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Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Arugat Habosem and Vineyards of Ein Gedi©

By Vardah Littmann
When Avraham Avinu decided to separate from Lot, he gave his nephew the choice of choosing which part of the land Lot wanted to inhabit. Lot saw that the Jordan Plain was like Hashem’s Own garden - completely watered. He therefore chose to go and live in this area.
As you travel along Route 90, surrounded by the arid desert, it is hard to fathom how this scorched land was considered the Garden of Hashem. But when you  peruse the verses thoroughly, you see that that there is a small insertion in the verses that says that the lushness of the place was so before G-d destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.  The fertile oases of Midbar Yehudah are tiny reminders that Hashem has left us of the bounty found in the plain before its destruction. We can contemplate the stark difference between the desert and the way Lot saw the place and realize the devastation and havoc that was caused by the sins of the people who once lived there. .

Both the Gemorah and the MIdrash testify to the fact that the area was once an agriculture wonderland with green canopies of orchards and fields stretching for miles on end – a veritable Gan Eden.
The branch of archaeology known as paleoethnobotany bears out the above. By examining traces of food items used by ancient civilizations, scientists examine the agriculture and diet in the ruins of the five cities in the Dead Sea area (note: only five cities are mentioned in the Torah). Paleoenthnobotanists found traces of wheat, barley, and many fruits and vegetables including ;dates, plums, peaches, grapes, figs, pistachio nuts, almonds, olives, pine nuts, lentils, chick peas, pumpkin, flax seed, and watermelon. The skeletal remains of the inhabitants of the place indicate that this healthy diet affected their physique. The average height ranged from 5’9"-6'4" which was rather tall for such an ancient culture.
In Shir HaShirim, HaMelech Shlomo refers to a flora of strong fragrance growing in the vineyards of Ein Gedi, as an indication of the beauty and fertility of the site (1:14).  The abundant springs and year-round temperate climate provided the perfect conditions for agriculture in ancient times. Thirteen different types of perfumes prevalent during King Solomon’s reign are mentioned in the book, and at least some of these were grown in the area. The Judean Desert is also host to a number of plants, with pleasant scents, which serve as spices or tea, prominent among them achillea and lavender.
It is thought that many of the besamins of the Ketoret were obtained from the vicinity of Ein Gedi. The area was referred to as “Arugos Habosem” (The Scented Flower Bed). Myrrh, frankincense, and opobalsamum were certainly grown here. On the steep slopes around the Arugot Stream are agriculture steps that were created many thousands of years ago and it seems that spices and the scented plants were apparently grown in them, as well as in JerichoPerfume plants, which had been brought to Eretz Yisrael from abroad, acclimated well in the area due to the unusual combination of desert heat and fresh water from the local springs.
Josephus praises Ein Gedi for its palm trees and balsam. Besides tropical and medicinal plants that were grown, dates were a primary crop. The plentiful sunshine and the all-year supply of water made for superior harvests. The ancient synagogue, with the mosaic floor from the Talmudic Era, is a remnant from the days in which a glorious Jewish agricultural community thrived in Ein Gedi.
Balsame of Gilead (Latin –opobalsamum) was the most famous perfume grown in the area. The Production of this perfume in Ein Gedi and Jericho was generally the industry of the local royal court, or even the reigning 
empire at the time. It has been suggested that the “secret” referred to in the mystifying warning and curse on the mosaic floor of the ancient Ein Gedi shul, is in allusion to the manufacture of afarsimon perfume. The warning states that if one should reveal the secret of the town to the Gentiles, he will be removed with all his seed from under the Heavens. The exact identity of afarsimon perfume has been lost over the years. There has been a perplexing and uncomfortable turn of events; its name is now used for a sweet, orange colored fruit from China – the persimmon, which has nothing to do with the perfume.
Even nowadays, the extreme summer's heat and comparatively calm winter in combination with  the area’s unique climate quality enable the growth of one thousand varieties  of plants of tremendous diversity from all over the world. They flourish here in great abundance to unbelievable size in a fiesta of plants and beauty.
The minerals which permeate the air allow especially rapid growth in botanical terms. Kibbutz Ein Gedi, established in 1956, has plants (for example, Baobab trees from Africa and Bombacaccae from tropical America) which have reached massive proportions and indicate the verdant magnificence that made Lot choose this district. The crown anemone known as the kalanit grows to an amazing large size here. It is 4 or 5 times its usual size.  Hundreds of types of Cacti from many lands adapt very well to the conditions in Ein Gedi. In many species their glorious blooms open at nightThey are referred to as “Queen(s) of the Night”.  
 Published in "English Update"

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