By: Morah Esther Markel
The green thumb must be a recessive gene. How do I know? My husband and I clearly have purple thumbs and have no skills whatsoever when it comes to planting any vegetation. In fact, we come from a long line of purple thumbs and no one in the family history that I am aware of has ever been a farmer or successful at growing fruits and vegetables.
It became clear to me though, at a recent visit to my son’s home, that someone way back must have had the green gene. Not only does my son have a penchant for planting, but it seems to me that just as he gets nachas from his children, he gets a tangible nachas from his little green saplings as well.
My son regularly emails me pictures of the children, his pride and joy. Lately, however, those pictures of my precious grandchildren and their adorable antics have been accompanied by photos of lush tomatoes, succulent squash and juicy-looking pears. Though he is always proud of his children’s accomplishments and growth, he was particularly delighted about the salad that he had made with assorted only home-grown veggies.
On our last visit to his house, he showed me an array of different tomato plants that he had been growing. Though I know little about the vegetable, I assume that what he showed me were all sorts of different varieties that he had planted.
I was curious though. All of the various tomato plants were being grown in different environments. I couldn’t understand it. Why did he have some growing indoors under a lamp, others outside on a porch, and still others growing outside in the yard.
I asked him to explain to his purple-thumbed mother the reasoning for what seemed to me to be a rather peculiar set up.
“You see, Ima,” he said to me, “I originally thought that I could protect the plants by growing them a controlled environment. So, I planted them inside, here in the house, and they indeed grew and thrived. At the same time, I planted others outdoors and they had more difficulty in their initial growth. An interesting thing occurred, however. It’s true that originally the indoor plants looked healthy and lush, while the outdoor plants had to battle the elements and fight for their very survival. Yet, once I took the young plants outdoors, they just weren’t able to make it, and they withered and died. Perhaps their systems weren’t strong enough to deal with the harsh conditions. At the same time, those which grew up outdoors grew strong and healthy stems. They had learned to fend for themselves and deal with the conditions that came their way.”
I processed that for a while and the following thought occurred to me. The verse (Devarim 20:19) compares a human being to a tree that grows, and says: “For man is the tree of the field.” While there are many explanations that describe the correlation between the two, my experience with my son perhaps taught me another one.
Giving the tomatoes room to develop on their own was not detrimental to them, but on the contrary, served as the catalyst which helped them to grow and thrive. The elements of the harsh conditions of the outside world did not break them, but made them stronger. Isn’t it the same with our children? While true that just as we cannot expose the tomatoes to conditions that will ultimately destroy it, it is also just as true that without giving it room to grow on its own, it will not be strong either. Letting our children grow in their natural habitat of the world gives them strong roots to be able to properly deal with the trials that the world is bound to throw at them.
Sometimes we have a tendency to want to shelter our children from the world in an effort to protect them. We need to ask ourselves though—are we being overly protective, which is in fact inhibiting their growth? Are we giving them the proper skills to deal with the harsh realities of life? Are we teaching them how to assert their desires and feelings, their thoughts and ideas, and making their roots and stems strong enough to stand up to the elements and winds of the outside world?
Let’s gift our children with the strength to know their mission in life, to be confident in their identity, and ready to face anything that comes their way. Let them be armed with the knowledge that nothing can stand in their way as long as they are fulfilling their divine purpose.
Morah Esther Markel is an educator par excellence. Over the past 35 years of her teaching career she has taught the full educational gamut. She has served as an educator on all levels—beginning as a nursery school teacher and director, after which she continued on to teach every single grade of elementary school, from pre-K to eighth grade. She currently serves as the Judaic principal of the Conejo Jewish Day School (CJDS).Greatly loved by all who know her, she is affectionately referred to as “Morah Esther” by her thousands of students. She is passionate about instilling strong Jewish values and a love for Torah in all her “children.”