When we talk about the Big Three here in Detroit, we are generally referring to Ford, General Motors, and what used to be known as Chrysler, but now is called Stellantis. But when philosophers talk about The Big Three, they are generally referring to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the most famous of Greek philosophers. Socrates did not leave behind any written works, but he founded the Socratic method of questioning and answering that underpins modern philosophy and as such is considered the father of Western philosophy.

Socrates taught Plato. Plato founded a school simply called The Academy, and there he taught Aristotle. Interestingly, Maimonides in the Guide to the Perplexed wrote that Aristotle achieved the highest level of understanding a human can reach without being a prophet and called him the greatest of philosophers. This didn’t stop Maimonides from vehemently disagreeing with Aristotle and refuting him on many occasions. Evidently knowledge contrived from one’s own intellect doesn’t hold a candle to wisdom derived from the words of our prophets, who received their messages directly from G-d.

Aristotle founded the Peripatetic School in Athens and taught there until he fled the city under accusations of impiety. But who did Aristotle teach? Who succeeded the Big Three?

Aristotle’s prime disciple, who took over the Peripatetic School, was a philosopher named Theophrastus, who wrote widely on ethics, biology, physics, and metaphysics. But what we are concerned with here is writings from his books on botany, of which he had two, Enquiry into Plants and On the Causes of Plants. In the former, we find the quote, “”There is also another tree which is very large and has wonderfully sweet and large fruit; it is used for food by the sages of India who wear no clothes.”

According to many, this reference from 2300 years ago, is the first known reference to the jackfruit, or Artocarpus heterophyllus if you prefer the scientific taxonomy. The jackfruit is not just any fruit, it is the largest fruit in the world, at times weighing in at 100 lbs, or as one fourteenth century traveler described its size as, “that of a lamb and a three year old child.” It belongs to the mulberry family and is most closely related to its blander and significantly smaller cousin, the breadfruit.

Most scholars believe the jackfruit originates from the valley below the Western Ghats, which we all remember from 10th grade geography, is a mountain range in the Deccan Plateau in the south of India. From there it made its way all around the globe to places with tropical climates, where the jackfruit tree can thrive. It may take 5-7 years for the tree to begin bearing fruit, but once it does, a single tree can produce between 150-200 of these ginormous fruits each year!

The jackfruit is truly a jack of all trades. When not fully ripe, one can find a somewhat starchy, slightly stringy, subtly sweet pulp that makes a great alternative to meat, indeed the Bengali word for jackfruit roughly translates as “tree mutton.” It absorbs flavors very easily when cooked, and is often used in stews, or as a meatless version of pulled brisket or pulled pork. The Talmud tells us (Chullin 109B) that there is a permitted version of every forbidden pleasure, and perhaps jackfruit fills that role for pulled pork? I don’t know, I’ve never had pulled pork, but I did have a pulled jackfruit slider and it was quite delicious!

In South Asia, people cut the unripe jackfruit pulp into slices and pickle, boil, or fry it in palm oil. And that is only the unripe fruit! Jackfruit, which is bright green and positively bumpy when unripe, begins to darken and brown as it ripens, and also starts to take on an almost sickly sweet smell. The food focus changes from the pulp to the seeds and the fleshy “meat” surrounding them. The seeds are edible when cooked and taste similar to chestnuts, and they can be dried and ground into flour.

There is also the rind around them which is bright yellow in color, has a chewy texture, and tastes sweet and tangy, like a combination of lemon, pineapple, orange and banana. Most people compare it to the taste of Juicy Fruit, a popular Wrigley’s gum flavor, but I don’t have experience with Juicy Fruit gum or with the fleshy meat of the ripe jackfruit, so I’ll have to take their word on it until I can obtain some raw jackfruit, which I fully intend to do! It is usually found in Asian specialty food stores, and occasionally in Caribbean specialty food stores.

The jackfruit is also a superfruit that offers all kinds of health benefits, not only in the fruit, but also in the leaves and bark. It has many uses in traditional medicines as it has properties that are anticarcinogenic, antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, hypoglycemic and wound healing. They offer a cornucopia of nutritional benefits; high in protein, fiber, potassium, vitamin B, and have significantly lower calories compared to other staples like rice, wheat or corn.

