We are getting our sukkah space ready to put up our sukkah this year, our first in Israel. My self-appointed job was to cut back the growth from the tree which hangs over our porch as much as possible, even if the tree can’t possibly be cut back as much as needed. Part of the laws of building a sukkah requires it not to be under shade of any other kind. You have to make your own shade, independent of your environment, in order to see the stars through the makeshift roof. The rabbis never talked about nightlight pollution, but back to our story:
I cut back quite a bit, trying hard to keep it on our rooftop, but of course, one large branch and a number of other smaller ones, fell over into our neighbors’ yard.
“Oh, shoot”, I heard myself say.
I heard my neighbor shuffling below.
“I’ll come and clean it up right away. Sorry about the mess. I really tried to keep it up here.”
So I went downstairs, went outside, over to their house, and rang the bell.
No one. Rien, absolument rien. (She’s French Moroccan and they usually speak French together. Or English.)
After a while, she comes down her stairs and opens the front gate for me. I explain what we were doing and apologize for the mess. Of course, she has already cleaned up the branches that I dropped, but she clearly appreciates my efforts. She then proceeds to give me the full story about the tree.
It’s a carob tree that grew with kids of the neighborhood eating carobs and spitting out the seeds on the ground. They never planted it at all.
When did this happen? She said fifteen years ago. Even if she had said 50, I was still surprised. After all, I thought that carobs took 70 years to grow!
Yes, I know how most fruits take a while to grow, even after the tree has established firm roots and all, but the reality is that I have no idea how long that really is. That’s how far removed I am from living on the land.
Or at least having fruit trees.
But why I was dumbfounded was because of the story of Honi HaMe’agel, Honi the Circle-Maker. It’s a fascinating story that is found in the Talmud (Ta’anit 19 and 23) about a man who was asked to call for rain (why would he not have done it without being asked, I wonder), which he does in a pretty chutzpahdik way. And then he goes off on his merry way, coming upon someone planting a carob tree. When asked why he is bothering, since it won’t bear fruit for 70 years, he is told that his grandparents did it for him, so he is doing it for his grandchildren.
So it must be a fact that it takes 70 years for the carob tree to bear fruit, right?
It turns out that the idea of 70 years is symbolic of the years of the exile after I the destruction of the First Holy Temple. (Read more here, if you wish.)
It is tied into a question that Honi asks before our story begins;
Said Rabbi Yochanan, “All the days of that righteous one, he was troubled about this verse (Psalm 126:1), ‘A Song of Ascents: With the Lord’s return of the captivity of Zion, we will be like dreamers. ‘He said, ‘Is there someone who can fall asleep for seventy years in a dream?’ One day, he was walking on the road and saw a certain man that was planting a carob tree…
The commentator Rashi says right there, “‘like a dream’ the 70 years of Babylonian exile will seem.”
Here’s the whole Psalm, again for context:
Psalms Chapter 126 תְּהִלִּים
It’s all about context.
The carob tree of our neighbors is a symbol of the strength of our people in our Land.
True joy of belonging.