The first few weeks in quarantine were not too difficult. For one thing, we had just returned from Israel and we were tired—and frightened. For another thing, the world seemed painted in pandemic colors and moods: grey and foreboding. But then we—and springtime—awakened. Light and color returned. The garden, renewing itself, was oblivious to the dis-ease in the air.
Our first post-quarantine outing was to purchase flowering plants so that we could be outside, safely on our own property. We were consciously working to cultivate evidence that the world dependably returns to vitality even in the face of virulence. Such work is good for both the soil and the soul.
Now, each morning I sit next to that small, colorful garden. I always have my notebook in hand keeping in mind the psalmist’s promise that truth will spring up from the ground (Psalm 85:12). Perhaps there will be some new Torah to transcribe.
With every morning’s pilgrimage to this little patch of revelation, I am reminded of other overlooked teachers.
By the undrinkable waters of Marah (Exodus 15:23-25) God taught a very distraught Moses the Torah of the tree: There is often a thing overlooked that can sweeten what is bitter.
Said Rabbi Yohanan: If Torah had not been given, we could have learned modesty from the cat, protection of property from the ant, and faithfulness from the dove…
If Torah had not been given, the way we see the world would confirm that we had learned it, nonetheless, from the teachers that surround us.
In her poem, “My Teachers,” Sivan Har Shefi enlarges the circle of overlooked teachers—often inanimate—that animate her:
Oh! mountain, my teacher of
Oh! river, my teacher of
Oh! earth, my teacher of
inclusiveness, my homeland of fallowness
Oh! dust, my teacher of mystic wisdom
and my teacher of equality
Oh! grass, my teacher of
renewal, of revival
Oh! bird, my teacher of
Oh! fruit, my teacher of
process, of patience
Oh! seed, my teacher of innerness
Oh! thorn, my teacher
of fear, Oh! pain,
my teacher of repair
Oh! abundance, Oh! Famine,
my teachers of measured-ness
Oh! human, my teacher of compassion
Oh! human, human,
my teacher in the complex ways of
In a world and time when much confronts us, let’s not overlook a single ally, inspiration, or teacher. Small plants are a modest beginning. But if we tend them and attend to them, truth will spring up.