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Be Fruitful

delivered on Rosh Hashanah 5780, Day 2. by Suzanne Sawyer, Past President

Here’s a little-known fact. Did you know that one of the first commandments in the Torah is to be a fruitfly? Actually, it’s Pru Ur’vu– be fruitful and multiply. It appears both on Day 5, after God tells the creatures and birds to “fill the waters of the seas and let the birds multiply in the earth.” We read it again on day 6, after God creates human beings b’tzelem elohim, in God’s image, and commands them “Pru Ur’vu”– be fruitful and multiply. – We’re truly blessed to be able to say the Sawyers did what we were told.

Before there were birds and fish and every living creature, including humans, the earth was Tovu v’vohu- chaos and unformed. So in those 6 days of creation God brought the earth from tovu v’vohu- chaos and unformed, to a place with land and sea, day and night, all kinds of creatures, man and woman, and a commandment: Pru Ur’vu- be fruitful and multiply. What about that 7th day? God blessed the 7th day and made it holy, and we are commanded to cease from working on that day, to rest.

There’s a lot there, if you stop to think about it. Imagine with me. What does it mean, to make something from nothing- to create? We all have that urge within us- to create, to make, to grow something. We may all choose different paths- some create art, some music, some poetry, some create with food- but it fills a place in us and gives us a sense of wholeness, of order in what might feel like a chaotic world. It calms us, grounds us, gives us a sense of peace and control. It gives us satisfaction and fulfilment.

Now imagine the life of a bee, or a butterfly. They spend their days flying around, sometimes for miles, landing on flowers, soaking up the sun. Their travels often appear aimless. They mostly ignore us big creatures, because in spite of how they may seem, they have a job to do. Their world is actually nothing but order; they are driven by purpose- find the right plants, gather pollen or nectar, bring it home to the hive to make honey and feed the young, or eat it to have enough energy to Pru Ur’vu, be fruitful and multiply.

I spend a lot of time in our gardens in the summer. After 17 years in one place, we have a lot of gardens. While some people create through writing, or making music, I create through gardening. There’s always something to split or move, a new plant to put in the ground, a new space to work, weeds to pull. I create through colors, leaf structures, plant heights- what picture will my finished garden paint? As the seasons flow from spring to summer, so do the flowers. First is the crocus, then the daffodils and tulips, then the lilacs and peonies, and so it goes.

Our garden is one of my spiritual homes. It is a place I find God. There are times, when I haven’t been out there in a few days, that I feel unbalanced and edgy. Even if it’s 5 minutes, it’s my time to recharge. Taking that time to see what has changed, what’s grown up, what’s coming into flower, reminds me of the greater force in my life. I find peace in the middle of the garden, watching caterpillars eat the butterfly weed, smelling the roses (literally!), seeing the first giant swallowtail or monarch butterfly, or the tiny Mason bees right next to the honey and bumblebees, and watching them all peacefully coexist. There’s a lesson there, too, but, maybe next time.

When the gardens are in full bloom, I have to stay around the edges, because there are too many bees for me to walk among the flowers. This makes me smile, because the purpose of our gardens has changed. I don’t create only for me anymore. Because of the decline in pollinators, and to help protect our planet and food sources, we have shifted our gardens to attract the pollinators by planting their favorite flowers so they have food straight through fall. It means not cutting the grass as often. It also means Tom can’t use his tractor as much, but he finds plenty of other projects to do with it. It means not pulling the dandelions (unless they are inthe garden). I never thought about that until I learned that dandelions are one of the first foods for pollinators in the spring, and when we see them as an unattractive nuisance and pull them, we are taking away valuable food for the very creatures that help us grow our vegetables. By taking away the food they need to survive early on until more spring flowers are in bloom, we are undoing creation and instead, although not intentionally, we are creating tovu v’vohu.

Now I know that dandelions have a bad reputation, and a short, manicured, weed-free lawn is a nice lawn, but imagine if we put a different spin on it. Imagine if we left the dandelions in the grass, and let the clover grow up into those pretty little pink and purple heads, and didn’t pull the wild thyme that smells so good when you walk on it? Imagine if we turned the idea of what is order in a landscaped lawn on its head? Imagine if we saw not ugly chaos in all those flowers where there should be only green, but beautiful order? Consider the possibility that what we see as order in our manicured lawn actually contributes to the chaos in the food chain.

