Gardening: Cedars of Lebanon

According to Kabbala, we're destined to live up to the legacy in our names. Erez Levanon made this clear.

erez levanon 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
erez levanon 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
According to the Kabbala, we are all destined to live up to the legacy revealed in our names. This truth was made clear in the life of Erez Levanon, of blessed memory. In Psalm 104, arzei Levanon (cedars of Lebanon) are described as "trees of the Lord that drink their fill." According to the commentaries, this refers to the extraordinary attention God lavishes on cedars of Lebanon because of the special mission to which they have been assigned. Erez Levanon, too, was given such a mission. In the Torah, the word erez does not only mean cedar, as it is usually translated, but also has a more generic meaning that includes every type of shade and forest tree (see page 156 of Etzei Besamim, Ya'ar Venoi, a meticulously researched volume on biblical trees, by Yehuda Feliks). Erez Levanon may have stood out as a humble, musical mystic from Bat Ayin, who strummed his guitar and sang to children as they walked to school, but he was really no different from the many Jews he touched who, underneath, shared his yearning for God. Erez had the rare ability to connect with every Jew, whether black hat and bearded, clean-shaven or tattooed. Each year, Erez made a trip to India, where he mingled with the thousands of young Israelis who, in search of escape, adventure or God, travel east. Erez brought many of them back into the fold. Erez Levanon was the elusive, pure and holy Jew we all long to meet, the kind of Jew described in a story told by the Sokolover Rebbe when he was asked to describe "the most real Jew" he had ever known. The Sokolover's grandfather was the famous Kotzker Rebbe, who never tired of proclaiming that God only loves what's real. So, as a young man, the Sokolover went up and down the aisles of his shul looking for a real Jew. He checked among the rich, the poor, the old scholars and the young students, but could not find a real Jew among them. Finally, he saw someone who was just standing and reading psalms, but with the greatest sincerity, his face aglow - a real Jew. Erez Levanon's final act was communing with God in a forest in Bat Ayin, where he was murdered. When his lifeless body was found, it glowed with ethereal light. The Jew in the Sokolover's story was a water carrier who brought water to his shul before dawn, without payment, so that people could wash before the morning prayers. Erez Levanon had a practice of playing his guitar at weddings and bar mitzva parties, at no charge, for poor families. Cedars of Lebanon, as Psalm 104 relates, are inviting, giving trees in which birds of every kind make their homes. In Midrash Tehillim on Psalm 104, we read that cedars of Lebanon did not have to be created since there were many other trees suitable for lumber. There was only one reason for which cedars of Lebanon were created and that was to glorify God when their timbers were formed into the massive beams of the Holy Temple which Solomon built. It is evident that Erez Levanon, in both life and death, was also created for the purpose of bringing glory to God's name. There are four species of cedar trees, all native to mountainous regions. Aside from the cedar of Lebanon, which may live for more than 1,000 years, there is the Deodor cedar, a massive tree with shaggy limbs from the western Himalayas, the Atlas cedar, a handsome, stiff-neeedled specimen from the Atlas mountains of Morocco, and the Cyprus cedar, growing at high elevations on the island that bears its name. Cedar cones may be opened by soaking them in water for 48 hours. Once seeds are removed and dried, they can be stored for three years or longer without losing their viability. When you decide to germinate the seeds, soak them in tap water at room temperature for a few hours and then partially dry them in the sun for no more than 15 minutes. Afterward, place them in a thin plastic bag. Fold over the top of the bag and put it in the refrigerator until the seeds sprout, which should occur in less than a month. As baby roots emerge from the seeds, transfer them to a fast-draining soil mix that is equal parts sand and peat moss (kavul in Hebrew). Carefully place the roots in the soil in Styrofoam cups or other small containers, leaving the tops of the seeds exposed. Cedar seedlings are highly sensitive to damping off, a fungus disease that kills inchoate plants when seeds are completely buried. Planting seeds too deep is a common mistake of novice gardeners. In nature, seeds drop onto the ground and, still on the soil surface, somehow manage to germinate. Often they are protected only by leaf litter. We should take our cue from nature and plant on the soil surface, or just below it, protecting our seeds with nothing more than a light covering of compost or mulch. Although cedar trees eventually grow large, they can be confined to containers for years. Cedars are slow growing and may remain in average-sized (15-20 liter) containers for 10 years or longer without needing repotting. You can keep a tree in any size pot by root pruning, a task to be performed when roots start to circle the inside of the pot or begin growing through drainage holes. Remove no more than one third of the roots, from sides and bottom, before refilling the container with fresh soil and repotting.