Gardening: Blessing the vine

Mystery might be the most important ingredient of love.

grapes 88 (photo credit: )
grapes 88
(photo credit: )
Mystery might be the most important ingredient of love. Without it, what seems to be a powerful attraction between two people simply will not last. By the same token, a couple who have been together 50 years will remain romantically mysterious to each other if their love is true. Doubts about the existence of God may be dispelled when the mystery of love is considered. Love cannot be defined and yet its presence is keenly felt; so too can God, without form or definition, be a constant presence in a person's life. In the words of the Kotzker Rebbe, God exists "wherever you let him in." The legacy of love between God and the Jewish people is wrapped in mystery. The Torah clearly shows that our record for longevity among the nations has nothing to do with our merit. Shortly after receiving the Torah, we worshipped a golden calf. Throughout our history, we have strayed far from holiness. Our behavior often fails to distinguish us from, much less make us holier than, the other nations. We have survived simply because God wants us here - because, despite our shortcomings, He loves us dearly. Chasidism instructs that, as proof of God's limitless love for his treasured people, He continuously infuses every Jewish soul with part of His essence. Prayer is the means devised by our sages for achieving intimacy with God. Yet Jewish prayer is a highly mysterious form of communication if only because, when addressing God, we always begin with the imponderable "Baruch Atah‚" which literally means "Blessed are You." When we approach God with our requests during the amidah (eighteen benedictions) or when we acknowledge Him as King of the universe before performing many of the physical mitzvot, it is as though we arrogantly take the liberty of blessing Him. As if God needed our blessings! We may gain some insight into the "Baruch Ata" mystery by examining a procedure for breeding plants. Certain plants, especially vines, lend themselves to a form of vegetative or clonal propagation known as layering. You bend a long shoot from a mature plant until it touches the ground. At the point of contact, you bury a few inches of the shoot in the earth, keeping the terminal portion exposed. After a period of several months, roots develop where the shoot has been buried, and the exposed portion of the shoot turns into its own plant. If you wish, you can dig up the roots attached to the shoot terminal and sever the new plant from the old. In ancient Israel, however, this procedure seems to have been used primarily for filling gaps in vineyards by rooting shoots from existing vines in any open spaces between them. The word for layering in Hebrew is "havracha,' which is not only cognate with "baruch," but also with "berech," which means "knee" and is associated with bending down. In Masechet Kilayim (Chapter 7, Mishna 1), the expression used is "hamavrich et hagefen ba'aretz," meaning "the one who bends down a grapevine (to propagate it) in the earth." Chasidim see the act of havracha as a metaphor for our approach to God when praying or performing mitzvot. Thus, when we say "baruch atah," we seek to access God by bringing his essence directly down into our lives here on earth. Just as a layered vine is sustained by the original plant, we pray to be constantly sustained by God in all our endeavors. To be cut off from our source of sustenance, especially after making new roots, would mean we were completely independent, but at the price of severing our connection to God. Some plants clone themselves by layering and, in so doing, achieve near immortal status. The oldest plants in the world are self-layering clones of creosote bush (Larrea tridentata), which live in the Death Valley region of California and are thought to have existed for at least 5,700 years. Asexual, vegetative or clonal reproduction is a marvelous and mysterious phenomenon. Unlike animals, plants possess a quality known as totipotency, which means that every single one of their cells has the capacity to be transformed into a whole new plant. Animal cloning can also be accomplished, but only through the replication of sex cells. With plants, by contrast, both sex and somatic cells may be cloned. In laboratories, plants that are prone to viruses are often propagated from the growing tips of leaves, which are typically virus-free. In addition to layering, there are two simple procedures for propagating plants vegetatively. If you are patient and have a flair for experimentation, you should be able to propagate every vine, ground cover and shrub in your garden without much difficulty. Any perennial that forms underground storage structures such as bulbs, rhizomes or tubers, or has clumping roots - such as daylilies, lilies of the Nile, flag irises, Shasta daisies, or violets - may be propagated by division. After excavating the plant, take a spade and slice through it once, twice, or several times, creating new offspring with each division. Ground covers, shrubs and roses can be propagated from shoot tip cuttings, which are four- to six-inch pieces taken from shoot terminals. Cuttings should be made shortly after a flush of growth, when newly expanded shoots have slightly stiffened. Cuttings that prove difficult to root can be dusted with rooting hormone and/or placed under plastic to keep leaves moist until rooting has occurred. [email protected]