Religious Life

Summer Fruit – A Weekly Letter From Rabbi Davis – June 14, 2019

Shalom Chaverim,

One of the things I love most about summer is the fruit. As a kid, I remember going strawberry, blackberry and raspberry picking. I can still smell the aroma of berry pies and preserves filling our house. Thinking about fruit, a teaching comes to mind.

Last week, we observed Shavuot. We think of the holiday as the holiday of Torah and of blintzes. But it has another association. We read in the Mishna, “On Shavuot, they are judged on fruits.” Underlying this Mishna is the belief that on each holiday, something is judged: On Sukkot, the world is judged for water. On Pesach, it is crops. On Rosh Hashana, humans are judged.

The idea is that God decides the fate for the coming year of each of these items at a different point in the yearly calendar. But a mystical teaching on our passage understands the teaching slightly differently. The Zohar suggests that God does not judge fruit but people on Shavuot. God does not determine the fate of the apple crop but examines how or if people have upheld the laws about fruit and fruit trees.

What are those laws? There are many laws relating to fruit. There is a prohibition against destroying fruit trees, even in a time of war. Another mitzvah called orlah requires that fruit trees not be harvested for the first three years. There are laws regarding tithes and blessings over fruit and more. These mitzvot are meant to increase an orchard’s yields and instill in us gratitude. According to the Zohar, if humans failed to observe these mitzvot, God would not bless the year’s bounty. Crops would suffer and humans would indirectly pay the price for their transgressions.

Today of course, we have different agricultural laws and we have a different theology. But we too recognize that our actions impact our crops. I don’t believe that God judges our fruit directly. But I do believe that God judges how humans treat the environment; God judges how we live on the earth. Tragically it seems, we are experiencing the impact of our transgressions. Tied directly to the earth and charged with upholding the laws, farmers may be hardest hit as they feel the impact of climate change first-hand. But ultimately, all of us are affected.

A medieval mystical book calls Pri Aitz Hadar (Fruit of a Good Tree) includes this prayer:

Please O God, who makes forms and creates, You made with wisdom the supernal worlds above and the nether worlds below. You make trees and grasses grow from the earth according to heavenly patterns. You make Your abundant grace and power flow to them to produce grains and fruits. May the earth and all who dwell thereon be sated with the fruit of Your work.

Just as God fashioned the world with wisdom, so may we live wisely and lightly on this earth that we might be judged with favor and be sated with the sweet fruits of our labors.


Rabbi Alexander Davis