Religious Life

Summer Flowers – A Weekly Letter From Rabbi Davis – July 12, 2019

Shalom Chaverim

Before we headed out of town on vacation, I asked the children who live next door to water our flowerpots outside while we were gone. I left them written instructions and they willingly agreed. In years past, we’ve lost our beautiful summer planting when we’ve failed to make these arrangements.

Throughout the Netherlands, we saw tulip bulbs for sale in stores.  We saw people riding on their bicycles carrying bouquets of flowers from the market. And I wondered how ours were faring.

We returned home and the kids did a great job. The flowers are beautiful. Only, I failed to tell them to water the plants inside! Luckily, we only lost one plant. The others came back with a bit of watering and discarding dead leaves.

A passage in a recent Torah reading inspired my thoughts about flowers. A group of rebel Israelites challenged Aaron’s leadership. To prove that he was indeed the chosen one of God, Moshe devised a test. He placed twelve staffs including Aaron’s staff in the Tent of Meeting and left the tent. When he returned, he saw that Aaron’s staff had brought forth blossoms while the others remained bare. This was a sign from God that Aaron was indeed the designated priest.

This is a colorful story. We see in the miracle, God’s faith in Aaron as a trusted servant. At the same time, as Rabbi Jill Hammer points out, “This tale of the priesthood’s intrinsic superiority is troubling to those of us who are suspicious of hereditary or social hierarchy.”

A chassidic commentary by the Mei Hashiloach (Rabbi Mordechai Yosef of Isbitza, 19th C, Poland), responds to this concern teaching, “in the future, God will reveal to each person how they will receive their rightful portion and will no longer wish for the portion of their neighbor.” In contrast to the rebels who sought to usurp Aaron’s position, this Chasidic rebbe reminds us that each person has a special role to play in God’s sacred community. And together, we make up a beautiful floral arrangement.

“In this reading,” explains Rabbi Hammer, “the blossoming of the staff indicates not that Aaron is more important than the other tribal leaders, but that each individual has a unique and precious destiny. Each staff, he says, flowers in its own way. Though we may be gifted in different ways, all us have a valued place in the world. In a mystical sense, all of our staffs blossom.”

As we enjoy flowers throughout the summer, let the beauty and uniqueness of each variety and each blossom serve as a reminder of this fundamental lesson.

Rabbi Alexander Davis