I played hooky from work this week and joined a tiyul (trip) with the One Israel Fund to the Dead Sea area. The tour guide was the talented Eve Harow, former Efrat Councilwoman and current Arutz 7 personality. I actually got a lift to and from the tour bus with Eve, and we had the opportunity to chat along the way. She mentioned something that I had never thought about, and I wanted to share it with you.
"A lot of nature is incorporated in our rituals," Eve said. "Judaism is a very much an agricultural religion in the Land of Israel, and our holidays are filled with appreciation of what nature gave to our people."
Pesach is the holiday of barley harvest. Shavuot, the holiday of the wheat harvest. Sukkot was called Chag Ha'Isuf (Holiday of the ingathering). [If I got any of this wrong, it was my mistake, not Eve's.]
On Sukkot, during the time of the Holy Temple, the four water-loving species that grow so beautifully in Israel - the palm tree's lulav, the willow, the myrtle and the citron (etrog) - were waved in a ceremony in Bet HaMikdash. Today, we march around the synagogue with these species to remember the Temple's ceremony.
Remember all those old European stories about communities that could only afford one etrog among the entire congregation? Well, there are no such problems in Israel. The orchards were filled with etrogim. We even have three etrog trees in front of our home. And what about the shtetl rabbis who wondered, "How big is a kezayit?" Well, it's the size of an olive from Eretz Yisrael, and Israel is blessed with an abundance of olives and olive trees. European rabbis of the Middle Ages and even the 18th and 19th centuries might never have seen an Israeli olive. Eve said, "We look out the window and see olive trees in fields everywhere!"
Eve said that she heard that the menorah of the Holy Temple was fashioned after a sage bush. I went into the Neot Kedumim site and found this, "Sage grows in the shape of the Menorah that was a central part of Jewish ritual from the time we wandered in the Sinai with the Tabernacle, and throughout the period of both Temples in Jerusalem. Why was sage chosen as a symbol of light and fragrance? At noon when the sun is at its zenith, the strong sunlight causes the wild sage to release a heady scent. From the time of Abraham to the time of Solomon, Mount Moriah in Jerusalem was covered with this plant, and the bright light of mid day was awash in its perfume. As people who spent most of their time out doors, the connection between light and fragrance was obvious and natural to our Jewish ancestors."
Those of us who live in Israel are lucky enough to see and understand the connection between nature and Jewish life.
If any of our readers know more such connections, please send them to us through out comments.