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Why is a grapevine soft and spongy?

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By Rabbi Baruch Lederman

SAN DIEGO–In the 1500s, the King of Tunisia became deathly ill. A Jewish doctor, Reb Yaakov Teib saved his life. Rebbe Yaakov Teib, an accomplished and righteous Torah scholar was
well versed in scientific knowledge. The king became very impressed with Reb Yaakov and appointed him his personal physician.

One day, the King of Algeria, a relative of the Tunisian king’s mother, came to visit. As they were chatting in the palace garden, the Algerian king noticed that his host seemed  distracted. He asked what he was thinking about. The host explained that he was contemplating a wondrous creation, the grapevine.

The King of Tunisia elaborated, “The grape is a magnificent desired fruit, yet it grows from a vine that whose wood is soft, weak and useless. You never see utensils, furniture or  buildings made from its wood. Such a useful delicious fruit from such a useless vine.”

The King of Algeria sneered, “Why do you bother yourself with such pointless pondering? There are no answers do such questions.”

“Who told you this question cannot be answered, let’s ask my physician Reb Yaakov Teib.”

The King of Algeria roared, “A Jew?! Do you really think there is wisdom amongst the Jews?”

The host replied, “The whole world draws from the wisdom of the Jews.”

Reb Yaakov was summoned and the question was put to him. He responded, “That is an excellent question. There is a scientific answer and a Talmudic answer.”

The king was overjoyed, “Let us hear and grow in wisdom.”

“The fruit is so juicy, sweet and useful that it siphons all the useful qualities of the wood, leaving it soft, weak and useless. Further it is the sponginess of the wood which allows it to absorb all it needs from the earth to pass along to the fruit.”

The King of Tunisia asked, enraptured, “And what do the wise men of your nation say?”

“First they note that grapes produce wine which is used in the service in the Holy Temple. It would be incongruous and  humiliating for the wood of such a noble fruit to be used for idolatry. Therefore it is rendered useless. No idolaters ever worship the wood of grapevines, nor can idols, altars, or houses of idol worship ever be built from it.”

“Further, the Jewish nation is likened to a grapevine as it is written (Psalms 80:9) ‘Out of Egypt You brought a grapevine.’  Just like a grapevine is soft and weak, while its fruit is sweet and juicy; the Jewish nation is small and weak, while its Torah and mitzvos are the pinnacle of excellence.

The King of Tunisia was beaming with delight. His guest became very quiet.

“If my king will permit me, I would like to add that when the proper amount of wine is consumed, it gladdens the heart. If too much wine is consumed it causes one to lose his senses  and vomit his entire meal. So too with the Jews; if the king taxes them fairly, their presence will cause his kingdom to prosper and flourish. If he overtaxes them, he will be sad and  his kingdom will suffer, for he will lose their presence, as happened to Paroah and all oppressors of Israel.”

The King of Tunisia smiled a knowing smile. There are some who believe that later in life, he secretly converted to Judaism.

[The foregoing true story is documented in Matamim, published in Bnei Brak, Israel]

Dedicated by Dr, & Mrs. Frank Felber in memory of his father Abraham Felber, Avraham ben Yozef, on the occasion of his Yahrzeit, Shevat 1. Dedicated by Andy & Mazal Levin on the occasion of the sixth yahrtzeit of her mother Fara Eshaghian.

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Rabbi Lederman is spiritual leader of Congregation Kehillas Torah in San Diego

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