First Fruits of Summer


Today I tasted my first nectarine, and I have decided that nectarines are a miracle.  The truth is that I have eaten many nectarines before now – nectarines from the store or the farmer’s market, in a fruit salad or whole from the refrigerator.  But this was my first nectarine from my first nectarine tree –one of four bare-root trees I planted in my back yard last Tu B’Shevat.  At the time, their trunks were as thin as fingers and no taller than my knees.  As I dug their holes in the early morning winter light, it was hard to believe that these twigs would grow.  Sixteen months later, my seven-foot-tall nectarine tree stands among an apple, persimmon, and plum, laden with round, impossibly red fruit.  No fruit has ever been this good.

On the festival of Shavuot, our ancestors gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the first fruits of summer.  I fear that there will be a day when the transformation of a bare stick into a lush, flowering, fruitful tree no longer thrills me.  But for now, with the luxury of being new at this, I am in awe.  Somehow, from roots in soil and sun on leaves comes this succulent flesh that tastes like summer.  No wonder we have a holiday that grew up around this moment, and a special blessing said every time we take a taste:  Blessed are you, Adonai our God, sovereign of the universe, for creating the fruit of the tree.  Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei pri ha’etz.  Cherries, persimmons, peaches, apples, pomegranates: each sweet-tart bite is a miracle.

Summer brings many of us a slower pace, with a bit more time to savor the wonders that surround us.  That makes summer a great time to learn some of Judaism’s blessings written for almost every kind of pleasant moment we might otherwise take for granted.

There is a blessing, for example, for seeing the ocean:

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, sovereign of the universe, who created the great sea.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam, she’asah et hayam hagadol.

There is a blessing for seeing mountains and other beautiful natural phenomena:

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, sovereign of the universe, who makes the works of creation.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam, oseh ma’aseh vereishit.

There is a blessing for travelling that begins with these words:

May it be your will, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, that you guide us toward peace… and that you enable us to reach our desired destination in life, in joy, and in peace.

Yehi ratzon milfanecha, Adonai Eloheinu v’Elohei avoteinu v’imoteinu, she’tolicheinu l’shalom…v’tagienu limchoz cheftzeinu l’chaim, ul’simcha, ul’shalom.

There is even a blessing for the fragrance of this season.

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, sovereign of the universe, who creates sweet smelling trees.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam borei atzei v’samim.

In some sense, my stunned satisfaction at eating food that I planted myself is sad.  It represents my profound dissociation from the origin of most of the food I eat and the process of its growth.   Though there are those in our congregation with elaborate vegetable gardens, veritable orchards, and even egg-laying chickens in the back yard, I know that I’m not alone in having more experience with packaged food than food I watched grow.  Whether we can plant our own trees or not, the sweet taste of summer fruit beckons us to notice the miracle of our food and the earth from which it comes.  Whether we’re traveling the world, spending time at the ocean, or caring for what’s growing in the back yard this summer, the blessings from our tradition invite us to stop and appreciate the miracles of this lush and fragile planet on which we live.

May your summer be filled with sweet fruit, flowering trees, beautiful sights, and many opportunities to stop and say a blessing.

Rabbi Rachel Timoner

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