Religious Life

Worth Their Weight In Gold? – A Weekly Letter from Rabbi Davis – January 18, 2019

Shalom Chaverim

My favorite place in Israel is Jerusalem’s farmer’s market, Machaneh Yehudah. On my recent trip, I enjoyed strolling past the bustling stalls, taking in smells of fresh pita and baked goods, the site of fresh produce and the taste of chalva being sampled in the isles.

Unfortunately, I was so caught up in the experience that I didn’t pay attention to my wallet. No, it wasn’t stolen. But it was emptied. Here is what happened.

I went to Dani’s Dried Fruits. A feast for the eyes, I immediately set to tasting and filling bags: dried mango, dried pineapple, nuts coated in date syrup, dried guava, thick apricot fruit leather, and on and on. I tasted. I bagged. I tasted some more. Dani gave me another sample, “Try this one. You’ll like it.” He was right. “I’ll take some of that, too.” Dried kiwi, figs, cherries, peaches. Then Dani weighed everything. When he told me the cost, my jaw practically dropped.  Only then did I notice that none of the labels had prices on them. Having tasted my way through the store, I wasn’t going to return my purchases. I vowed to eat them sparingly knowing that they cost their weight in gold.

In days gone by back in the Old Country, people did not have easy access to fruit from outside their local region. So precious was fruit from the Land of Israel that people saved up just to be able to purchase a single date. Such was the case for Benjamin, the fictional character in Mendele Mocher Seforim’s tale, The Travel Tale of Benjamin III (published in Yiddish, 1878).

A Jew from Israel once brought a date to our town, and it was a wonder that everybody in town, young and old, ran to see. They took out a Chumash and pointed with their finger to a passage in the book saying, “The date- this date- is in the Torah! It is no small thing. This date is from the Land of Israel!” They looked at it and the Land appeared before their eyes: they saw themselves crossing the Jordan River! Behold, the Cave of Machpelah! Behold, the Western Wall! They are ascending the Mt. of Olives, eating dates to their fill! And their eyes became a fountain of tears. That moment gazing at a date on Tu B’shvat, Benjamin reported, the yeshiva students saw themselves as if they were in the Land of Israel and they discussed at length the coming of the Messiah.

For the yeshiva boys of this shtetel, fruit from the Land had an almost mystical ability to conjure up images of a place about which they could only dream. It confirmed the stories of the Torah. It connected them to the Land. It rooted them in days gone by and inspired their dreams of better days to come. Though we live at a time when fruit from around the world is readily available at the local co-op, the same can be true for us. When we eat with mindfulness, with joy, with intentionality, we can savor more than just the fruit.

Within a day of my return, my kids had devoured the dried mango, pineapple and fruit leather. (I still have some candied orange peel which I am guarding for the garnish of a Shabbat chocolate mousse.) Thinking of Benjamin makes me realize that while my dried fruit was expensive, its ability to transport me back to Israel, to spring time, to Torah, through its taste and its story is priceless.

Tu B’shvat Sameiach,
Rabbi Alexander Davis