O Lord, You have set before me blessing and curse: blessing if I obey the commandments and curse if I do not (Deut. 12:26). You have warned me sternly not to go after other gods. You have reminded me that all that is birthed first on this earth is yours, whether animal or vegetable.
And lo, O Lord, this summer I have gone after other gods, most particularly the god of pride. I have failed to sacrifice the first fruits and I have earned the curses that have arrived at my door.
For in the springtime, I ventured on a new path of blessing. I tilled the earth and I established a garden with my little family. In hope and joy we planted; the sweat of our brows watered our seedlings. Much grew apace, Holy One, for we had an unusually wet and cool spring for North Carolina, at which time it is far more typical for the sun to blaze and parch the world, destroying all that is green, yea, unto the last blade of grass.
Our lettuce and spinach grew in the spring rains. And the kale, O Lord, was so prolific that we knew not a single day without it filling our salad bowls. When spring plants were done with us, we planted tomatoes and cucumbers, squash and zucchini, and, with great joy, the jalapeno peppers and baby eggplant.
My husband, Holy One, helped me tear down our fence and rebuild it so that we could double the space in our garden. And we were proud, very proud indeed of our very first vegetable garden.
We were, O Lord, so proud that we posted pictures of our produce on the very field of false gods. Yes, I speak of Facebook, which otherwise we both pretty much ignore, for we do not wish to be used and abused by those who lie and cheat and lie again in a world where there is no law.
O Lord, I tried many new recipes with our Malabar spinach, which, like the kale, pleased our digestive tracts. The first tomatoes began to sprout and we reaped large and impressive cucumbers that solicited silly jokes even, yea, from two aged people such as we have become. And I continued to speak of our garden to all who would listen, boring my friends and family with tales of the perfect jalapeno peppers and the deep purple of the baby eggplants I dipped in oil and spices and roasted to perfection.
But I failed, Holy One of Blessing. I failed in my folly and my pride. I am sure that You were fed up when the first yellow squash was harvested, for I took it into our kitchen and chopped it up and cooked it that night in a curry with Berber spice. The very next day, O Lord, I walked proudly down to the garden and found my beautiful squash plant collapsed, lying flat on the earth from which it had been birthed.
I blamed voles until I discovered holes in the cucumbers, O Lord.
In great distress, I googled and read of nasty boring beasts which lay their eggs on cucumber and squash and their relative, the zucchini, only to give birth to death and destruction. I continued anointing my plants with Neem, O Lord, but it was no use. I cut off the offending dead parts, but healthy leaves collapsed the next day. I smote the bugs and laid out Tupperware with bright yellow rags and water to divert them from the pretty yellow flowers unto which the pesty things laid their disgusting, jelly-like eggs. There was no hope, O Lord: every small, beautiful vegetable upon my zucchini and squash plants was bored through in a matter of days, yea, even hours.
Upon reading Parsha R’eih, I began to suspect that my immediate consumption of our first yellow squash was too much for You, O Lord. For by that time I had long since consumed the first fruits of nearly every plant in our garden. And so the pests came and the curse arrived. I suspect, too, that you may have had something to do with the bizarre and torrential daily rains that have never before been seen during late summer months, at least not during my three decades in this state. For they have forced my shiny green tomatoes to stretch their skins and crack before they could possibly turn the coveted rich red of those to be found supermarkets. Even a few of the cherry tomatoes have suffered the bursting disease.
Had I only sacrificed my first fruits to you, O Lord, had I only thanked you in kind for the gift of my garden, had I but paid attention, too, to learning about pest control before planting, perhaps the plagues of beast and storm would not have ravaged my garden.
O Lord, I vow that in the next growing season I will sacrifice the first fruit of every plant, from eggplant to tomato and pepper to, I pray, zucchini. For you have set before me blessing and curse and you have reminded me that my pride is a dangerous thing indeed.
And you will get an extra helping of kale, I promise.
I dedicate this post to my son, Erik Henning Thiede, who was born the first of Elul in a year when the reading was R’eih. And I thank him and his wife, Serafina Ha, for helping us create our first vegetable garden ever.