The Fig Tree and the Bottle Cap

I had 4 b’nai mitzvah students in my office. A teacher rushed in asking me to go to the boys bathroom. I soon learned that a student had swallowed a plastic bottle cap. Freak accident. He was breathing and able to talk. Definitely in pain. We called 911. The paramedics came. His mom came. They took him to the hospital. They took out the bottle cap. It’s in a plastic bag now. Thankfully he’s fine. He won’t be swallowing any more bottle caps.

None of this is what I thought I’d be doing this afternoon.

I received a call out of the blue this morning from Kathie C. Kathie is my colleague from The Marist School. This Spring we initiated a very successful interfaith partnership between The Davis Academy and The Marist School. She called to tell me that she’d bought us a fig tree. She explained that she knew that fig trees had great symbolism in Judaism and that she thought it would be a wonderful symbol of our new partnership. Could she bring it by this afternoon?


Fortunately Kathie was late and missed the whole to-do with the bottle cap. After speaking with her I started thinking about her remark regarding the fig tree as a symbol in Judaism.

On my recent trip to Israel we spent a fews days staying on a kibbutz on the banks of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). To call it idyllic is an understatement. The rainy season was great this year and the Kinneret is more full than most Israelis can remember it. We saw the tops of trees that were completely submurged.

During a few precious quiet moments I took out the guitar and decided to write a song. Kendrick P., one of my fellow chaperones joined me. We wrote a simple song with three words: ayeka, hineni, l’famim.

“Ayeka” is the first question in the Torah. God asks Adam, “Ayeka?” It means, “Where are you?” Since God likely knew where Adam was physically, the question is clearly meant to dig deeper.

“Hineni” is a powerful response to the Divine Call, however and whenever we hear it. It means, “I am here and I am fully present.” When God called to Abraham and Moses they replied, “Hineni.” While “hineni” traditionally speaks to the vertical relationship between humanity and divinity, it’s even more powerful when we can say “hineni” to one another and be truly present for b’nai mitzvah students, bottle cap swallowers, paramedics, colleagues, friends, and family.

“L’famim” means “sometimes.” We’ve got to show compassion to ourselves and one another. We can’t constantly barrage one another with existential questions or expect complete and total presence from one another. “L’famim” is grace. It’s embracing our humanness. It’s celebrating the sloppy and imperfect. It’s both contentment and striving, likely not at the same time.

“Ayeka” and “Hineni” are an intuitive match. The nuance of “L’famim” is an idea I learned from a great teacher: Rich O’D.

So there we were, harmonizing on the banks of the Kinneret. I looked up from the bench we were sitting on and realized that we were sitting underneath a fig tree. Go fig-ure (sorry).

I immediately thought of my biblical namesake, the prophet Micah. His vision of a perfect world looked something like this: “Every person shall sit under his grapevine or fig tree with no one to disturb him” (Micah, 4:4). I couldn’t have said it better myself.

As I sat and chatted with Kathie C. we shared some of our hopes and dreams for the partnership between our two schools and what it might mean for our students. In the back of my mind I worried about the student who swallowed the bottle cap, praying for his health and speedy recovery. I told Kathie I was planning to blog.

While looking up the quote from Micah I found a similar quote from another biblical prophet: Zechariah. He wrote, “In that day– delcares the Lord of Hosts– you will be inviting each other to the shade of vines and fig trees” (Zeachariah 3:10).

Micah’s vision is solitary. Zechariah’s vision is communal. I’m grateful to Kathie for the beautiful gesture of giving us a fig tree to plant on our grounds as a symbol of the partnership between our schools. If it weren’t our moment of interfaith dialogue today I might not have ever stumbled upon Zechariah’s teaching from our shared traditions. I’m glad I have. Micah’s vision is beautiful and I’ve always found it to be inspirational, but Zechariah’s teaching has expanded my understanding of what redemption might look like and how we might get there, together.

Ayeka, hinenu (we are here), l’famim.


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