Gardening: Tree time

Horticulturally speaking, planting trees on Tu Bishvat could be questioned. Shvat can be a rainy month, and it is ill-advised to plant in wet earth since soil compaction, which can stunt root development, may occur.

By YEHOSHUA SISKIN
February 8, 2006 12:02
4 minute read.
gardening tree 88

gardening tree 88 . (photo credit: )

 
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In several Torah passages and daily prayers, we are urged to literally "walk in God's ways." But what exactly does this mean? It would appear that, first of all, we should act heroically on behalf of the Jewish people since, throughout history, God has acted in this way. He has fought for us relentlessly, saving us time and again from enemies who announce their intention to destroy us. God has been our one true hero. To imitate God also means to teach by example, to engage in specific acts worthy of emulation. Ever since Abraham, the mission of the Jews has been to teach the human race how to act. Yet the behaviors we teach are not original but simply learned from God Himself who, like all true teachers, instructs by personal example. God clothes the naked, dressing Adam and Eve in animal skins after they eat from the Tree of Knowledge; God visits the sick, coming to the tent of Abraham when he is recovering from circumcision at the age of 100; God comforts mourners, appearing to and blessing Isaac after his father, Abraham, dies; God feeds the hungry, providing manna to the people during their 40 years of desert wandering; God goes to war, utterly destroying Israel's enemies, such as the Egyptians at the Red Sea; God buries the dead, personally attending to Moses's burial in the land of Moav. God also plants gardens, such as the one in Eden, and nurtures trees. Rabbi Yehuda Shaviv traces the relationship between gardens, people and trees to the moment of creation. "The Lord God planted a garden in Eden and placed there the man He had formed. And from the ground the Lord God caused to grow up every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food." (Genesis 4:8-9) From the ordering of these verses - first a garden is mentioned, then newly created man and then every pleasant tree - it is apparent that people were meant to live among gardens and trees. Rabbi Shaviv, citing Rav Bachya, points out that when God inundated the world with a flood, trees were the only form of life preserved on earth. Proof of this is the olive sprig that was brought back to the ark by Noah's dove. It is also significant that Noah was saved in an ark made of trees (cedar wood) and that Noah's first act upon leaving the ark was to plant a vineyard, demonstrating the intimate association and shared destiny of people and plants. The Egyptian exile illustrates the despair of a people who were turned from farmers - which they had been in Goshen when Joseph was alive - into slaves. One moment you were oved adama (worker of the land) and the next you were oved Par'o (worker of Pharaoh). One moment your life was lived to the rhythm of the seasons, which gave you ample opportunities and periods of rest to thank God for your abundance; the next moment you were a slave, living at the whims of a human taskmaster. Finally, two plagues - hail and locusts - destroyed all the crops and trees which the Jews had tended for their Egyptian rulers. Just as destruction of the trees around them is the Jews' fate in exile, planting of trees is an essential part of resettling the homeland. As it says in Leviticus, "When you come into the land of Israel, you will plant every food-producing tree." And so, it was not by chance that Joshua led the people across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land at harvest time, since harvest season (late summer and early fall) is the most favorable time for planting fruit trees. Most root growth takes place in the fall. Thus, trees planted at that time of year can strongly establish themselves long before the desiccating heat of the following summer arrives. In a similar fashion, it is possible to justify Rabbi Eliezer's argument (Rosh Hashana, 10b-11a) that the world was created during Tishrei (the fall), as opposed to Rabbi Yehoshua, who argued that the world was created in Nissan (the spring). Gardens and trees are better off being planted around Rosh Hashana than Pessah. Horticulturally speaking, the Israeli custom of planting trees on Tu Bishvat could be questioned. Shvat can be a rainy month, and it is ill-advised to plant in wet earth since soil compaction, which can stunt root development, may occur. Yet from the moment this practice was instituted in 1908 at the Mikve Yisrael agricultural school near Jaffa, it was embraced by every sector of the Israeli public. Although nothing in the Torah associates Tu Bishvat with tree planting, Rav Kook, Israel's first chief rabbi, strongly endorsed the practice. On Tu Bishvat in 1924, Rav Kook was invited to a tree planting ceremony in the new settlement of Magdiel, in the Sharon area. When given a sapling to plant, the rabbi was so stirred with emotion that he began to weep. Refusing to take the hoe he was given, he dug in the earth with bare hands. He said that since planting a tree in the Land of Israel was a holy act, the planter should not use any implement that would come between him and the holy ground in which the tree would grow. gardengan18@yahoo.com

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