Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to give you a pomegranate seed, and you’re going to put it into your mouth. I’m going to talk a little bit about believing, and you’re going to bite down. I’m going to talk a little bit about the miracle of beauty in the universe, and your mouth is going to fill with it.
This might sound a little bossy and reductive, but that is how I learned belief. The religion I grew up with was built upon distinctions and quantifications: School is Orthodox, home is confused. Morning class is secular, afternoon is Jewish. We pray three times each day. I am not Kosher, but Joey is. He ate meat at lunch, so he can’t have ice cream now. The Hebrew word for ice cream is Gleedah. Each letter has a numerical value and if you add them up it makes 48. This is significant. We are Jews, they are Goyim. This is what we believe, this is what they do not, et cetera.
Now hold that seed between your molars.
“Pomegranates,” my 3rd grade Judaics teacher declared, “are a beautiful, miraculous fruit. Just as the Torah has 613 commandments, pomegranates have 613 seeds.” This was the very best fact she could have bestowed upon my fat 8-year-old self. She might as well have said, “Lo! The affirmation of an immaculate universal order through FOOD.” Talk about epic.
That night I dragged my dad to the supermarket and we bought a round, beautiful pomegranate. I had never seen one before, and when we opened it, I expected hundreds of black beetley spheres to swell out onto the table. Instead we cracked into a tight treasure box of wet red crystals. I pried them out of the fruit with my fingernails, plopping each ruby into a bowl and calling out the tally.
613 came and went, and there were still little red seeds gleaming meanly at me from the bottom of the fruit. My dad slowly raised one to his lips. “No!” I shouted. “You can’t eat them. This isn’t right. We have to count again.”
So we did. 624 seeds shined in orderly rows on the table in front of us. “I don’t understand,” I said, “this was supposed to be perfect.” My dad placed a small crystal into my chubby palm. “just try it.” he said. And I did.
I’m going to tell you what I believe now, so please bite down. Not all pomegranates have the same amount of seeds. And they shouldn’t. I believe that beauty and meaning in this world can’t only show up when you count out the number your teacher told you. No. You’ve got to be able to put them right between your teeth like a stubborn raindrop that oozes a sugary and ancient juice. And it’s got to roll down your throat, wise and wet, filling you up with the understanding that inside and outside of you everything works in some way you’ll never quite swallow. You’ve bitten into that now. And you could bite into that 613 times. You could bite into that 624 times. It doesn’t matter. You could bite into it a million times. And it wouldn’t change a thing.