A Bas­ket Full of Figs

Ori Elon (auth.), Mena­hem Hal­ber­stadt (illus.)

  • Review
By – January 6, 2020

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.

Discussion Questions