Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel, is a unique recreation of the physical setting of the Bible in all its depth and detail allows visitors to see life as it was lived by our ancestors 3,000 years ago, and it is an invaluable resource for biblical gardeners everywhere. Dr. Sarah Oren, Curator of the Neot Kedumim Botanical Garden writes:
"One of the most prominent late-summer plants is the Vitex agnus-castus, known by several names in English, including Abraham’s Balm and Chaste Tree. This member of the verbenaceae plant family grows by bodies of water all over Israel, except for the Negev desert. Genesis 22 relates the story of the Binding of Isaac, in which Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. In truth, he was not meant to kill his son; rather, he was being tested by the Lord to see to what extent his commitment and obedience would take him. When the angel stopped Abraham from harming Isaac, “Abraham looked and saw a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up as a sacrifice in place of his son.” (Genesis 22:13).
One Jewish tradition teaches us that the bush in which the ram was caught was the Vitex agnus-castus. The Latin name reflects this tradition (vitex (= life) agnus (= lamb) castus (= humble), that is to say “the life of the innocent lamb” – Isaac. A third name in English also reflects this tradition, Abraham’s balm, and the Hebrew name of the plant translates to “Abraham’s bush.” The connection of this plant to this story is particularly appropriate now, as Rosh Hashanah is upon us. This is the time of year when the Abraham’s balm is in full bloom. Our Sages teach us that the Binding of Isaac took place on Rosh Hashanah, and Genesis 22 is read in synagogues around the world. The shofar (ram’s horn) that we blow on Rosh Hashanah is to, among other things, remind God of Abraham’s commitment to God's will, and to hopefully inspire God's mercy upon us during this period of divine judgment."
Temple Sinai now has a Vitex agnus-castus in our garden collection, along with other new shrubs. The garden has yielded an abundance of herbs, pulses and cucumbers; and the grapevine on its new arbor is heavy with grapes. Now we welcome the New Year with hopes of reaping what the prophet Isaiah called the “good of the land,” and hope for a successful, happy and healthy year.
Michael Schlesinger is Temple Sinai’s Biblical Gardener. Mike has been gardening since he was eight years old. He used to grow grape vines and make wine when he lived in California. He now tends to our garden, continuing the traditions started by Catherine Walters.