A Basket Full of Figs
Adapted by: Ori Elon
Illustrated by: Menahem Halberstadt
A Basket Full of Figs is a new version of an old story about the connection between generations, as well as between humans and nature. The book is based on a story from the Midrash, and is an open invitation to a family discussion on what each generation does for those that follow it.
"As my forefathers planted these for me, so I too plant these for my children"
(according to Taanit 23a)
In Jewish tradition there are many expressions of the value of planting and safeguarding the world for future generations. We are born into a world full of goodness, enjoy a vast range of fruit, products and inventions others have worked hard for in past generations. Just like the old man in the story, we too must continue to plan and develop for future generations.
Proposed Family Activities:
- You may want to act the story out using suitable costumes and props (pieces of cloth, capes, baskets, etc.), and ask your child to explain in their own words why the old man bothered to plant the tree.
- Perhaps you would like to think together what this story means today. How do we take care of and "plant" for future generations in this day and age? This may be a good opportunity to share issues and values you find important with your child, as well as "gifts" passed on from one generation of your family to the next. Together you could decide on a joint family initiative that will affect the next generation, such as planting a tree, or taking care of the environment.
- Which "gifts" are passed from one generation to the next in your family? You may enjoy looking for items or photographs you have been given by your grandparents at home, and tell your child the stories behind them. Together you may want to think about the items your child would want to save for their younger sibling, or friend.
- Perhaps you could go on a "tree walk" nearby. Do any of the trees mentioned in the book grow near your house? You may want to compare them: which "gift" does each tree give us? Which trees are merely ornamental, and which bear fruit? How can we tell whether a tree is new or old? Perhaps you would like to pack the book, a blanket, and some snacks, and read the story together outdoors, under a tree. You can gather some pine cones, tree bark, and leaves, and do some artwork with them when you return home.
- We do not always get to see the fruit of our labor, and sometimes waiting for the result can be tough! Following this story, you may want to share memories of long-awaited achievements.
- In various sources, man is likened to a tree. Perhaps you could discuss roots and family branches with your child, you could draw a "family tree" together, from the grandparents' generation to your child's.
- Do you know other versions of this tale? You may want to look them up in Agadot Shelanu (Shoham Smith), Ko Asu Hakhameinu (Yocheved Segal) or online at agadastories, and compare the different versions. Do you have a favorite one? What makes it special?
The story about King Hadrian and the elderly man is based on Midrash Tanhuma for the Sedra of Kedoshim, chapter 8:
"King Hadrian once went to war and traveled with his troops to fight a country that had rebelled him. He came across an elderly man on the way who was planting figs.
Hadrian said to him: You are old and are working hard for others!
And he responded: Your Majesty, I am planting. If I live to do so, I will enjoy the fruit of the tree I planted. And if not, my children will.
He was at war for three years and returned. Three years later he came across the same elderly man in the same place.
What did the elderly man do?
Took a basket, filled it with his best figs, and approached Hadrian.
He said to him: Your Majesty, please receive these from your servant. I am the elderly man you came across on your way to war, and you told me 'You are old and are working hard for others, and here I am, and G-d has given me the privilege of eating from the fruit of the tree I planted, and these in the basket are your share.
Hadrian immediately told his servants: Take it from him and fill it with golden coins.
And so they did."
Who was King Hadrian?
Hadrian was Roman emperor following the destruction of the Second Temple, from 117 to 138. He was a great, important emperor, and Rome thrived under his rule; however, in Jewish tradition he is remembered as a terrible enemy. When he first assumed the throne, Hadrian declared that he would rebuild Jerusalem, as well as the Temple. To the Jews' bitter disappointment, late in his reign he ruthlessly suppressed the Bar Kokhba revolt, issuing harsh royal decrees against the Jews: capital punishment for anyone who observed Shabbat, circumcised their children, learned Torah, or put on Tefillin. He turned Jerusalem into a pagan city, renaming it Aelia Capitolina, banned Jews from it, and placed a statue of himself where the Temple once stood.
If you ever visit the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, you can see the statue of Hadrian found in the Beit Shean Valley – a symbol of Hadrian's victory over the Jews, and his suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt.
Enjoy reading and discussing the book together, and doing the various activities!