A King in the Rabbi’s Garden

There is a miracle in this photo. Can you find it?

The photo above may look like a garden overgrown with milkweed. Look in the center of the photo, and you will see a tiny splash of orange. That little splash is a monarch butterfly, the third I have seen in my garden. I didn’t want to disturb him, and this is the best photo I could get. Still it is a miracle: this winter I’ve seen three monarchs in my garden!

Monarch butterflies used to be one of the great wonders of North America: clouds of them used to spend the winter on the California coast. There has been a dramatic decline in their numbers, because their larval food, Asclepias, or milkweed, is an unfashionable plant. Wild land is increasingly rare near the coast, and people are usually anxious to get milkweed out of their garden. The highway department has done its bit, too, with herbicides and plantings of prettier bushes near the freeways.

The monarch census at Pismo Beach, CA (1997-2009) is worrisome. Chart courtesy of www.monarchwatch.org
The monarch census at Pismo Beach, CA (1997-2009) is worrisome. Chart courtesy of http://www.monarchwatch.org

Now I’m part of a movement of people who are trying to restore the milkweed supply for the monarchs. My garden has several varieties of milkweed and no pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers. I haven’t seen the Monarch caterpillars, but now I’ve seen three butterflies. Other people in the San Francisco East Bay are also growing food for the monarchs. There’s hope.

There is a midrash that that when God showed Adam around the Garden of Eden, God said, “Look at My works. See how beautiful they are, how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil or destroy My world—for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13)

It is up to us to look around our corner of the world and see what we can do to repair its wounds. For each of us, that effort may take a different path, but it is important that each of us perform this mitzvah in whatever means is available to us. As Rabbi Tarfon said, we don’t have to finish the job, but we do have to make an effort.

I planted milkweed, lots of rangy plants with little blossoms . What a blessing, right before Shabbat, to receive a little messenger to tell me that it’s working!

Photo by Kenneth Dwayne Harrelson. For copyright info: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monarch_In_May.jpg
Photo by Kenneth Dwayne Harrelson. For copyright info: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monarch_In_May.jpg

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

18 thoughts on “A King in the Rabbi’s Garden”

  1. I have little orange butterflies that feed on my passion flowers. They’re the same color and size as the fruit, which is cute.

    My yard is pretty much nothing but weeds, so maybe I should plant milkweed… after I check the allergen potential.

  2. Lurkertype – if you have passionflowers (passiflora) then you are raising Gulf Frittilary Butterflies.

    I hope that folks will consider planting a patch of plants that will support our many native pollinators. There are so many kinds of flowers that will work.

    In my own garden we are supporting a range of native butterflies, bees and hummingbirds – all pollinators. Some neighborhoods are getting together to create Pollinator Corridors – that is, a series of yards that offer these winged creatures support for a block or even a mile.

    It is quite awe inspiring to see the magnificent creatures that God has given us and to understand that we are stewards on God’s land.

    1. I’d like to do something for bees as well, the poor things are in such danger.

      I had no idea the passionflower would attract such little jewels. I just wanted a vine that would take no care, yet spread out in the empty corner (boy, does it — all the time saved not having to tend it is given up to ripping out of places I don’t want it!) and the pretty flowers and fruit were a bonus. Imagine my happiness when I got bonus butterflies.

      (It’s just a good thing my old cat passed away and doesn’t wander the yard any more — he was death to butterflies.)

      1. There hasn’t been a pesticide in my yard in over 20 years. Me and the bugs just share. All our fertilizers are organic/natural/mineral-only.

        So many people who claim to be living Biblically ignore the true meaning of being a steward to the earth. Not a tyrant, but someone who is charged to care for the land and critters.

        1. So true. We have to figure out how to live in harmony with creation. It doesn’t mean we can’t use science, and we will sometimes make mistakes, but it is up to us to be responsible for our actions.

  3. Beautiful….I wonder, is the name Asclepius, related to the similar word (which escapes me, for the moment, right when I want it!) relating to medicine, doctors….oh, it’s so vexing to have it on the tip of my tongue…Esclepius? Roman god of healing? So etching like that….I love what you are doing with your garden….

  4. Here’s what wikipedia has to say about the name: “Carl Linnaeus named the genus after Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, because of the many folk-medicinal uses for the milkweed plants.” So you are right!

    Shabbat shalom, Alex!

    1. Shabbat shalom, Rabbi Ruth! My mind is full of such an odd assortment…..that’s made me feel so nice :). I wonder if milk thistle is related…it’s a good old fashioned anti-all kinds of things thing, if that makes sense….

  5. When we moved in with my mum to help look after her – her garden was a just a bare patch with neat stones and no flowers…. and mum was complaining (bitterly) that there was a ‘weed’ growing in amongst the stones – with demands to remove the eyesore immediately. I managed to persuade her to leave it be as I recognised it as a budlea – tiny though it was and during that first summer not only did it attain the height of 8′ but mum was delighted with her new visitors to her garden. The budlea you see is also known as the ‘butterfly bush’..

    1. What a wonderful beginning to a butterfly garden! Sometimes “weeds” turn out to be the best flowers of all – a lesson we might take to heart in the way we view other people!

  6. We have also planted four lavender plants in the front garden – the old variety with the deep purple flowers – and the bees must come for miles to feast on the flowers…. they come in huge numbers from the beginning of the flowering season until late into Autumn.

    1. Starfleet International LCDR, first of all, love your handle. Live long and prosper….bees in lavender bushes are one of my favourite things….when I can get out(agoraphobia), there is a house in my street which has a knee high stone wall, with overhanging lavender bushes, and when the lavender is in bloom, the bees are just gorgeous…so focused; I’d stand, and watch, and see them move from flower to flower, their weight making the strands bounce up and down, totally ignoring me….and I’d talk to them( hence the expression “away with the bees”….is that a Scots expression, or universal?)and say a blessing and tell them how gorgeous they are, and think about how one of my cats is like a big bumble bee…

    2. Bees do love the lavenders. I have spotted four different types of bee in my yard, but they all love the lavender bushes.

      I once visited a lavender farm in East Anglia. There were huge fields of lavender growing; I don’t recall bees but surely they loved the place.

  7. There’s a butterfly sometimes seen round these parts called the Painted Lady, which has similar markings to a monarch but is smaller. One year, the back yard at our old house was on the migration route. They came in over the garage, dipped down to pass directly in front of the large windows facing onto the yard, and flew on toward the southwest, by the hundreds and thousands for the better part of a couple of hours, with numerous stragglers over the next day or so. A magical sight!

    1. That happened to me once as a child, but it lasted for TWO DAYS! I spent one entire afternoon outdoors watching them, and catching a few. The 4 year old next door was terrified of all insects, and spent the two days in her bedroom, under the covers. Magic is in the eye of the beholder.

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