finally they learned that the job of pollination was not done in Turkey by hand, but nature itself took care of it through the help of a tiny insect, the fig wasp!

The first wasps were imported in the 1890's, but almost ten years passed before growers got a colony that was able to do the job. Then the fruit "set" and matured, and the state was on its way to a new crop that is now a multi-million industry.

The Amazing Fig Wasp

The tiny fig wasps life is just about one day; it usually dies on the same day on which it is born, when it crawls out of the protective covering ("gall") in which the egg hatched.

The fig wasp is born inside the male fig (caprifig) .Flowers on the stem side of the interior serve as hatchery and nusery for the insects. As many as 600 may be hatched in a single caprifig, most of them egg-laying females. No sooner are they born than they begin to crawl towards the exit, a tiny hole, or eye, on the opposite side of the fruit. Here another set of flowers, laden with pollen, guard the opening. To reach the world outside the wasps must thread their way through these pollen-producing flowers. As the insects surge ahead, they pick up a cargo of pollen.

Emerging into the June air, the tiny lady wasp rests awhile and dries her wings. She tries to shed her white pollen topcoat but cannot. Her wings lift her in flight, in haste to reach another fig in which to deposit her eggs before she dies. She would prefer to find another caprifig in which to deposit her eggs, but she cannot tell the difference between a male fig and a female fig. If the nearest tree is a Smyrna or Calimyrna, she will alight on a fig and make her way inside. As she squeezes through the opening, she will lose her wings, which she will not need any more. Once inside, she will crawl from one flower stem to another to deposit her eggs. However, she is caught in a thicket and has a hard time of it. Her efforts will be fruitless, for she was made to lay her eggs in a male fig, where the flower arrangement is more convenient. However, her efforts are quite fruitful in another way. For in following her instinct, she and her sisters pollinate the figs of the Smyrna or Calimyrna.

Fig growers, who are now wiser to the life of the tiny fig wasp, make sure that the wasp will find their Calimyrnas, instead of another male fig. They pluck most of the insect-laden male figs from adjoining plots and put them in open paper bags attached to the female trees.

Incidentally, enough wasps remain in the male trees to perpetuate the race.

It is truly amazing how the Creator has set in motion such extraordinary details in order to provide us with these nutritious fruits!

The Tree of Knowledge - a fig Tree

According to one tradition among our Sages of old, the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad" was a fig tree. It grew in the center of the Garden which G‑d had planted in Eden. G‑d forbade Adam to eat of its fruit, so that he would know only what is good, and would not be tempted by anything bad. But Adam failed to heed G‑d's command after his wife Chavah (Eve) ate the fruit and offered her husband a fig to taste. Then, realizing for the first time, that they were naked, not only in the plain sense of the word, but also spiritually, for they had disobeyed G‑d, they girded themselves with fig-leaves to cover their nakedness. In doing so, they, first of all, wanted to make amends in the very thing in which they had failed. For through the fig-tree they had failed, and by wearing the fig-leaves they would be constantly reminded of their weakness, and would not sin again.

There could have been also a further reason why they used fig-leaves, namely, as a kind of natural "sackcloth" to express their grief. Fig-leaves are rough and somewhat prickly on the upper side. Wearing them next to the skin must have been quite uncomfortable. This was a kind of self-inflicted punishment. (like fasting) which they take upon themselves for having been disobedient. Indeed, this may well be the origin of the custom of repenters to wear rough sackcloth about the loins and to fast as an expression of their deep feeling of remorse for their sins. Thus, for example, our Sages tell us that Reuven, our Father Jacob's firstborn, expressed his repentance by "his sackcloth and fasting."

It is interesting to note that the great Sage Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said, "Why is the fig-tree called T'enab? Because it brought grief (To'anah) to the world." (Both T'enab and To'anab are derived from the Hebrew root "on" meaning grief, distress; also what causes grief, namely, wickedness, sin, and the like).

Thus the fig-tree became the "grief-tree," a reminder of the first downfall of man. But-you may ask-why does not the Torah mention specifically what kind of a tree this "Tree of Knowledge" was? The answer was already given by our Sages: The Torah did not wish to shame the poor tree. People would say - "This is the tree that caused the downfall of Adam and Eve!" Herein lies a meaningful lesson: If a tree must not be shamed, surely no human being should be put to shame!

Speaking of lessons, it is well to remember also the lesson that Adam and Eve taught us by trying to make amends in the very thing in which they had. failed, as mentioned above. This, indeed, is one of the basic conditions of real Teshuvah: To rectify the very thing which one had wronged. If a person neglected a certain Mitzvah, he must, above all, be particularly careful to observe that Mitzvah, while, in addition, Teshuvah has brought about a strengthening of the observance of all of G‑d's Mitzvoth in the daily life.

With the above in mind, and reflecting on the wonderful way in which the Creator has seen to it that the fig tree should produce its delicious and nutritious food, as has been described above, the "Grief-Tree" can indeed serve as the "Tree of Knowledge"-knowledge of G‑d's wonderful way in Nature and His infinite Divine Providence (Hasbgocbo Protis) which extends to the minutest detail of all things.