Imagine if we actively returned the favor to the pollinators by leaving food for them? Think of it as leaving the corners of our fields. We are commanded in Leviticus, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleaning of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyards bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger; I am your God.”

Could we help preserve and rebuild natural habitats, give the bees and butterflies more space and food, so they, in turn, can be fruitful and multiply, and help restore the natural balance of nature and growth to our ecosystem? An article by The Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State says approximately 80-95% of the plant species found in natural habitats require animal-mediated pollination. 80-95%. Plants are the foundationof terrestrial food chains. They provide food for small animals, which are food for larger ones, and plants provide shelter and nesting places. We need this biodiversity and we need the pollinators to make it happen. Without them, the balance collapses and the food chain breaks.

Edward Lorenz, a mathematician and meteorologist at MIT in the 60’s asked the question, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” He was trying to develop a theoretical model for weather prediction, which became known as The Butterfly Effect: a model for how tiny motions in the atmosphere scale up to affect larger systems. There is so much more to it, but let’s think about it- everything we do now, even the little things, has a massive impact on the future. So let’s let the grass grow, walk more, plant a garden, feed the bees. Create space for the pollinators, save our ecosystem.

When I was in high school, we read a short story by Ray Bradbury, called A Sound of Thunder. I didn’t know it then, but it is about the Butterfly Effect. A man goes back in time on an expedition to kill a dinosaur. The rule is he MUST stay on the boardwalk that hovers above the vegetation and he cannot touch anything. He must not shoot the dinosaur until it is about to die its natural death. He loses his balance and steps off the boardwalk. When they return to present day, everything is different. Why? Spoiler alert: he finds a butterfly on the bottom of his boot. That one butterfly’s death altered the course of everything that came after. Never think that our actions, no matter how small, don’t matter.

A little over a year ago, Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old student from Sweden, called for protest against Global Warming. Her voice, like a butterfly’s wings, sent ripples around the world, spurring climate strikes all over the globe, including Berkshire County, both last year and just last month, as students shared their concern about the future of the planet they will inherit. We are all responsible for what happens next. If we continue to abuse and neglect our planet as we have been doing, we are undoing millions of years of creation and indeed creating tovu v’vohu. 

We can choose a different path, and maybe Shabbat holds some of the answer. God commands us to rest on the seventh day. If, as the Butterfly Effect states, tiny changes in complex systems can cause huge effects, then imagine with me what can happen if everyone takes a day of rest. For some it’s Sunday, for us it’s Shabbat. Imagine taking a chair and a good book out to the garden, or sitting on a bench at Naumkeg, or The Mount, or Berkshire Botanical Garden. Close your eyes and listen. Take a minute and just breathe. Hear the birds, smell the flowers, open your eyes and really see the colors and vibrant life all around you. Take time to notice the symmetry and delicate perch of a flower on a stem.

If it’s not gardens for you, find what is. Find your way to create and recharge and rest. Find a way to stop and really appreciate the gift that God created and gave to us. Consider that every natural thing around us is the work of God, including each of us. God gave us Shabbat to remember that we are b’tzelem elohim, created in God’s image. We are all special. Take the time on Shabbat to move from what might have been tovu v’vohu, a chaotic week, to order and quiet and a place in your mind to appreciate whatever it is for you that is sacred and special. Give yourself time to find and recognize the spiritual in what you do, and the holiness and blessing of the gift we hold in our hands.

As we go through each week, consider the impact of what we do- are we building up or tearing down? Are we doing what we can to grow and support our ecosystem and the creatures that sustain it? Is what we see really tovu-v’vohu, or does it seem that way only to us? Are we doing our part to help the bees and butterflies and other pollinators fulfil the purpose God gave them, Pru Ur’vu, be fruitful and multiply? Everything we do, no matter how small, matters, and we can be the change we want to see in the world.

As we think back on this past year, what did we do that created chaos? What did we do that helped restore and bring order? How did we ensure that the corners of our fields were left for those that needed them? How can we find balance and space for the natural world that supports us? How can we find balance in our lives to allow time to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us, the people that we love, and the God that made us?

May this coming year be one of blessings, bees and butterflies.

Shana tova.

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