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It is the second day of Rosh Hashana and you are sitting in a small synagogue made of ancient stones. The windows are open and a heaven-sent breeze is blowing through. Suddenly, the holy breeze seems to linger for a moment, just long enough to grab hold of your sins - you hope - and carry them away.
Now, the haftara is being read. You follow along in your prayer book and read that "you will again plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria," and then, a few verses later, you cannot help but pause. The prophet Jeremiah has just described what his people will be like when, at the end of days, they return to their homeland. "They will be like an abundantly watered garden (gan raveh), and experience sorrow no more."
You wonder how people could be like amply watered gardens and why these garden people, in particular, should be beyond the grasp of sorrow.
A few days later you find yourself hiking over the Samarian hills, in the heart of Biblical Tapuah, a region conquered by Joshua and divided among the tribes of Ephraim and Menashe. Just as Jeremiah predicted, his people have returned here and are growing grapes, but that's not all.
At Kfar Tapuah, you are taken into an orchard that is unlike any you have ever seen. Somehow, on a single plot of ground, tropical and deciduous trees are growing together.
"The elevation here is 700 meters. It is cold in the winter and really meant for deciduous trees, but it is still somehow warm enough for tropicals to grow," David Bloch, the orchard keeper, explains. It is simply a garden that defies logic, like the idea of a tiny people surviving for 3000 years and, after 2000 years of scattered exile, returning home.
Most deciduous fruit trees - those that lose their leaves in the fall - need varying measures of cold, during winter, in order to blossom in the spring. This is true of cherry, apple, peach, apricot, plum, and chestnut, all of which grow in Kfar Tapuah. Yet, if you plant a cherry tree in Tel Aviv, for example, it will grow shoots and leaves readily enough, but will never flower or bear fruit because of the mild winters there.
At a height of 700 meters, you might think it would be too cold for tropical fruit trees. Yet in Kfar Tapuah, mango, guava, macadamia nut, lemon, and orange flourish. There is even a grove of etrog trees, the most cold-sensitive citrus, heavy with large fruit.
The fruit orchards at Kfar Tapuah, like those all over Israel, fit the description of abundantly watered gardens, thanks to drip irrigation, an Israeli invention. With this technology, gardens can grow lush with a relatively small amount of water, yet appear as if they are regularly soaked. Research has revealed that it is not the quantity of water you apply, but where you apply it, that matters.
A tree's most actively growing roots are found directly beneath its outermost leaves, a circle known as "the drip line," since this is where water drips off a tree's canopy when it rains. Appropriately, drip tubing is most wisely placed here. Thus, as a tree grows and its canopy expands, the drip line - and the circle of drip tubing that matches it - will expand proportionally.
David Bloch fertilizes his trees with aged goat manure that comes from Avraham Herzlich's flock. For 30 years, Herzlich has been a shepherd. Each morning, he takes his goats out at sunrise and prays in the field. He is never without his Chumash, joyfully sings the weekly portion, and then studies it with Rashi's commentary. He puts the book down only when his animals have wandered a bit too far and he must call them back.
It is Yom Kippur and you are sitting in the same one-room synagogue made of ancient stones. A heaven-sent breeze is blowing through and you are waiting for it to linger, once again, to grab hold of your sins - which have rapidly re-accumulated - and carry them away.
Now, the haftara is being read. This time, the prophet Isaiah is looking into the future, yet he also predicts that "you will be like an abundantly watered garden (gan raveh), an inexhaustible source of water."
Suddenly, you think you understand. Both Jeremiah and Isaiah see their people, in the end of days, as garden people. Jeremiah sees them as no longer afflicted with sorrow and Isaiah describes them as inexhaustible water sources.
But truly, as Avraham Herzlich demonstrates, they are one and the same. Avraham shepherds his flock with a joyful song whose inexhaustible inspiration is Torah, which the sages likened to water. How is it that the garden people are beyond sorrow? It is because they continually drink from a sweet, never failing source, an inexhaustible book, until they, too, become wellsprings of Torah-inspired happiness.