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Word from Neot Kedumim for the High Holy Days
This is a beautiful meditation by Dr Sarah Oren, Curator of the Neot Kedumim Botanical Garden and its Head Botanist Ouria Orren
The Sages of the Talmud noted that “the end of the summer is harder than the summer itself” (Babylonian Talmud Yoma, 29a). Indeed, the summer heat and dryness do control nearly everything, except for plants that grow next to bodies of water. For those plants this is their “greatest hour.”
The blossoming period for plants that grow in water-rich environments is slower than for other plants. For one thing, water-rich soil has much less oxygen, thus slowing down the process. For another thing, water lowers the temperature of soil, also slowing the blossoming. When the plants finally do reach the peak of their bloom in the late summer, they do not have to compete with other plants to be pollinated.
One of the most prominent of these 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. It is a tall bush, reaching as high as two meters (approximately six and a half feet), with long branches and finger-shaped leaves that are divided into lobes. Its appearance is often confused with that of the medical cannabis plant.
During the winter, the plant has no leaves, and the ends of the branches have clusters of purplish-blue bilaterally symmetrical flowers that progressively open upwards. The tall, attractive appearance of the plant, combined with its impressively long flowering stage (June-September), has made the vitex agnus-castus a very popular addition to ornamental gardens. This is made possible by the fact that the roots of the plant have the ability to seek out ground water, thus enabling the plant to thrive even when far from a natural body of water. The ripe seeds have a hard shell that contains components that inhibit germination. These can only be neutralized after being washed with enough water to ensure germination. In the past, these seeds were used to make a powder that was believed to inhibit sexual desires and was used in monasteries. This use is the basis of two the plant’s English names – the Chaste Tree, and the Monk’s Pepper.At Neot Kedumim, the plant can be found by the “Pool of the Willows” in the area known as “Four Species Hillside.” Because of its closeness to water, the Samaritans, an ethno religious group that claims to follow Torah law as it was before the Babylonian exile, believe that this is the plant referred to as the “willow of the brook” in Leviticus 23:40, which is used as one of the four species associated with the festival of Sukkoth (Feast of Tabernacles).
Genesis 22 relates the story of the Binding of Isaac, in which Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac, who was only born after decades of Abraham’s beloved wife Sarah’s barrenness. 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.”1
Ironically, while the seeds have components that inhibit sexual desires, studies have shown that the plant itself contains chemical components which help regulate hormonal activity, or can be used as a substitute. These components can assist with infertility, both for men and women, as well as increasing the production of breast milk in nursing mothers. There also those who claim that Abraham’s wife Sarah, was finally able to overcome her barrenness by using this plant, which led to the birth of Isaac.
The connection of this plant to this story is particularly appropriate now, as the Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year is upon us. This is the time of year when the Abraham’s balm is in full bloom.
The Mishnah teaches us that “On Rosh Hashanah, all creatures of the world pass before [God]’ (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:2). The period between Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgement, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement is the period when every individual’s fate is said to be decreed.
Our Sages teach us that the Binding of Isaac took place on Rosh Hashanah. Indeed, on the second day of the holiday Genesis 22 is the biblical passage 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 our forefather Abraham’s commitment to His will, and to hopefully inspire His mercy upon us during this period of divine judgment.
The biblical verse referring to Rosh Hashanah says simply that on the “first day of the seventh month” it will be a “Yom Teru’ah”, the Day of the Blast (of horns, shofars) (Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 29:1). The day is one of four “new years” according to Jewish tradition, and it falls at the beginning of the month of Tishrei, which is the seventh month of the year. In Jewish tradition the number 7 carries great significance - it represents divine intervention, the inclusion of holiness with the “normal.’ The division is not natural, similar to the Sabbath, the day of rest after six days of work, and the shmitta year, after six years of working the land, we allow it to lie fallow.
Tishrei marks the end of the summer, and the beginning of the agricultural year. Its name, which means “beginning” in Aramaic and Akkadian, was brought to the Land of Israel by those returning from the Babylonian exile with Ezra and Nehemiah, in the late 6th century-early 5th century BCE.
As we stand at the beginning of the seventh month, the beginning of our annual period of divine judgment. We are at the meeting point of heaven and earth, between nature, action, spirit and heritage.
1 The tradition of the Binding of Isaac also made its way into the other two primary religions of the Middle East. According to Christianity, Jesus, the son of God is also referred to as the “Lamb of God” (Agnus dei), and Islamic tradition holds that Ishmael, Abraham’s son with his wife’s Egyptian handmaid Hagar, was the one nearly sacrificed. To this day, Muslims commemorate the historical event with Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice.
