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Palm Trees in the West

Friday, 3 January, 2014 - 12:00 pm

My family and I recently returned from a road trip. We passed through Nevada, California, and Arizona.  When I travel by air, I depart one culture, climate and topography, and suddenly arrive someplace entirely different.  Besides for the family bonding opportunity, road trips also provide a chance to observe the gradual shift in landscape. Snow gives way to green forest, which gives way to desert, which gives way to sunny ocean vistas.

Once we reached warmer, southern climates the ubiquitous palm trees started appearing. All different types of palm trees dot the landscape. For some reason, the palm tree evokes warm and sunny emotions. It really fits in with the weather.

However, on our travels, my children pointed out that palm trees were less evident in the rural expanses. In fact, outside of the developed areas we barely saw any palm trees.

This, we learned, is because almost all pam trees are not indigenous to the region. Apparently, only one species of palm is native to the Western United States. Nonetheless, continuous planting, horticulture and irrigation efforts have created a sense of natural omnipresence.  Give it enough water, and the tropical palm can survive – and even thrive – in the desert. Indeed, many palm trees in the American West are the descendants of eighteenth and nineteenth-century palms.

***

When the Jewish people left Egypt as newly free people, Moshe gave them many instructions from G-d. This week’s parsha, Bo, includes the mitzvahs of sanctification of the new moon, redeeming the firstborn, eating matzah on Pesach, wearing tefillin and teaching the story of the exodus to our children. As the Torah stipulates, “And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘Because of this, the Lord did this for me when I went out of Egypt.’”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes that – unlike Linclon and Mandela – Moshe does not talk to the Jewish people about their newfound freedom. Nor does he speak much of their destination, the Holy Land. Instead Hashem tells Moshe to teach the Jews about the rituals associated with the Exodus and the importance of imparting these ideals and sacred acts to the next generation.

Strange as it may seem, talking about learning versus liberty; deed versus destiny; and values versus victory – is the very foundation upon which Jewish life could persevere throughout the generations.

***

If we wish to continue the journey of Judaism in the spiritually arid avenues we encounter as a people, it is the sacred commandments which we observe and teach our children that will carry us.

We may not be native to America, Australia or Russia. But with proper watering – Torah and Mitzvot – we can survive and thrive in our current surroundings.

We pray for the day when our efforts will be met with success, the day when we will be relocated to our Holy Land – a place where the palm and the Jew alike are indeed indigenous.

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