During the British colonial era, jackfruit was introduced to the West Indies, today known as the Caribbean, by an English botanist named Joseph Banks. In the late eighteenth century, he was looking for a cheap and easy source of food for the enslaved people on the plantations in the West Indies. Instead of constantly importing wheat and rice from the US, he pushed for the proliferation of jackfruit, which doesn’t need to be planted every year, requires very little care, and provides abundant food, with high nutritional value.

The jackfruit did become part of the Caribbean diet, but never really made its way into Western cuisine. Perhaps it’s because it is not an easy fruit, and we like easy. You can simply wash an apple, make a blessing and take a bite. The same goes for the pear, the grape, the cherry, the plum and the peach.  The next level of difficulty are the fruits with peels, which require some work. You need to peel an orange or a grapefruit and they do leave some oils on your hand, but they are relatively ready to eat. In that category of ease are the mango, the kiwi, the fig, the guava, the papaya and many more.

The jackfruit on the other hand takes real work. It is heavy, and clumsy to transport. It has a thick skin that must be cut through with a sharp knife. Once you get into the fruit, there is a sticky sap that gets on the knife and your hands. There are multiple parts of the fruit, the flesh, the rind and the seeds, and each must be prepared differently. But for those willing to put in the effort, the largest of fruits is also one of the most rewarding, a fruit with many ways to enjoy, a fruit that is good, and good for you!

There are over 2,000 fruits in the world, from the giant 100 pound jackfruit to the tiny Asian watermeal, a weird name for a fruit so small it looks like a tiny green speck on your finger. Wollfia globosa, if you prefer the scientific taxonomy, is all of .7-1.5mm in diameter, and you would need hundreds of them to even notice you were eating them. They taste like watercress, and I know that’s not helping much, but that is what they taste like.

The Asian watermeal is cultivated in South Asia, because it’s very easy to grow and makes a great addition to soups, omelets and smoothies. It can also be eaten like a vegetable, think of it like a cross between spinach and caviar. It may be diminutive in size, but it lacks not in nutritional value. Close to 40% of it is protein, and it’s high in Omega-3 fatty acids, so if you want a superfood that’s also supersmall, Asian watermeal might just be your ticket.

Of the 2,000 fruits in existence, only 10% make their way into the Western Diet, meaning that there is still so much out there to discover, if we get curious. Of course, even within the fruits that we know, there is still so much mystery and discovery to be had. The apple alone has about 7,500 different varieties according to the Washington State University Comprehensive Tree Fruit Site (supported by the Washington State University Tree Fruit Endowment in case you were wondering.) These range from the plebian Granny Smith, Fuji, McIntosh, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious, to the more exotic varieties like the Jonathan, Sonya, Sweet Tango, Cameo, Jazz, Opal, Sunrise Magic, Swiss Gourmet, American Beauty, Belle De Boskoop, Black Gilliflower, Bulmer’s Norman, Claygate Pearmain, and Crow’s Egg.

And if you want to move away from apples, we could move on to the truly exotic fruits like the ambarella, bilberries, cempedak, dekopon, emblica, feijoa, genip, hyuganatsu,  icacina, jostaberry, kvede, lapsi, mamoncillo, narenji, opuntia, paw paw, quandong, rambutan, serviceberry, thimberry, ububese, voavanga, wahoo, xylocarp, yayat, and zalzalak.

The world of fruit is so vast, and our knowledge so limited. Why are there so many fruits?

Every Sunday morning, Partners Detroit has an explanatory minyan at 8am. We read almost every part in unison at a nice slow pace, and try to explain as much as we can. Often we mention that in the prayer of Yishtabach we praise Hashem with 15 different forms of prayer. I love to call out, “Why do we praise Hashem in 15 different ways? Because we can. And if we can, we should.” Of course, the true reason is a bit more complex and we cover other reasons sometimes, but the basic idea, is that it’s such a gift for us to be able to praise Hashem in so many ways, so we should.

In the same way, why did Hashem bless us with so many thousands of fruits? Because He can. So He does. Hashem wants us to enjoy our time on this world, He wants us to experience the wonder of creation in a way that is not only enjoyable, but also brings us closer to Him when we recognize how much He does for us. So He created a world filled with wonder, from incredible vistas that take our breath away, to a dazzling array of flora and fauna so great that none of us can behold it all. And that’s OK. It’s much better when we can be humbled by just how much He made, and by how the good out there is greater than our capacity to comprehend!

