By Lynne Plunkett
One of Judaism’s many wonderful features is that it has a blessing for just about everything. No matter how mundane the task, God’s presence and sovereignty is acknowledged – Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha olam… (fill in the blank). Which brings me to my carrots. You see, I do not know if there is a blessing for carrots. If not, there should be. Because in the process of trying to plant some carrots, I found that I was blessed to learn about many things, and allowed to see how my gardening habits sometimes mirror my spiritual ones, particularly the-less-than-desirable ones. But I get ahead of myself.
At the beginning of the summer, every member of our congregation was given a seed packet as part of a teaching. This teaching related to the word given to our congregational leaders at the beginning of the Jewish new year, actually two interconnected words – a double blessing – to bear fruit and sow. Every year, that word is challenging, but God also equips us and believes we are able to fulfill that call, whatever it may be. God is faithful; giving us words for the Kingdom that are building blocks on the words from the previous years.
They talked about how God in His grace has allowed us to be part of what He’s doing in His kingdom work; it’s an invitation, not a source of pride or arrogance, to submit to God and rejoice that He would include us in His work. He can do everything without us, but chooses us to co-labor with Him, and He equips us to be able to accomplish everything that He’s called us to do, personally or as a congregation.
Many Scriptures talk about sowing and bearing fruit. For example, in John 15:5, we learn how Yeshua is the vine and we are the branches. There are several references in Matthew, including Matthew 13:18-23 which tells the parable of the sower and how seed sown on good ground yields fruit 100, 60 or 30 times what is sown. In Psalm 126:5-6, we learn that those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. And, of course, in Galatians 5:22-23, we are witness to the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
They shared with us the ways we can work this out, by sharing our fruit with mishpocha and others in these days. And, at the end of the service, they gave us each a seed packet as a symbolic reminder of our living out this word.
For my packet of seeds, I received carrots, half-long Danvers to be exact. Never heard of ‘em, so I looked them up on the web. They were described as “blocky-topped with tapered roots chunking up nicely at 6 to 7-1/2 inches.” It went on to say they produce more-than-generous yields. And, if that were not enough, they store well and stay crisp. Okay, I’m beginning to warm up to them. I can do this.
But I was still not overly enthused; I don’t particularly like carrots, and I had already given up trying to grow anything this year because of the preceding several years’ dismal results. And what’s with this half-long stuff? If I’m expected to grow carrots, they at least ought to be full-size. Humph. Don’t I deserve that? Aren’t I entitled to the biggest and best of everything?
Nevertheless, in foot-dragging obedience, I started thinking about what to do with the carrot seeds. I could have just planted them in the back yard and let them fend for themselves, but I felt a little guilty doing that, so, with a sigh, I started looking for supplies. I bought starter pots and organic soil – I would make a show of getting nothing but the best to make up for my secret lukewarm attitude; and so I planted my tiny carrot seeds (almost as small as a mustard seed, I think). Putting them under a grow lamp in the basement, I waited for them to do something. When the first tender green shoots peeked above the surface, I was relieved but then thought, “Now what?”
I moved my two-inch high seedlings outside, to a shaded spot first, so they could get hardened off. But they were now out of sight, and, you know the saying, out of sight, out of mind, so I tended to forget they were there. Sometimes I was impatient with their growth or some other characteristic, other times I wanted to pretend they did not need any more of my active participation. Finally, I moved them to a large container in the full sun. I used a container instead of the ground, to keep them free of possible harmful organisms in the ground (and, truth be told, I’m really kind of on the lazy side and it was easier than digging up a section of ground). Then I realized what I had complained about before – their length – meant I could use a container because they were half-long and didn’t need as deep a pot. So I had to admit what I had originally regarded in a negative manner was really a blessing. (How often does this happen to us?)
Wiring around the container completed the set-up, to keep various critters from eating the carrots. I checked them every day, weeding them and searching for bugs. Because they were in a container, I had to water them frequently when it did not rain. I fretted about the effect on them of a prolonged heat wave, followed by weeks of rain. While I appeared to be treating them lovingly, I knew my heart – I was tired of dealing with these stupid carrots and impatient for them to be done already.
In the meantime, I was dismayed that I still had a lot of seeds left. What to do with this abundance, this overflow of blessings? I couldn’t throw them away, could I? So I bought more pots and more dirt, thinking surely, this was enough. It wasn’t. Getting more and more annoyed and running out of room, I bought even more pots and soil and decided that was it. In my darker moments, I considered giving the remaining seeds to the birds. I mean, they’re God’s creatures, too, right?
