“Pagrates!” Olivia said at Rosh Hashanah dinner earlier this month. “Pagrates!” Today’s twenty month olds have sophisticated palates. Pomegranates are a staple at such holiday dinners, their seeds symbolic of our hopes for abundance in the new year. This deep red fruit, with its fanciful crown, inspires us to consider what we will plant over the next twelve months. Will our seeds bear fruit or pain? Will the dream-seeds of our goals reach their full potential or merit additional time to flower?
We now approach the end of the year’s cycle of Torah readings — V’zot Habracha, “This is the Blessing.” For me, it is the most heartbreaking reading in the entire Torah. Moses is at the end of his journey. The Israelites are about to enter the land of milk and honey. For forty confusing, contentious, and often confounding years, this reluctant prophet planted within their hearts seeds of faith, of resilience, of self-determination readying them for the moment the Promised Land would be theirs. For misdirecting his anger and disobeying one of God’s directives, Moses is barred entry and must settle for a concessionary glimpse from afar. Then he dies, God’s kiss upon his lips.
In the future lie the promised lands of Olivia’s Bat Mitzvah, wedding, or motherhood. Will I reach them? No matter how much kale I consume, the ultimate decision lies Elsewhere. But seeds are being planted, some by design, some by happenstance.
A few weeks ago I brought Olivia to shul and was given an aliyah, the honor of reciting blessings over the Torah before and after it is read. Up she came with me. Balanced on my left hip, Olivia was riveted. When our ba’al kriyah (Torah reader) began chanting, she didn’t take her eyes from his face. Olivia will be called to the Torah some 11 or so years hence as a Bat Mitzvah. At that time, and for the first time as a Daughter of the Commandments, she will recite these ancient words. Deep within her subconscious will a tendril of memory of our shared aliyah unfurl?
Our first outing in my car, I cued up some Crosby, Stills and Nash. Three bars into Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, Olivia called out, “Next song!” Tracks two and three were met with similar dismissal. Alas. The next CD — Jewish prayers and texts arranged in the call-and-response mode of kirtan music — was more to Miss O’s liking. The words on the first track, Dodi Li, comprise Judaism’s traditional wedding vows. Now, as soon as I buckle her into the car seat, Olivia calls out, “Dodi Yee! Dodi Yee!” Each note of the song is a seed yet to flower. When Olivia stands beneath a chuppah one day and recites, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” a distant melody may twine its way through the air. She might also have a sudden and puzzling hankering for Cheerios.
Then there is the doll my mother called Madame Butterfly. I was not much older than Olivia is now when indulgent family friends brought her back from Japan for me. Madame Butterfly’s split toe socks and zori shoes disappeared a long time ago, but her kimono costume and intricately-styled yarn hair are intact. Olivia has renamed her Baby and asks for her within minutes of visiting. She understands Baby’s fragility and sits patiently on the couch, waiting for me to put Baby in her arms. Gently, Olivia cradles Baby, rocking her and crooning to her in that high sweet voice we humans instinctively use with infants. I look on and marvel as Olivia gives to my sixty year old doll the deep love she has received her since her conception.
There are Promised Lands I may never reach. But I have been given glimpses. Until then, Olivia and I will continue to share pomegranate seeds, car rides, and maybe even some Crosby, Stills and Nash before too long.