He made pomegranates in two rows encircling each network to decorate the capitals top of the pillars. He did the same for each capital. 1 Kings 7:18
The pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a small, bushy tree that grows about twenty feet high. Originally native to Iran, it travelled along some of the same trade routes that would later be associated with the silk trade, and spread across much of the ancient world.
One of the seven species of agricultural products associated with the Land of Israel, the fruit is a symbol of righteousness, because it is said to have 613 seeds representing the 613 commandments of the Torah. (The actual number of seeds varies, of course, with each fruit.) Pomegranates, in Hebrew rimonim, adorned the tops of the pillars in Solomon’s temple, and ornamented the robes of kings and priests. The fruits represent fecundity and, indeed, life itself; with their abundance of seeds and intensely red juice, they are messy, fragrant, sweet, and tart.
The pomegranate in the Biblical Garden is a dwarf variety that blossoms and grows lovely miniature fruits. Not winter-hardy in New England, it’s grown in a container and brought indoors after Sukkot.
Pomegranates are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah by Jews all over the world as a symbol of abundant goodness and in the hope that the Eternal One will grant us health and happiness in the coming year. Before the fruit is eaten, this blessing may be said, “May it be Your will, Lord our God and God of our forebears, that our merits increase like the seeds of a pomegranate.”
Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards; for our vineyards are in blossom.
Song of Songs 2:15
Centered and rooted between the posts of the grape arbor, the Biblical Garden grape vine at Temple Sinai has reached the topmost wires in our four-arm Kniffin arbor system. Inspection at every Saturday Minyan Breakfast reveals that its trunk is sprouting shoots which will become four canes branching sideways. Eventually, with watering and judicious pruning, we can hope for sweet fruit in years to come. The four-arm Kniffin is easiest to maintain and the most common system for American grapes like our Labrusca variety.
In biblical times one of the most important agricultural roles was that of the vinedresser, who planted, watered and pruned to assure a bountiful harvest of grapes for the winepress. Protection of vineyard and crop required the community to build and maintain hedges and fences, and a watchtower, manned against marauders (two- and four-footed) including the little foxes of Solomon’s beloved poem.
In the middle of a warm late-July weeding session in the Biblical Garden, this gardener received a lovely and unexpected gift. A congregant passing by paused and surveyed the garden, and commented that it reminds her of gardens she saw on the kibbutzim in Israel because they look so similar. Her gift of those words affirmed that the character of the Biblical Garden is transmitting exactly the message intended, that Temple Sinai is a congregation with our roots firmly planted in the soil of our heritage in Israel.
As we prepare for our spiritual homecoming on the High Holidays, we can be vine dressers who cultivate a harvest of personal and congregational renewal that will enable us to be inscribed yet again in the Book of Life, for a good and sweet New 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.