Over seventy species of brambles, thistles, briers and other thorny, prickly plants grow among the flora of Israel. In the verse from Genesis above, God curses the ground as he expels Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and sends Adam forth to till the soil.
As agriculture developed in the Middle East and ancient grains were domesticated, thistles and other weedy opportunists took advantage of newly-disturbed soil and established themselves, forming dense, impenetrable stands that competed with field crops and forage plants for precious water and nutrients. Thorns, prickles and sharp spines defended these plants from grazing by flocks of goats and sheep in Abraham’s time, as they do today.
The Biblical Garden includes colorful specimens of thorns and thistles native to Israel, including vibrant red barberry bushes, Centaury-thistles, and the Globe thistle beloved of goldfinches. This spring, Mrs. Carter’s 4th and 5th grade religious school class planted seeds of Silybum marianum, “milk thistle,” which have sprouted and are now transplanted into the garden. This herb is prickly indeed and has been used in Bible lands as a folk remedy for thousands of years.
Now as we complete the counting of the Omer and move toward Shavuot, the revelation of Torah at Sinai, our gardens call us to be busy with water and compost and the fragrant earth to plant new green life. We are reminded as well to be open to the wisdom given in our sacred texts.
Rabbi Janet Marder writes: Shavuot celebrates the moments when wisdom and truth come to us, in our own time, in our own way…Three thousand years ago our people stood in a vast and silent desert, at the foot of a mountain, and in the silence they saw and heard something that convinced them that the universe itself is no accident – that life has beauty and meaning and purpose; and that life must be lived as if it matters.