BBGS Video Productions Presents:
Eden's Delights: Useful Plants of the Bible
With Dr. Ed Bez
Episode 1 introduces the series topic and provides an overview of some of the many ways in which biblical flora were used in ancient times
For all additional episodes click here Eden's Delights Video Series
BBGS welcomes newest staff member from Israel.
BBGS visits the Rodef Shalom Biblical Gardens
What a lovely experience we recently enjoyed. We were treated to a private tour of the largest biblical garden in the United States. Surprisingly, it is located in of all places in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Who would have imaged that such a beautiful and inspiring biblical garden (housed at Temple Rodef Shalom) and visited by thousands each summer would have thrived in the harsh winters of the northeast?
The gardens include species mentioned in the Bible along with plants which are not mentioned in the Bible but have common names which allude to Biblical characters, events, or places, e.g., Angel's wings ( Caladium bicolor), Egyptian Star (Pentas lanceolata) or Adam's needle (Yucca gloriosa).
Irene Jacobs is the visioneer of this amazing collection and to our delight and honor she walked us through the gardens. Irene is married to her Rabbi/Scholar husband, Walter, who has been the chief supporter of her efforts over these past twenty-six years. Yes, the gardens are Twenty-six years old this year.
The society has determined to honor her for her outstanding work in an award to be presented at a later date. We will post all of the details when they have been finalized.
Enjoy the photo journal of our heavenly flora tour.
Dr Ed and Rachel Bez
Director, BBGS - Global
Founder of Rodef Shalom Biblical Gardens with Dr Ed Bez Section of the Gardens crossing the 'Jordan'
Granite signage for the gardens Irene and Rachel Bez near the 'Sea of Galilee'
Before leaving Israel and “Little Town of Bethlehem, how Sweet We See Thee Lie…” we want to send you Happy Chanukah and Merry Christmas (both miracles!) greetings from our small apartment to wherever you are. Yes, Ed and I are leaving in about twenty-four hours what I affectionately call “home,” and returning to the US where we will once again be reunited with loved ones and friends.
Recently, Ed and I
spent a day in Bethlehem; it was my first visit to the place where the shepherds
were in their fields before the angelic host announced that Messiah, the Savior
of the World was to be born. I had been
longing to see Bethlehem for so long. Bethlehem was not included in our tour
package in 2003 because it was not considered safe. I now have a better understanding of what
politics are in the Middle East. I must
admit traveling to Bethlehem my first time was bittersweet. Bitter? Yes,
Bethlehem and Israel are not at total peace with one another – a wall separates
them as once a wall separated Berlin from Germany. Sad. So sad.
We were allowed into Bethlehem with no problems and we were affectionately greeted by a store owner that is a friend with one of Ed’s long-time Palestinian Christian friend’s, Makhoul. I must admit the day in Bethlehem was most enjoyable once we crossed that imposing wall. We did some shopping and made plans to return to Bethlehem again when we lead tours in 2012 and 2013.
My favorite time inside Bethlehem was sitting at a restaurant, eating the best Pizza we have had since being in the Middle East. From our window we could see small Bethlehem. I imagined Mary and Joseph on the ridge as they made their trek from Nazareth so many years ago. The flat Bethlehem in my mind’s eye was dismissed and a tough terrain of the hillside was added as Ed explained that the town lies within a mountainous horseshoe. I cannot imagine being pregnant and ready to deliver a baby while traveling to Bethlehem and upon arriving, finding (for a host of reasons) there was “no room” for them!
Today, once again my heart rejoices that Mary and Joseph did not say “no” to their calling. Our Savior was born in the house of bread “beth – lechem”, just as promised by the prophets. As Christians, with child-like faith, we accept it was a miracle birth of a virgin. Many of our Jewish ancestors have misunderstood this event and many Jewish people we know still need Messiah. I say we need another miracle; that peace would be found in Bethlehem and World over! -- That Christians, Moslems, and Jews, share peace. While total peace might not be found until Messiah returns, perhaps we could allow the Holy Spirit to restore a peaceful relationship with one person at this holiday season, whether they are our Christian friends or Jewish and Moslem neighbors.
As for me, I look forward to lighting Chanukah candles with Ed and his Dad again, and sharing the story of the miracle that Jews of years ago were able to light their menorahs for eight days, when not enough temple oil was available. I imagine Yeshua may have lit similar lights when he was small as he heard the story shared with his parents. This holiday year we also look forward to sharing time with new friends, both Jew and Moslem alike and making plans to build medical containers for poor villages in the Middle East. Neither will I forget to thank God that Yeshua was born and ask Adonai one more time for the peace of Jerusalem.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure’” Psalms 122:6.Shalom and shalom,
Rachel Leah Bez
Announcing New Collaboration
With Wildflowers of Israel, NGO
I'd like to introduce you to an amazing website that presents the native and Biblical wildflowers of The Land of Israel – WILDFLOWERS OF ISRAEL.
