This week's Torah portion, Kedoshim, says, "And when you come into the land, then you shall plant all manner of trees for food . . . ". (Lev. XIX, 23).  Vayikra Rabbah comments on the mitzvah of planting:
R. Judah b. Simon began his teaching with the text, “You shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and you shall serve him, and cleave to him."  (Deut. XIII, 5). But can a man of flesh and blood walk after the Holy One, blessed be He, the One of whom it is written, “Your way was in the sea and Your path in the great waters and Your footsteps were not known (Ps. LXXVII, 20)?” Yet you say, “After the Lord your God you shall walk!”  But can flesh and blood go up into heaven to cleave to the Shechinah, the One of whom it is written, “For the Lord your God is a devouring fire” (Deut IV, 24), and of whom it is written, "His throne was fiery flames" (Dan. VII, 9), and of whom it is further written, "A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him" (Dan. VII,10)? Yet you say, “And unto Him shall you cleave!” But in truth the Holy One, blessed be He, from the very beginning of the creation of the world, was before all else occupied with planting, as is proved by the text, “And the Lord God had planted a garden in Eden" (Gen. II, 8), and so you also, when you enter into the land, should occupy yourselves first with nothing else but planting; hence it is written, "And when you come into the land, then you shall plant all manner of trees for food . . . ". (Lev. XIX, 23). 
This midrash reflects the human dilemma of how to cleave to the divine.  How do we cleave or walk after something so ephemeral?  The answer in the midrash is that we should act as God acts, and through the mitzvot, we will indeed be walking after God.  For example, because God's first order of business in the creation of the world was to plant, it was a mitzvah for us to make it our first order of business to plant when we enter the land of Israel.  So too, just as God comforts the sick, it is a mitzvah for us to visit the sick,  and as  God feeds the hungry, it is a mitzvah for us to feed the hungry, and so on. This is how we can cleave to God and walk in God's footsteps.  This is the pshat, the simple reading of the midrash, which is of course, an interpretation of the Torah text itself.

When I reflect upon this midrash more deeply, however, it occurs to me that Rabbi Judah ben Simon made an unusual connection between planting in Eretz Yisrael and God planting Gan Eden.  One thing that continually surprises me is how chazal routinely take Torah text from each book in the Torah and use it to reflect upon the first chapters in Breishit.  For example, in my dvar torah from last week, chazal connected the laws of childbirth to the idea of God giving birth to the first human beings.  This week, they connect the idea of planting trees to God planting Gan Eden.  The more midrash I read, the more I notice this trend, which leads me to believe that briat ha-olam is a much bigger background story in the rabbinic imagination than I had previously thought.  It is a beautiful way to take any Torah text and bring it back to the primal stories of what it means to be human.

In this particular case, we are asked to imitate God through planting.  In my opinion, the mitzvah to plant must mean more than just the physical act of settling and inhabiting eretz yisrael and causing it to flourish through planting.  By comparing human planting to Godly planting, the very concept becomes metaphorical.  After all, just as we cannot walk with God literally because we don't know God's footsteps and God is thought of as an ephemeral, fiery, concept, God cannot plant in a literal way, because God is not a person here on earth dealing with soil and seeds.  The question for me is, "What does it mean on a symbolic or metaphorical level to imitate God by planting?"  What is planting a symbol of in our lives?  What do we plant and what do we harvest through the course of a lifetime?  What does it mean that we are commanded first and foremost to plant?  I don't have a clear answer, but to me this commandment is about living our lives beyond the surface level in a deep manner.  It is about digging into the depths of who we are to create the lives we want to live.  Your comments and thoughts are encouraged.  


  1. וידבר לאה אל קה'לא לאמר



    ps Guessing on spelling of קהילא or קהילה or ...?


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