The Midrash, Talmudic stories recorded by ancient rabbis, is full of wisdom and teaches us lessons that are applicable all the way to modern times. This delightful picture book is a version of an oft-told tale which is concisely written and resonant with both enlightenment and entertainment.
It tells the story of a man living in ancient Israel who has reached the age of one hundred and is seen by the Roman emperor, Hadrian, digging a hole in a field. Hadrian questions the old man, wanting to know why someone of his advanced age is toiling under the hot sun. “I’m planting a fig tree,” responds the man in the field. Hadrian asks him why he is planting a tree when he is unlikely to live long enough to eat of its fruit. “If I don’t eat the figs,” responds the old man, “then my children and grandchildren will.” The elderly man ultimately lives to eat the juicy figs and is rewarded with a basket of gold by the emperor who understands the sophisticated but clear lessons: patience and optimism carry rewards, a respect for nature and the Earth’s bounty benefit future generations, and maturity brings the wisdom to understand that although you may not see the result of your own labor, investment in the future is vital and valuable.
There are numerous variations on this classic story. In this one, the lessons are clear enough for young children to discuss and absorb, and it is accompanied by expressive color illustrations and an appealing layout. This is a perfect book for parents or teachers to share aloud with children. Ongoing discussion of the theme can be tailored to age and individual experience and is certain to provide insightful exchanges of opinion as well as a slice of ancient Jewish history.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.