Now I was all prepared to come to my Messianic synagogue at the end of the summer proudly bearing my carrots. I was going to bring the biggest and most beautiful for my first fruits offering. I was going to share the abundance with the congregation in the blessing of the carrots. Well, the other night, my carrots disappeared. As best I can tell, the groundhog ate them. Now, I cannot really get angry at the groundhog, because it is acting according to its nature. And, besides, I have done everything in my power to make my tiny yard attractive to wildlife (in fact, my yard is a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation). So I can hardly blame God’s creatures if they think I had added this particular item to the menu.
By the way, in talking with our congregational leader about my message, I learned that her late husband had not been overly fond of groundhogs. I had not known he used to be a farmer. She said it was very hard work, with no time off, and while it was good to them for many years, lean times came in the 1980’s, and he and his partner were forced to sell the farm. He also had a large garden at home. Invariably in the mornings, the groundhog (usually just one) would be out, helping himself to whatever he could reach and munching away. He waged a losing battle with this groundhog. In later years, they grew only New Jersey tomatoes and he would grow them much closer to the house. That never stopped the groundhog(s). They were always chubby little critters (mainly because they feasted on the produce growing in the neighborhood) with no shame. They would crawl right up to their garden by the house, “pick” a tomato, take one bite, throw it down, pick another tomato, take a bite, throw it down, etc. It was maddening. Under the loving influence of their daughter, who loves all critters, he would trap them in one of those Havahart traps, drive it several miles to an open area and let it go. This would happen maybe half a dozen times over three months. They never tagged the offending beast to determine if the original guy made it back to their yard or whether there were more to take his place. Anyway, no groundhogs this year – she only planted flowers!
Getting back to my experience, what have I learned from my encounter with the carrot seeds? Well, first, on a very basic level, for most of us 21st-century Americans, we don’t feel much connection with the land. If you ask someone where their meal came from, they are more likely to say the supermarket or a box or even the microwave, not the original source. Even though we are distant from the land with our highly processed foods, complex distribution channels and agricultural mega-farms, we are still in fact totally dependent on the few inches of dirt that cover the planet. We are not divorced from the land; we are still connected.
As a result of my experience with the carrots, I have an increased appreciation of the agricultural nature of early Israel, during which times so much of our liturgy, holidays and customs derive. Now, it is important to note that my carrots did not make the difference between whether I had food or not. I could still go to the neighborhood store if my crop failed. But how much more would I feel the rhythms of God’s seasons and appointed times if I were dependent on my own garden for survival. How much more keenly would I watch the skies with anxious eyes for sun, rain and locusts. How obvious it would soon become that in this, as in all things, we are totally dependent on God. I can understand better now the feelings of thanksgiving and praise as the Children of Abraham brought their first fruits to Adonai.
The seed packet indicated the carrot plants must be pruned “ruthlessly”. Now, I am ridiculously soft-hearted, not at all ruthless, and it took me several years of gardening to not feel squeamish about pruning as a general principle. However, after much experience, I learned that pruning really does produce better results: healthier plants, more nicely shaped, and stronger. Now, much as I try to avoid it, I know God prunes me, too. And I’m even less enthused about that. It’s stretching a point, I know, but stay with me on this one, because I almost feel that in the carrots being stripped away, it was as if I’d been pruned, too. In addition to the many failings outlined in my care of the seeds entrusted to me, did I acknowledge God in this process? Did I pray over my carrots? Did I ask His blessing? My answer, regrettably, is not enough. I was trying to do this in my own strength, depending on myself, not Him. So, He has taught me new lessons about pride, humility and trust.
This brings me back to another point in the earlier message about sowing and reaping. We spend our lives sowing seeds, and it is easy to get discouraged when we don’t get a harvest. We can get very discouraged. God has a due season for all the seeds we plant, a timetable – not always our timetable, sometimes quick, sometimes slow, even a lifetime or beyond. Count on three things: God will cause a harvest to come, God is never early or late – He’s right on time – and He has our best interest at heart. Our harvest will have the same nature as our seed sown. Refuse to become discouraged.
Perhaps the title of my message should have been “Carrots as Blessings.” While I did not reap carrots, I harvested so much more, and, who knows, I may continue to do so. As I was reminded about the ways in which I can strengthen my spiritual habits and turn from a self-centered life to a Messiah-centered life, I found that, just as in the case of these seeds, we are given an abundance of blessings, more than we deserve, of course, and more than we can ever possibly comprehend. And, all of this is in addition to having a ground hog with the rodent equivalent of 20-20 vision. Oh, and by the way, did I tell you God has given me yet another chance? I still have more seeds, and I am not discouraged! Perhaps we’ll have carrots in the fall! Whatever the outcome, Baruch HaShem!