The first sin ever committed is generally identified as Adam and Eve's bite of forbidden fruit on the sixth day of creation from the Tree of Knowledge that grew out of Eden's fertile earth. But our sages point to the occurrence of an even earlier sin, an act of disobedience committed on the third day of creation by the earth itself. Among God's commands on the third day was that the earth bring forth "etz pri oseh pri" or "fruit trees bearing fruit" (Genesis 1:11). In Hebrew, the word etz means either tree or wood. Thus, the text may be read as "fruit wood bearing fruit" with the implication that the wood of a tree was supposed to taste like its fruit. The notion of a tree with edible wood or stems may seem odd until we stop for a moment to consider the comestible stems of plants like asparagus, celery, rhubarb, and broccoli. But the earth defied God and simply yielded "etz oseh pri" or "wood bearing fruit" (Genesis 1:12), the wood having no fruity characteristics. In a discussion of ends and means, Rabbi Mordechai Alon has explained the difference between our fruit trees and the trees God wanted to create. Our world runs on an "ends justify the means" basis. It's the attitude of a boss towards his employees: I don't care how you get the job done, just do it! Work often denotes drudgery and drawn faces, as opposed to the easy smiles and spiritual highs associated with a project's completion. This approach corresponds to the way our fruit trees are constructed. Their wood is tasteless and dry - the means; bearing sweet and succulent fruit - the ends. The world, however, was meant to be different. God envisioned a place where means and ends would be on equal footing. When the Messiah comes and the Godliness in every process and product will be equally apparent, we will not be aware of any qualitative difference between them. A hundred years ago, the first settlers of modern Israel demonstrated what this Messianic environment would be like. Waking at dawn, they spent the entire day removing rocks from fields that had been left untilled for centuries, singing as they toiled, in order to make it possible to plant. Yet they still had plenty of strength and joy left over when evening came, dancing late into the night. Our fruit trees have not yet attained Messianic status so their wood is not yet fit for consumption. Meanwhile, readers are still concerned with making their trees, as presently constituted, as fruitful as possible. My lemon tree has lots of dark dust-like covering on its leaves and many leaves also tend to fold and have some white stains on them. The same dark covering appears on the leaves of my pomelo and pomegranate trees. Can you tell me what could be the problem and how to cure it? - Yeheskel Messenberg, Herzliya The dark dust you describe is sooty mold fungus. This charcoal fungus grows on sappy secretions, euphemistically called honeydew, produced by sucking insects such as aphids, mealy bugs, scales, and whiteflies. Sooty mold fungus can appear on virtually any plant but is particularly common on citrus. Citrus leaves may also be distorted or curled when aphids suck their sap. Insects known as thrips, visible as tiny black threads, may also cause and live inside of folded citrus leaves. Citrus can quickly become a host to a variety of insect pests and fungi where light and/or air circulation are limited. Moisture from dew or irrigation that reaches foliage and cannot dry out within a few hours may lead to infestation of sucking insects and subsequent appearance of sooty mold fungus. Unless your tree is growing in deep shade, this is not a serious problem, and may be contained by rubbing off the black fungal dust, by dispersing the honeydew-making insects with a strong spray from a hose, or by doing nothing and allowing beneficial insects to eventually appear and consume the insect pests. The white stains you describe could be evidence of our hard water, which contains calcium and magnesium salts that are known for leaving white marks on citrus foliage. I have a fig tree that bears a large number of light-green fruit, five or more per cluster. Only one or two figs in each cluster develop to a large size, while the rest ripen much later and never develop to full size. How do I get a larger crop? I also have a problem with birds and have used netting with limited success. Is there anything else I can do to keep the birds away? - Shaul Rosner, Holon There is an ancient way of speeding up ripening of figs that involves the use of mineral or vegetable oil, applying it to the eye or base of each fig. A simple way of doing this is to dip a Q-tip in the oil and dab it on. Do this as soon as the flesh turns pink, which you can determine by cutting open figs of various sizes to see at what size they are assuming the proper color. Timing is critical, since early oil application causes premature fig drop and late application does nothing. Oil-treated figs should ripen within five days. Aside from netting, early harvest - which you might achieve with the oil treatment - is the best strategy for minimizing bird damage. It is true that figs do not ripen much after harvest, so, if they do not fully ripen before the birds' arrival, you may have to pick them before they reach their peak flavor, if you want to harvest them at all.