Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Orchard

The Hebrew word for ‘orchard’ is ‘pardes’. The word ‘pardes’ immediately brings to my mind the orchard which my grandparents cultivated beside their house in Israel. It was a real orchard, with neat lines of mature orange, grapefruit and pomelo trees. I clearly remember visiting them, as a little girl, and going out to the orchard with a long, metal contraption which had a hook at the end so as to reach the fruit.

The ‘pardes’ is often used in Biblical study as an acronym. ‘P’ is for ‘pshat’ – this refers to the simple/literal reading of a text. ‘R’ is for ‘remez’ – the first hint discovered by a reader that the text has another level of meaning. ‘D’ is for ‘drash’ – the next level of interpretation of the text as an allegory or extended metaphor. Finally, ‘S’ is ‘sod’ – the secret, this is the secret truth which lies beyond and behind any metaphor, always shrouded in mystery. Jewish Mysticism and the study of all literature both concern themselves with the journey towards this ‘sod’.

I first learnt of the ‘pardes’ acronym when I was studying the short stories of S.Y. Agnon in University. S.Y. stands for this Hebrew writer’s first names Shmuel Yosef, and in Hebrew he is known as ‘Shai’ Agnon (pronounced like shy). ‘Shai’ in Hebrew means ‘a gift,’ a fitting name for the man who was to become the first Hebrew writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (1966). I have been thinking quite a bit about Agnon lately because two of his houses were destroyed by fire, and this is something which is on the mind of all Australians at the moment. The burning of his personal library containing his manuscripts and his collection of rare and valuable Hebrew books was to become a recurring theme in many of his works.

This last week I have been walking through a personal orchard not unlike Esti’s forbidding magical forest, and I have felt fearful and lost. My grandfather is unwell and my mother has travelled to New York to care for him until the end. I am left here in my grandfather’s library, pacing, pacing, and occasionally choosing a book to take down from the shelf. It seems that I am searching for that elusive ‘sod,’ for things are never what they seem, and words are never just ‘pshat.’ In my anger at my grandfather’s mortality, in a moment of terrible bitterness, I felt that if only I had a match I would set each and every book alight. The texts in my library can never take me back to that first orchard of my childhood, that ‘pardes’ which I visited with my grandparents.

But then I remembered.

Esti’s magical forest eventually reveals a circle of women in its midst, and it is to this circle that I return yet again, dear readers. A few days ago I read Frogdancer’s post about a young man whose beloved library was destroyed by the bushfires. I found some comfort in the fact that this young man was rebuilding his library with the help of our mysterious women’s circle of the magical forest. I wonder what Agnon would have felt if, following the destruction of his library, he had received a hundred packages in the mail, each with a book from a stranger -a hundred presents to help him replant his orchard? I wonder what my grandfather would feel if he were to truly realise how many lives he has touched with his wit and poetry and books?


RW said...

Oh dear.
I am greatly saddened by this turn of events in your life. I have missed your presence here.

Peace to you and yours.

eurolush said...

Eleanor, I want you to know how touched I am by this post...about how beautifully you've described your grandparent's orchard in Israel, and the evocative emotion your memory carries along with it.

Your grandfather has touched far more lives than this international circle of ours. Of that I'm sure.

How lucky we've all been to have been introduced to such an amazingly dapper, witty, independent and intelligent man. (Of course we know the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, does it?)

I'll bet you'll have lots of feedback from people all over the world, who've enjoyed peeking into your library at your grandfather's fantastic collection of books--and hearing your wonderful, smile-inducing anecdotes about his life and his love of poetry.

I love the way you've shown us the mystery and dual-meaning behind the word pardes. And how you've tied-in the experience of S.Y. Agnon with the young man who recently lost his library in the bushfires.

You're right. Words do have amazing healing powers...your words in particular. You are a gifted writer, dearest E.

At the end of your post, I began feeling, through your own words, how you've begun to heal already.

I'm thinking of you and of your mother and your grandfather and your entire family.

Thank you for sharing small pieces of your grandfather's life with us here. I'm sure it would give him great joy to know how much you've enjoyed his library.

He's a lucky grandfather, to have such a loving and devoted grand-daughter like you. No matter how far away you are...your love is always with him.


Tuli said...

Dearest Eleanor,
I am thinking of you and your grandfather and I wish you both peace.

Anne said...

Dear Eleanor,
thank you so much for stopping by earlier. This orchard post is so beautifully written. A candle is lit tonight for you and yours over this part of the world.

Maria said...

Hello Eleanor!
Thank you for visiting me.

The post with my head in a mirror and a letter is about that I've got a letter to me as a VD and a director of my company. That was a little bit funny because my company is just me. But then I think about that everyone is a VD/director of their own life. You can choose feelings and situations. This is just a short summary about what I write. Maybe you can use GOOGLE TRANSLATOR...
I hope you understand all this even if my english is swenglish =)

I shall show some parts of my studio later today...welcome back!

alice c said...

Dearest Eleanor,

This post brought tears to my eyes. I wish that I could offer some comfort to you in your distress but the grief that you feel now and the greater grief that you anticipate is the price of your love.

You have introduced us all to your grandfather and we know him as a man of learning, wit and charm. You have appreciated the many gifts that he has given you including his library and his love of literature.

The image of the burning library is an apt one because, although Agnon's physical library was lost, the knowledge that it had contained was safe inside him. And so it will be with your grandfather - the memories of him and your love for him will be safe inside you and all who knew him.

Duyvken said...

Darling Eleanor,

I am so sorry to read that your darling grandfather is unwell and that you are so far from him.

Sending you love and sympathy,

kim at allconsuming said...

Oh Elimar.

Can I come over? I'll bring jam and cake.

It won't make it better but maybe just a little easier for a little while.

Soft Rock Mama said...

Eleanor, what a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.
Wishing peace and comfort for you and your family.

In your grandparents orchard you spoke of a pomelo tree. What is that?

Esti said...

Oh Eleanor.
My thoughts are with you and your family. I am very touched by this post and feel highly honoured to be mentioned and more than that I feel honoured that you've given my art a new dimension today. Thank you.
Sending you love.

Badger said...

Oh no! I am so, so sorry to hear that your grandfather isn't well. Mine is also in rapidly declining health and I know you feel the same way about yours that I do about mine. I am holding you and your grandpa in my heart.

Blue Mountains Mary said...

Thinking of you dear one..

laura said...

You've been in my thoughts all day today. I am so sorry your Grandfather is not well.

My Ellie and I decided to make you a sandcastle w/ play-doh. It is lopsided and rather funny looking but it was made with lots and lots of love.


Frofgdancer said...

Looking forward to meeting you when you're down in Melbourne. I loved reading this post... so thoughtful and articulate...