As a public school child in the 70’s, my Valentine’s Day often ended in tears. I remember digging into my optimistically large brown paper bag in first grade to find only three envelopes, even though my mother had insisted I fill out mass-produced cards for every child in my class. “No one likes me!” I […]
This past week, our family planted a vegetable garden in our backyard. It was a day of dirty knees, even dirtier fingernails, and lots of shoveling. By the time bedtime rolled around, everyone was exhausted. But of course, not too exhausted for a story.
Coincidentally, we had just received a copy of The Brothers’ Promise, by Frances Harber, a folktale about a family of vegetable farmers. My daughters were delighted by the illustrations of the father teaching the sons to dig up the soil and plant seeds – “just like us, Mama!” They tried to identify all of the vegetables in the wheelbarrow (clearly they have not had sufficient exposure to cabbage in their short lives) and compared the brothers’ crops to our own. (Yes to carrots, but like the Obamas, no to beets.) As the story unfolds, the father makes a dying wish that the brothers continue his farm, and always care for one another. And when a poor harvest strikes the farm, the young men do just that – they sneak wheelbarrows full of food into one another’s cellar, each believing his brother’s needs to be greater than his own.
I think there is an even deeper lesson about tzedakah in the act of gardening – one that goes beyond surplus crops. There’s a little bit of magic involved in growing vegetables. And although I struggle with how to define it for my children, for me, this magic is some of the strongest evidence I have of God’s presence. While we worked hard, surely we did not work alone. Some years, we are blessed with God’s gifts of sun and rain in all of the right proportions, and some years we are not. In gardens, as in life, when we are blessed, we should share. When we are not, we can only hope that others will share with us.
Last year, we posted an ad on the local Freecycle board inviting others to pick from our three apple trees. Granted, this was a painless kind of sharing – our trees dump way more apples than we could ever to use- and we put no effort whatsoever into the crop. But this year, I’d like to take it one step further and figure out a way to share what comes out of our garden not just with friends, but with those in need. Check the blog later in the summer, and I’ll post updates as to whether we’ve succeeded in growing tzedakah in our garden.
originally published in the PJ Library e-newsletter