This coming week we start the month of Shvat, the month that contains the holiday of Tu Bshvat, the Rosh Hashanah of Trees. Why do we have a day to celebrate trees? Because we can. And if we can, we should. Hashem didn’t have to create fruit at all, not the jackfruit, or the Asian watermeal, not the wahoo or the genip. We could have gotten all the nutrition we needed by eating a odorless, flavorless, grey goop. But Hashem wanted us to enjoy, so He created more delicious than we could ever discover, and showered it onto us with love.

We take a day in the year to recognize not just that Hashem gave us life, like we celebrate on the regular Rosh Hashanah, but to celebrate that Hashem wanted us to enjoy our time on his world, and to utilize all the beauty and sweetness to come closer to Him, our Father in Heaven, who never stops bestowing us with good beyond our comprehension.

So this year, let’s find some new fruit we’ve never had before for Tu Bshvat, make the bracha of Shehichayanu on it to thank Hashem for showering us with limitless good, and think about how we can show our gratitude to Him with deeds that also bear fruit of sweetness and good in the world.

Much of the information about jackfruit for this article was found in an article published by Julia Fine, on October 20, 2021 for the Dumbarton Oaks Plant Humanities Initiative.

To find fruits you’ve never heard of before, try visiting an Asian market, they are filled with surprises!

Parsha Dvar Torah

In this week’s portion we witness G-d designating the greatest leader the Jewish people ever had, Moses. Let’s see if there is a lesson we can learn about what kind of person merits leadership roles. The Torah tells us of the events leading up to G-d’s appointment of Moses:

Moses tended the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro, priest of Midian. He led the sheep to the edge of the wilderness and he came to the mountain of G-d, in the area of Choreiv. An angel of G-d appeared to him in the heart of a fire in the midst of a thorn-bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was on fire but the bush was not being consumed. Moses said, “I will turn aside and see [investigate] this great sight. Why doesn’t the bush burn?” When G-d saw that he turned aside to see, El-him called to him from the midst of the thorn-bush, and said, “Moses, Moses.” (Exodus 3:1-4)

The Medrash Tanchuma says that what set Moses apart from everyone else was that when he saw something as irrational as the burning bush, it didn’t merely catch his fancy for a few moments before he moved on, it was something he realized must be investigated. He was inspired by what he saw, and he left the path he was on, to investigate this new reality. He was willing to step out of the heady rush of life, to look into something that could provide him with more meaning. Only after G-d saw that Moses turned off his regular path to investigate the matter, did He call out to him and offer him the leadership role.  

Many times people see things that are very powerful, but it does not cause any significant change to their lives. America was rocked by 9/11. Everyone is moved by the situation in Gaza. But for many, the novelty wears off and soon life continues as usual.  

The father of a close friends of mine taught me the importance of taking immediate action when something dramatic occurs. His son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren were in a boating accident in the Kinneret Sea. Despite having life jackets, the frigid waters could have been deadly, and some of them developed hypothermia. It was only through a great amount of Divine Providence that they were located and saved just in the nick of time. 

Immediately after finding out about the accident, he saw the episode as a gift from G-d and wanted to do something concrete to show his gratitude. He started by waking up an hour earlier every day to set aside time to study Torah. He committed to facilitate the building of a neighborhood synagogue that was years in the planning but long in the coming. Three years later, the synagogue was built, he was still keeping his Torah study regimen, and his entire life was changed – all because he seized the moment when he saw a message from G-d. 

In his commentary on Song of Songs (2:7), Nachmonides (1194-1270) discusses the importance of translating inspiration into some physical action. Inspiration is a fleeting emotion which on its own, has a very short lifespan. Putting inspiration into action gives it staying power. If we hear about a soldier who was just wounded in Israel, we can feel terrible, but how much more meaningful is it if we can say a small prayer for that soldier. When we wake up and walk outside into a glorious morning with the sun shining brightly and the air crisp and refreshing, we can think about what a nice day it is, or we can say thanks to G-d for giving us such a beautiful day. And when we hear on the news about yet one more rocket attack on Sderot, we can commit to studying ten minutes of Torah every day on behalf of our brothers and sisters living through such difficult times. 

