Jeremiah foretells a time when a Messianic redeemer will reign over Israel, doing what is just and right in the land (Jeremiah 23:5). This King will be a descendant of the Davidic line. The actual wording of the text refers to the Messiah as “a true offshoot” (zemah zedek) of King David. Describing the Messiah in botanical terms is curious. To be sure, the prophets as public speakers would engage their listeners using colorful and pertinent imagery. To those whose livelihoods were dependent on farming, agricultural references would be apropos. However, ancient Israelites ruled by kings would have been just as engaged had the prophet Jeremiah employed standard monarchic references as well. Given alternatives, readers can rightly question the scriptural choice of imagery.
One contemporary pedagogue, however, sees the imagery of plants to be especially meaningful. Jennifer Gonzalez describes what experienced gardeners call “companion planting” in her book entitled Find Your Marigold. Placing certain vegetables or plants close to each other improves the growth for one or both plants. One of the best companion plants is the marigold. Marigolds planted beside most any garden vegetable will enable them to grow stronger and healthier. There are also plants that have the opposite effect. Walnut trees, for example, give off a toxic substance which will inhibit the growth and likely kill any vegetable planted in its proximity. (According to expert Michael Zohary (Plants of the Bible), walnuts were well-known in Bible. There is no mention of marigolds.)
Gonzalez contends that people can be like marigolds or walnuts. Some people are, like marigolds, supportive, encouraging, positive, and nurturing. Others are, like walnuts, toxic, negative, discouraging, inhibiting, and dangerous. In schools, it is of the utmost importance to draw close to the marigolds – teachers and students alike – and avoid the walnuts. Her advice: find your marigold.
I do not believe that Gonzalez’ message is confined to the school environment alone. I believe her message applies to all human encounters throughout life and in every situation. Moreover, while Gonzalez restricts her message to finding marigolds, I would argue that Judaism teaches that every person ought to be a marigold. Indeed, this is the underlying message of Yom Kippur: to discover within ourselves the power to transform our lives and the lives of those around us. How we can become, like marigolds, more supportive, loving, and caring of others. And if we are successful “gardeners,” we will prepare the ground for that zemah zedek – that “true offshoot” – and thereby usher in redemption for all.