Study and Theory/
Sukkot

Azariah Alon

The Tishrei Period

Beit Hashita, 1998

The Tishrei period – this is the name that was given during the time of the Mishna for the season of the year known by us today as autumn: the months of Tishrei, Cheshvan and Kislev, thus it appears, together with its three sisters – the Tevet period, the Nissan period and the Tammuz period – in the margins of the zodiac signs in the ancient synagogues at Beit Alpha and Hamat Tiberias. And indeed, it would seem that the Tishrei period is something fixed and known, which can be anticipated in advance, but nevertheless it arrives every year suddenly, and finds us unprepared, together with the usual saying “we have never had such a year”.

 

But this time I am not going to talk about objects that got wet in the rain and about the roof which was not repaired in time, but rather about how the natural phenomena, which we should already have been used to, and nevertheless they surprise us again every year.

 

We will start with what was once known as “spring in Elul”. Our summer is a season of growth in a landscape that is not a watery landscape. This is resistance to the heat, such as we have in January and February resistance to the cold,. And here, when the days shorten and the heat lessens, and it has still not rained, some of the trees and the shrubs awaken and flower. Suddenly at the ends of the branches are fresh leaves, as if it was spring. It is seemingly surprising this behaviour of the plants and the animals who had disappeared totally in the summer – they hid in the depths of the earth, and appeared suddenly on its surface. About each of them almost we ask:

What woke them up, the rain or the humidity? It is easy to point to the rain as the one responsible, but on more than one occasion this claim does not work properly. The most famous is the squill, which ascends and flowers a long time before the first drop of rain falls. It has been explained on more than one occasion that the flowers of the squill which burst forth in Elul are in fact flowers of the previous year: the leaves from the previous winter, which filled up the bulb and prepared the flowering within. The difference between the squill and the rest of the bulb plants is that the flowering does not come at the same time as the growth, but rather after a period of rest in the earth.

 

Thus one can understand the phenomenon of tens of types of flowers that pop out of the earth with the first rains or before them: the existence of a biological clock within an inactive organ, it would seem, is a clock that awakens the plant for its winter activity. In some of the cases this clock is totally autonomous, and is not dependent on any happenings above the surface of the earth: neither the drop in temperature nor the falling of the rain.

 

In other cases some kind of factor is required to press on the trigger: a decrease in temperature, or several wet drops of dew or rain. And how do we know that in these cases there is such a clock? Perhaps there is not one and only the climatic phenomena are the awakeners? Let’s see what happens where there are bulbs or corms and also irrigation in the summer: you can water as much as you want; the bulbs will not awaken until their internal clock has ordered them to do so. At the very most the moistness will cause the flowering of the flowers or the leaves in the irrigated area to come earlier by several days than those in the dry area. An interesting phenomenon that I saw in my garden regarding the behaviour of animals – was a garden snail, a kind of relation to the field snail, who received citizenship recently in Israel. These snails are active in humid places in winter, mainly during the night. In summer the snail buries into the earth, closes its opening with a rigid cover, and waits for the next winter. The garden is watered all through the summer but the snail is not tempted to take off the cover and start activity. However one morning, before even one drop of rain had fallen, I found on the path two such snails that made the mistake of thinking that the watering and the decrease in temperature are a sign of winter. After several hours they understood their mistake, and returned to burrow in the earth until the real rain arrives.

 

Much more familiar is the behaviour of the plants known as “the harbingers of rain”. There are almost 30 species of bulbs and corms which flower with the first rains or before them. It is totally clear that the small quantity of water and the short time which passes from the first rain until the flowering would not have been able to cause the flowering but rather serve as an incentive to flower when it was already ready within the bulb. Thus I met the autumn crocus, and perhaps it was a Jerusalem crocus, on the eve of Sukkot in the woodland of the Upper Galilee, shiny with its large pink flowers. Its sister the Tuviae Crocus has certainly already flowered in the desert before it, and another sister, the Stevenii crocus, will wait for the first rain. Alongside the autumn crocus we also met the maritime lily, which totally disregards the rain and flowers only according to the calendar. Thus too is how the meadow saffron acts – a beautiful yellow flower, the flowers of which are becoming more visible to us. Don’t be surprised then to find cyclamens flowering when only the dew of the nights awakens them, together with the small leaved hyacinth and the autumn squill.

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