We all have good eyes, but the true leaders amongst us, are those whose eyes and body are strongly connected.

Parsha Summary

This week’s parsha, Shmos, is the first one in the Book of Exodus. This book deals with the story of the Jewish people’s enslavement in Egypt and their subsequent miraculous redemption. One of the reasons it is so important is because the Egyptian ordeal is the spiritual root of all the exiles the Jews have endured, and learning about it helps us understand how we can best navigate life in Diaspora.

The parsha starts off by listing the original people who came down to Egypt, and then mentions that Yosef and all his brothers passed away. This is key, as exiles always begin when we experience detachment from the previous generations, and an abandonment of their ways. Soon after the death of the last son of Jacob, a new Pharaoh arose in Egypt. Some say he was a new king and others say that he put out new decrees, but according to both opinions he didn’t bode well for the Jews.

Pharaoh convened his council and decided that the Jews, who were becoming numerous and prosperous, were a threat to his nation, and thus he began subjugating and enslaving them. Not only that, but based on his astrologers’ predictions that a male Jewish savior was soon to be born, he commanded the two Jewish midwives to kill every Jewish male infant. Luckily for me, they didn’t listen, but, au contraire,  helped nourish the babies and keep them alive and healthy. For this brave and heroic act, G-d rewarded them by giving their children the Kehuna, the priesthood, and Malchus, the kingship.

Then Pharaoh kicked it up a notch by decreeing that the Egyptians throw every Jewish male into the Nile River.Eventually, as the astrologers’ predictions got more ominous, he decreed that all male children, Egyptians included, be thrown in the water.

When the decrees came out, a leader of the Jews named Amram declared that Jewish couples should separate to spare themselves from the horror of watching their sons thrown into the water. His daughter Miriam pointed out to him that his declaration was worse than Pharaoh’s, because at least Pharaoh was allowing Jewish girls to live, whereas Amram’s declaration was spelling doom for the entire Jewish people! Heeding his daughter’s wise words, Amram remarried his wife Yocheved, and six months later they had a son.

When their son was born, the house filled with light, and they saw that he was born circumcised, so they knew they were dealing with a special baby. They hid him in the house for 3 months, because the Egyptians were expecting the baby to be a full term baby (9 months for those who didn’t know that) and after three months they put him in a little waterproof cradle,  in the Nile, with his sister watching from a distance. At that exact time, Basya, the daughter of Pharaoh, was going to the Nile to bathe and she saw the child, drew him out, had pity on him and decided to keep him. She named him Moshe.

Although Moshe grew up as a prince,  he would go out and see the hardships of his brethren, and would take part in their labor. One day he saw an Egyptian beating the life out of a Jew and, after ensuring that no one was looking, he killed the Egyptian. This event became known to Pharaoh, and Moshe was forced to flee to Midian.

In Midian, Moshe met his wife, the daughter of Midian’s ex-High Priest who had rejected the Midianite Gods, and he settled down to life as a shepherd. One day, while tending to the sheep, he saw a burning bush. Upon approaching it, G-d called out to him from the bush and told him that He had chosen him to lead the Jews out of Egypt. Moshe protested, saying he wasn’t worthy, but eventually G-d convinced him to go. G-d gave him three miracles to show the Jews as a sign that he was G-d’s messenger, and Moshe headed back to Egypt. In Egypt, he showed the signs to the Jewish elders, who believed it was G-d’s sign of a coming redemption

Moshe appeared before Pharaoh with his brother acting as his interpreter since his speech was hindered by a burning experience he had had as a child. The pair demanded that Pharaoh let the Jews go to serve G-d in the wilderness. Pharaoh claimed to not know of the Jewish G-d and flat-out refused. Not only that, he decided to force the Jews to work harder in order to prevent them from wasting their time with foolish hopes of redemption. The people complained to Moshe that after promising them salvation, he actually made their lives harder. The Parsha closes with G-d assuring Moshe that not only will Pharaoh let the Jews go, he will beg them to leave!

Quote of the Week:  Confidence is directness and courage in meeting the facts of life. ~ John Dewey

Random Fact of the Week: Honeybees have a strange type of hair on their eyes!

Funny Line of the Week: I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious. 

Have a Majestic Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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