Short Story: The Rabbi and the Orchard

About this story

The Chronicle held a short story contest and received many entries. A committee reviewed all entries and selected this story, a lovely parable of a child, a papa, a rabbi and apples.

The Rabbi and the Orchard

“Why an apple, Papa?” Raizel asked.

“Always with the questions,” Esther grumbled.

Her father Dovid gave her a reproachful look. “Since when did we frown on questions, Esther? It is our tradition to ask questions.”

“I know enough of our tradition,” Esther said. “Raizel, you haven’t made your bed yet.”

“Well, Papa hasn’t answered my question,” the girl, a month away from her tenth birthday, replied. “Why an apple?”

Dovid was glad to explain. “The midrash tells us that the Garden of Eden had the scent of an apple orchard, so that’s one reason. Not the only one, but will that do?”

“No! I’d like another reason,” Raizel said.

“Well,” Dovid said, his brow knitting, “how about this? ‘As the apple is rare and unique among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved, Israel, amongst the maidens of the world’.”

“Who said that?”

“It is written in the Song of Songs.”

Esther frowned. “Not suitable material for a young girl, my husband.”

Dovid shrugged. “Raizel, to your room, as your mother has asked, and make your bed.”

Pondering the explanations she had been given, the girl trooped off, thinking of apples.

That night, Raizel dreamed she was in an orchard. It was vast, and its lines of trees were arranged in military fashion. An autumn sun was lowering itself down to the horizon, and there, in the middle of the orchard, was the village rabbi, plucking apples from the trees.

“Rabbi?”

“Ah, Raizel, an apple for you. A basket of apples for you,” the rabbi said, grinning more than he ever did in life. For, in life, he was rather a gruff figure, but now, merriment danced in his eyes. He handed the girl a basket laden with proud green apples.

“This is too heavy for me to carry,” Raizel said.

“Then I will make it light, as light as the clouds,” the rabbi replied.

And it was so. In her hand, the basket seemed to have no weight, and Raizel was able to skip back home with her bounty.

Two days later, it was Erev Rosh Hashanah, and the house was gleaming. Curtains had been taken down, washed, pressed and put back up. Corners, already clean, were spotless. New clothes were being worn. On the immaculate white tablecloth sat two round loaves of bread, and at the center of the table stood a perfect apple and a pot of honey.

The family gathered: Dovid and Esther; Raizel, her brother Shmuel and little Elkie. The candles were lit, blessings intoned, and it was time for apple and honey.

“Why do we only eat this once a year, father?” Raziel asked.

“Would it be special if we ate this combination every day?”

Esther said, “He answers a question with a question.”

“I would love it every day,” Raizel insisted.

As if they were gems, the pieces of apples were handed around, followed by the honey, which was ladled generously onto the fruit. Some of the thick honey seeped onto Raizel’s fingers.

“It’s overflowing,” the girl said.

“May your joy be overflowing this year,” her father responded.

That night, Raizel dreamed again of the orchard, and of the rabbi, who this time was not picking fruit, but flying over the trees. Every now and then, he would pull almonds from his pockets. He would throw the almonds into the air, where they changed into swallows, and flew away.

On Sukkot, Esther had pears, apricots, peaches and apples to decorate their sukkah. Raizel tied the family’s two red apples in no time.

In the basket at her feet, which should have been empty, were five new green apples, along with a ceramic honey-pot.

“Mother, did you buy more apples this year?”

Esther stared at the fruit. “No, I didn’t. And we used most of the honey on Rosh Hashanah.”

“Did someone give these as a gift?”

Esther shook her head. “No, but perhaps your father bought more apples.”

But Dovid had not purchased them. “They’re not mine, but let’s taste one, Raizel,” he suggested. With his pocketknife, he cut a piece and gave it to his daughter.

“Shall I dip into the honey?” she asked.

“Yes, do,” he replied.

“Will it be special, father?”

He smiled. “You can make it so. When we bless fruit, when we bless food, when we thank God, we elevate the everyday into something higher. That makes the act special.”

Raizel wasn’t sure she really understood what her father meant, but it didn’t matter. What did matter was the running honey on her fingers, and the honey glued to the apple slice.

They ate that evening in their sukkah. When the meal was nearly over, Esther took some apricot, while Elkie refused to eat any fruit. Shmuel was happy with his pear, while Dovid and Raizel finished the apples they had found that day.

At lunch the next day, the apple basket and the honey pot were full again.

“Father, why are you doing this?” demanded Raizel.

Yet her father insisted he was not responsible for the new supply of fruit and the honey. Esther said she had other things to buy and certainly had not purchased them.

“It’s a mystery,” Dovid said, even though his philosophy veered towards logic and reason, and he thought that most things could be rationally explained.

Each day of the festival saw their home supplied with a handful of apples and more honey than they could eat. On the morning of Simchat Torah, Elkie even poured milk into a bowl and allowed honey to fall from a spoon as high as she could hold it.

“What are you doing?” asked Raizel.

“The bowl is the Land of Israel,” said Shmuel, and offered no more words.

When the month of Tishrei ended, Raizel entered the kitchen to find that her bowl of apples was empty, and the honey pot had barely a spoonful remaining. Raizel cried, for a moment, hiding her face from her mother when Esther bustled in.

That night, her father said, “It was some kind of miracle, even though I don’t believe in miracles in our day.”

“But why have the apples stopped appearing in our kitchen, father?”

He did not know.

The news spread like oozing honey the next morning: the rabbi had passed away in his sleep. The funeral was arranged for two o’clock that afternoon. All the men attended, while the women, behind doors and shutters, held handkerchiefs to their noses and thought about food they could take to the house of mourning.

A week later, Raizel furtively visited the rabbi’s freshly dug grave. It was a suitably bleak day, when the air was raw, and winter’s whisper could almost be heard.

On wooden boards at the foot of the rabbi’s plot, she placed a green apple and a dab of honey, and said her thanks for the gifts he had bestowed upon them.

Paul B. Cohen’s stories have been published in a number of US and UK literary magazines. His prize-winning tale ‘Lecha Dodi’ can be read at: MomentMag.com/moment-magazine-karma-foundation-fiction-3/