This website is devoted to the study of wild plants of the Land of Israel which were a focal point of interest to people all over the world for many years. Everybody who is interested in the nature and the environment of this Land will find there a wealth of information regarding all kinds of plants. Special emphasis has been given to references to the plants in the Biblical scriptures and scholarly literature.
The database can be searched using scientific and common English names. As time and means will allow more of the texts will be translated into English.
In spite of Israel's small area it has a very diverse flora including some 2500 species. The causes for this great diversity are related to the climatic history of this part of the globe and its location at the crossroads among a variety of climatic regions in Europe, Central Asia, The Sahara and the tropics.
The plant descriptions are kept simple while not compromising on accuracy or breadth. Their mission is to bring the information to a wide audience in a friendly way in order to educate and promote the appreciation of the natural beauty of this land.
One can easily search the database for an unknown plant using simple attributes and select the correct one from an assortment of pictures. There are plans to translate all the information in this website into English if the necessary resources will be available.
The website presents more than 2140 plants, and more than 10,000 marvelous pictures described in 4 languages, and includes more than 6,000 text pages that load up quickly in a friendly manner.
The persons behind this venture are Mrs. Sara Gold, website Director, Prof. Amram Eshel, professor of botany at Tel-Aviv University, Dr. Erga Aloni, and Dr. Dror Melamed. The pictures were taken by a number of professional and amateur photographers, who donated them to this website, and knowledgeable botanists who wrote the texts.
I am delighted to have had the opportunity to spend time with Sara in Israel. She is a woman of passion and commitment. She is equally thrilled in our new collaboration. I commend her work and that of her partners and volunteers to all of our BBGS constituents. I look forward to a long and fruitful partnership.
BBGS Director to Study Biblical Flora in Israel
Dr Ed Bez and his wife, Rachel, are currently working in a biblical garden at Yad Hashmona, Israel. They are being trained by a 20 year biblical garden veteran. They will be attending Ulpan (intensive, emmersion, language school) beginning in September as well. Dr. Bez will be collecting botanical specimens and taking thousands of photos of native flora.
Dr Bez will be posting many of these photos (below are a few teasers). Can you identify them? If so, send him your guesses to email@example.com
He will also be blogging and writing extensively about biblical flora. He will point out their importance in understanding biblical stories as well as investigating modern uses of these fascinating plants.
Dr Bez and Rachel are in Israel until December 2011.
Where Dr Bez is working and studying
Dr Bez and Rachel are based at Yad Hashmona in the Judean hill country, Israel.
Can you identify me?
If you can identify these photos send Dr. Bez an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with your guesses.
All photos below where taken by Ed Bez in July, 2011 at Yad Hashmona, Israel.
Free to use photos with the attribution: "Photos by Ed Bez, BBGS"
If you have a garden and a library you have everything you need.
Cicero, Roman Orator, Statesman, died 43 BC
In grasses, trees, and fruits, apart from their various uses, there is beauty of appearance and pleasantness of odor.... Has the Lord clothed the flowers with the great beauty that greets our eyes, the sweetness of smell that is wafted upon our nostrils, and yet will it be unlawful for our eyes to be affected by that beauty, or our sense of smell by the sweetness of that odor?... Did he not, in short, render many things attractive to us, apart from their necessary use?
A garden teems with life. It glows with color and smells like heaven and puts orward at every hour of a summer day beauties which man could never have created and could not even, on his own resources, have imagined.
Photographic Introduction to the Plants of the Bible ( See more in our Photo gallery)
Olive trees (Olea europaea) in the Garden of Gethsemene, Jerusalem.
The olive is one of the plants most cited in recorded literature.
The olive tree and olives are mentioned over 30 times in the Bible, in both the New and Old Testaments. It is one of the first plants mentioned in the Bible, and one of the most significant. For example, it was an olive branch that a dove brought back to Noah to demonstrate that the flood was over. The Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem is mentioned several times. The olive tree itself, as well as olive oil and olives, play an important role in the Bible.
Photo by Ed Bez in the Garden of Gethsemene, Mt. of Olives (2008).
Aloe (Aloe vera) in bloom at Caesarea Maritima, coastal region of Israel.
Comment by Dr. Musselman, April 2, 2009- "And true aloes (genus Aloe) were most likely not used in Bible times in the Middle East. The problem stems from the translation of the word alaloth which almost certainly refers to the valuable extract of the Aquilaria tree".
Photo by Ed Bez taken at Caesarea Maritima, eastern Mediterranean (2008).
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