Cresting the mountain Abiel paused to rest. The five donkeys, burdened with heavy bags of salt from the shore of the Dead Sea, were stumbling weary. From here he could see the small Judean town of Beit Jala on the western horizon. From the edge of the plains to the town, as far as the eye could see, groves of green olive trees shimmered beneath the morning sun. It was the one sight in all of life that made Abiel’s heart smile.
His grove, especially, brought the smile. But it was Abiel’s wife Shani that made his heart sing. Tonight, God willing, she would be in his arms. She would prepare for him lentil porridge made from her garden. It would be better than the scant morsels scavenged on the trail. Little was much when shared with Shani.
“Father, when will the Babylonians return?” Maor asked, tightening a strap on the third donkey. “Will they someday take you away like they did the others?”
“Only God knows, Maor. It has been over forty years since they took our master and gave the grove to my father, who left the grove to me. Someday, if Messiah tarries, it will be yours. Every year after harvest, the soldiers come and take what they want and leave us little. Even so, it is more than my father had as a servant.”
“It seems so unfair, father.”
“Hush, Maor. God might hear you. We do not have it as bad as some. Everywhere there is lamenting. Many are starving. Some, I heard, are even paying for a drink of water. Many do not plant their seeds saying it is useless, God will only take it.”
“Will you give oil to the poor, if they ask?”
“I will do what I must. Oil is the one luxury even the poorest of the poor afford. To not have a lamp at night is like being cast into outer darkness. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth. If we have oil, we must help the poor among us. I would be horrified if we did not have a light.”
“These donkeys have rested enough, father. Mother is waiting.”
The donkeys followed Abiel and Maor down the steep trail, carefully placing each foot as they descended. Their burden would be lifted by nightfall and they would be free to roll in the dust.
“Father, do we have salt enough or must we make another trip?”
“If the green olives are turning red, we must pick them. That is when the most oil is produced. When we see the fruit we will know.”
“Last year the soldiers took most of the olives we packed in salt. We must hide some of our harvest, father.”
“No, Maor. They said they will not do so this year. But even if they do, we must trust God to provide. The temple is destroyed and the priests taken away, God’s judgment the prophet said, for our disobedience. We must be faithful and pray God will relent and once again bless us.
“When Noah saw the olive leaf in the dove’s beak, he rejoiced. God relented. The green olive leaf is the symbol of peace, Maor, not the dove. The groves are green summer and winter to remind us.”
“Father, what would we do without olives? They light our lamps. We eat them; their oil makes every dish better. They heal our wounds, give scent to soap and perfume and keep leather soft. Did I mention the wood?”
“Maor, you are babbling. Think of the feast we will enjoy tonight. Whatever it is will be better than the locust we had this morning. And these animals, I hope your brother found grass for them. They must eat well before making another trip.”
“Father, if it becomes necessary, sell my brother and buy food. When I am older, I will buy him back.”
“As long as we have a garden and olives, Maor, we will eat. You two will push the stone wheel around the press when we harvest. Tuvia is big enough this year. But without vessels to hold the oil, much of our good crop will be lost. No one has vessels to barter. I have looked far and wide. There is no place I have not looked!”
Maor stopped, turning to face his father. “Mother was talking to Sapir, the potter’s wife from …. I’ve said too much. Let her astonish you.”
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