Some trees only grow in warm climates like the Mediterranean; the olive tree is one of them. Scientists and archeologists believe it was likely on the Syrian-Turkish border that they were first cultivated. Its oleurpein compound makes it so bitter it is inedible. Yet once cured, its oils have such rich flavour. We don’t have many olive trees here in London, although there is one in West Ham Park walking trail planted by Lady Mayoress in 2007, and they are readily available in pots all year round, down the road in Clifton Greens, Little Venice.
This week we read how the Israelites “came to Marah, but they could not drink water from Marah because it was bitter…The people complained against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?… the Lord instructed him concerning a piece of wood, which he cast into the water, and the water became sweet.” The Midrash suggests it was an olive branch that Moses cast.
Sages also note that the Hebrew words Ki Marim Heim can also be read as: they could not drink… because they, the Israelites, were bitter. They were bitter and still low-spirited since their recent redemption, so all they touched became bitter.
They needed a miraculous sweetening to ensure that all that they would touch could be sweetened. After all, they were about to receive the Torah, the antidote to bitterness and confusion. Let the Torah be squeezed and cured to flavour every element of your life.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Tu Bishvat. Happy New Year for the olive trees, and to all the vibrant floral life that sweetens our world.