While walking our campus, I found myself in one of our pollinator gardens. There is one plant, a climbing aster plant, that blooms in this season and always catches my attention. Not only for it’s beautiful blooms, but because the bees love it. I catch glimpses of motion as so many bees, wasps and assorted flying creatures zoom in and out, stopping only for a brief moment on the flowers. Even in that quick pause, these insects carry out vital Avodah (sacred work) in our world. As they drink the nectar to nourish themselves, they pick up and deposit pollen to help these plants with their cycle of life. Witnessing this complex of activity, I am appreciative of the relationship between flowers and pollinators. I glory in my opportunities to share sweetness and sustenance. When we emulate the work of pollinators, we become Malachim, angels, connecting people and places in powerful ways. When we bring people together, when we deliver a crucial bit of information, or share a spark of vital energy, it may seem insignificant or passing in that moment, but in truth we are building a bridge that increases harmony in our world.
Chicken soup garden: In the album, “You don’t have to be Jewish,” one of the comedy sketches is set at a funeral. Even as the rabbi eulogizes the deceased, a Jewish mother interrupts. “Give him some chicken soup” she declares. When she is told that he is dead and it will not help his condition, “it couldn’t hurt,” is her retort. Chicken soup is often called Jewish penicillin. Its healing properties are not just in the nutrition in the broth, but in the fact that sharing chicken soup with someone else involves an act of bikkur cholim/visiting the sick. Caring visits play a vital role in the healing process. A chicken soup garden does not have to involve chicken. Instead plant all of the vegetables and herbs that you like to add to your chicken soup: Carrots, onions, dill, parsnip, celery, turnip, kohlrabi, parsley…you don’t have to grow everything you need to make the soup but if some of the vegetables come from your garden the soup gets an extra bit of love.
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: Justice and righteous shall you pursue!
Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof: Justice and Righteousness shall you pursue. (Deuteronomy 16:18)
Jewish sages caution us to pay attention to the repetition of a word in Torah. In our gardens we aspire to bring Tzedek – justice and righteousness – from two directions: receiving and giving. With humility and appreciation for what we harvest, we can share some of our bounty. We can also look out and see that there are people in need of sustenance in our own community. With an effort from our garden, we can help feed the hungry.
In the book of Leviticus, at the heart of the Torah, God offers a list of the ways that we can connect and emulate the holiness of the Divine. This portion, called Kedoshim, emphasizes holy relationships and holy time. It also acknowledges ways that we can use our fields and gardens to receive and generate holiness. Leviticus 19:9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I the Lord am your God.
Even as we partake in the produce of our fields, we realize that our bounty might solely belong to us. Without God’s support and without good growing conditions – soil, sun, rain, lack of pests and disease – we would not have food to eat. Like pinching off a corner of Challah to show appreciation for God’s blessings, we share a portion of the food we grow in acknowledgment that we need help to be successful in our garden.
Deuteronomy 15:7 If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. 8 Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs. We also have a responsibility to give to those in need. It is an obligation to ensure that the people who live around us have basic needs (i.e. food, water, and shelter). With the words of Pirke Avot in mind, “You don’t have to complete the task, but you don’t avoid working on it” giving produce from a community, congregational or home garden (even just a handful of tomatoes) to a food pantry or an organization that helps feed the hungry lives out this Jewish value and makes an impact.
Peah Garden. Peah refers to the corners of the fields that were not harvested by the owner of the field. Instead, the produce of these corners were left for the stranger, the widow and the orphan. (Leviticus 19) There is a whole classification of produce: peah, leket, shichach – the corners of the field, the produce that does not fall and the produce left behind that the Torah and later Jewish law declares to be for those in need. These values mirror stories both in Judaism and beyond that all we grow in our garden is not our possession. Just like we borrow the earth from God or we seek to be partners in creation, these mitzvot and stories remind us that our garden experience flourishes when it always has a component of sharing, giving back or paying forward. A Peah garden is a “food justice” garden. Many communities grow vegetables to be donated to local food pantries and food banks. We can consider Jewish values of sharing our food with those in need. As we care for this garden, we wrestle with what we need as opposed to what we want. We have opportunities to understand sustenance instead of excess. We can find ways of paying our labor and blessings forward. This type of garden can also be paired with participation with a CSA, community supported agriculture.
Hiddur Mitzvah: Beautiful Ritual
According to Jewish tradition, we should not just complete the ritual, even with the best of intentions. Instead, we should try to make it beautiful, rich with color and texture. This is the reasoning behind the adorned candle sticks for Shabbat and the beautiful melodies for our prayers. We want our rituals to be mouthwatering and eye catching, resonating with all of our sensory experiences so that our souls can soar. When we incorporate garden beauty, recycled creativity, and the personal effort of using the garden for ritual, we add to this value of Hiddur Mitzvah.
In the Five Senses Garden at Temple Beth Shalom of Vero Beach, Florida, the students connect the garden and nature with ritual. From harvesting herbs for Havdalah services, to creating dream pillows in order to learn about Hashkivenu (the prayer for a good night’s sleep), we seek to use the produce of the garden to add flavor and color to our acts of Avodah. When students plant, care for, and harvest the cotton for our Shabbat oil lamp, the experience of saying the blessing and kindling the Shabbat lights reaches new depth and beauty. Each garden offers opportunities produce or plants that can be used to beautify Jewish rituals.