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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

The Orchard Keeper

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

In Parshat Vayechi, as we come to the end of the book of Genesis, Jacob's sons are firmly implanted in Egypt. As the time comes for Jacob to leave this world, he speaks to each of his progeny with honesty. He understands the faults and strengths of each of them, as has been pointed out to us in Breisheet and the messages are not always positive, but reflecting

some reality of each child.

I was intrigued by the relationship of Jacob and his sons and his parenting which was composed of successes and deep failures; something that is common to all of us who merit parenthood.

This is a poem about an orchard, trees and the orchard keeper.

Feel free to listen or read. (Please note that I continue to edit the poem for days

after I publish it so the recording may not read exactly as the text right now. I will create a final version in a few days.)

The Orchard Keeper

The Orchard Keeper is old now,

His beard white,

his skin like a leathered apple.

He totters slowly to the crest of the hill,

his knees stiff from years of work.

He gazes upon his trees,

his life's work.

The view from above is a sea of greens,

peppered with reds and golds;

an orchard,

his orchard.

You are there with him

on the top of that hill.

He raises his arm and points,

for he knows all of his trees.

"You see that one, down below, to the left?

Yes, that tree."

You strain, as you do not know the trees

like the orchard owner;

they all look the same,

but, with time,

you spy it and you see it.

He looks down at his trees.

He is proud, but is there a hint of melancholy?

He recalls the year that he planted each tree.

Some were planted in rocky soil.

He didn't know when he was young

how to prepare the soil;

what to add to it to enrich it,

how to pay close attention to the issues of each tree.

Now their roots are shallow and their fruit is small and pocked.

There is nothing he can do to fix that mistake.

And those trees on the edges of the orchard,

they braved the wind.

Do you see them?

They stand out.

They are smaller and weaker than their brothers,

sheltering the others from harm.

There are some who shoulder the burden for others.

Some trees were planted too close together

and competed for space and water.

Their branches merged one into another

as arms and legs of children do when they wrestle.

They are thinner trees, but their produce adequate.

It is both a benefit and problem to be so close

to one's brothers.

And there are some trees,

they were grafts from other stock.

They stand strong,

their fruit red and vibrant.

There are many trees indistinguishable in the center.

He says little about them; they are the producers,

the workers, the profit.

They are good trees, sheltered by their brothers,

fed well by rain.

Their apples are good.

They ask for little and give much.

And look, yes at those;

the trees on the bottom of the hill;

those that receive the run-off rain.

Yes, these trees produce heavily.

Do you see how green they are?

They are the envy of many of the other trees.

And last, there is the tree.

The solitary tree

Do you see the one with the reddest apples?

Each year it is full of apples, the heaviest producer.

Indeed, it is the apple of his eye

in every sense of the word.

There they stand, his trees;

a lifetime of work,

of mistakes,

lapses of judgement woven into successes

like a weedy vine growing among the trees.

It is his orchard.

Every tree, both weak and strong.

And now, he is bent

It is time to give the orchard to his children.

It will be them who will reap and sow,

to err, but also to succeed.

The orchard keeper finds it hard to bid his trees goodbye;

to turn his back one final time

and leave them in the sun and the rain,

to the care of others.

He has done his best.

He showers them with blessings,

like rain,

but the truth is

that it is he who has been blessed by his trees.

Does he know that?

You do not know.

He raises his hands above this valley of trees

and blesses them

but he also silently thanks them,

each for giving as they could.

Blessings are like pollen,

given and exchanged.

He turns his back for the last time

and slowly walks away from the orchard,

further and further away from the trees.

His trees,

His life.

And Jacob called his sons and said, “Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come.

Assemble and hearken, O sons of Jacob; Hearken to Israel your father:

Reuben, you are my first-born, My might and first fruit of my vigor, Exceeding in rank And exceeding in honor.

Unstable as water, you shall excel no longer; For when you mounted your father’s bed, You brought disgrace—my couch he mounted!

Simeon and Levi are a pair; Their weapons are tools of lawlessness.

Let not my person be included in their council, Let not my being be counted in their assembly.

Genesis 49:1-6 (Translation from Sefaria)

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