Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Flowers in shul

About a month ago six flower pots appeared in shul.  At first I couldn't figure out what they were doing there.  Nobody said anything about them.  Then I figured out they were connected to the holiday of Shavuot. This holiday celebrates God's giving of and the Jewish people receiving the Torah. It's biblical origin, however, is agricultural, as a bookend of sorts to Passover.  There is a also a midrash (legend) that when the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, a mountain in the heart of the Sinai desert, the mountain bloomed with flowers.  (see for an extended discussion of the rationales and meanings of this practice.) Thus the custom of placing flowers in shul on this holiday.

The flowers were, I believe, geraniums. They were very pretty and contrasted sharply with the books and the shul's otherwise spare surroundings.  One of them sat on the sill just beyond the Bima (prayer stand) so that I could gaze at it as I led the prayers. 

The flowers elicited a sense of my mother's presence. She had a gift for taking care of plants. Inside and outside her house flowers bloomed and plants flourished. She was as attentive to their care as to the needs of the people around her. When I looked at that geranium, with its soft petals and its healthy stems, I couldn't help but think of her.  Finally there was some physical object in shul that brought memories of my mother to mind as I davened.  I never heard anyone mention the flowers, but they meant something to me.

Then about ten days after they appeared, they were gone.  No one said anything about them.  I was sad.  I told the Rabbi that I liked them and wished for their return.  But he told me there were halakhic issues (issues of Jewish law) involved in having plants in shul.  (He was, however, very supportive of my other ideas for making the space more aesthetically pleasing.  See my post of May 15 at  Today I had a chance to ask him what these issues were, and he said it had to do with avoiding the appearance of idol worship.  (Plants and trees were worshiped in pagan religions.) 

I've gotten over their disappearance (as Jonah had to get the sudden growth and then withering of the plant that shaded him from the sun).  But their brief appearance served to remind how physical objects, especially symbols of beauty and life, can serve as a permanent link between my mother and me.

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