Thursday, October 01, 2009

Like a Pomegranate

Pomegranate is a fruit that has become associated with Rosh Hashannah. The true origin of the connection might well be (as I can testify from the tree in my garden) that pomegranates ripen just around the time of Rosh Hashanna. The coin in the picture here is from the period of the Bar Kochba revolt and clearly contains an image of three pomegranates. This is an ancient Jewish symbol.

People frequently quote the Talmudic saying "even the empty are filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate" which appears several times in talmudic literature. (Brachot 57a and Sanhedrin 37a) It means that even the ignorant, or unworth of Israel, are filled with good deeds like a pomegranate.

But this statement is strange. I understand that the uneducated can possibly exhibit be piety. But what if the phrase "empty" here indicates an unworthy person? Why should the "empty" (reikanim" be filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate? If so, why are they "empty"? Clearly they AREN't filled with mitzvot or else they would be "full"! Then how is this famous saying to be understood?

I had an insight into this as I was scooping out the seeds from a pomegranate of Rosh Hashannah. The seeds are tough to extract, and one constantly finds hidden chambers with yet another few seeds, and then a further section with yet another few.

maybe THIS is what Chazal meant. Even the empty of Israel have Mitzvot in all sorts of unexpected places. This is certainly true. How often do we realise that even the most unlikely Jews keep many aspects of tradition, or engage in secret acts of kindness. These are the hidden pomegranate seeds that every Jew possesses. The point then is not that the "empty" are filled with seeds like a pomegranate, but rather that their seeds are not necessarily self evident.

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