Edible Garden: Curses and Blessings of food and farming

This is one section from a resource developed by Big Green Jewish in partnership with UJIA [1]and Tzedek [2]that combines curriculum linked school lessons with hands on gardening as well as text study sessions exploring various themes within Judaism around food and farming. The full resources can be found here [3]. Thanks go to Rabbi Natan Levy [4] and Nic Abery [5] from Look to Learn [6] who produced much of the material for these resources. Add: Genesis 3:17-19? Michael Pollan, New York Times Magazine, April 2008 Fred Pearce, Confessions of an Eco Sinner: travels to where my stuff comes from, pp 98-99 [1] http://www.ujia.org/ [2] http://tzedek.org.uk/ [3] http://www.biggreenjewish.org/resources/edible-garden-resource.php [4] http://www.rabbirelayride.org/profiles/natan-levy [5] http://www.looktolearn.co.uk/?page_id=9 [6] http://www.looktolearn.co.uk/

(כט) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים הִנֵּה֩ נָתַ֨תִּי לָכֶ֜ם אֶת־כָּל־עֵ֣שֶׂב ׀ זֹרֵ֣עַ זֶ֗רַע אֲשֶׁר֙ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י כָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וְאֶת־כָּל־הָעֵ֛ץ אֲשֶׁר־בּ֥וֹ פְרִי־עֵ֖ץ זֹרֵ֣עַ זָ֑רַע לָכֶ֥ם יִֽהְיֶ֖ה לְאָכְלָֽה׃ (ל) וּֽלְכָל־חַיַּ֣ת הָ֠אָרֶץ וּלְכָל־ע֨וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֜יִם וּלְכֹ֣ל ׀ רוֹמֵ֣שׂ עַל־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־בּוֹ֙ נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֔ה אֶת־כָּל־יֶ֥רֶק עֵ֖שֶׂב לְאָכְלָ֑ה וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן׃ (לא) וַיַּ֤רְא אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֔ה וְהִנֵּה־ט֖וֹב מְאֹ֑ד וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם הַשִּׁשִּֽׁי׃ (פ)

And God said: ‘Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed—to you it shall be for food; and to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is a living soul, [I have given] every green herb for food.’ And it was so. And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. [JPS translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

What are the first instructions to Humans about what they can and can not eat?

Does this text suggest that a perfect world is a vegetarian one?

Given the text suggests even the beasts will be vegetarian, how does this impact our understanding of animal nature/instinct?

(יז) וּלְאָדָ֣ם אָמַ֗ר כִּֽי־שָׁמַעְתָּ֮ לְק֣וֹל אִשְׁתֶּךָ֒ וַתֹּ֙אכַל֙ מִן־הָעֵ֔ץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר צִוִּיתִ֙יךָ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר לֹ֥א תֹאכַ֖ל מִמֶּ֑נּוּ אֲרוּרָ֤ה הָֽאֲדָמָה֙ בַּֽעֲבוּרֶ֔ךָ בְּעִצָּבוֹן֙ תֹּֽאכֲלֶ֔נָּה כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֥י חַיֶּֽיךָ׃ (יח) וְק֥וֹץ וְדַרְדַּ֖ר תַּצְמִ֣יחַֽ לָ֑ךְ וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ אֶת־עֵ֥שֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶֽה׃ (יט) בְּזֵעַ֤ת אַפֶּ֙יךָ֙ תֹּ֣אכַל לֶ֔חֶם עַ֤ד שֽׁוּבְךָ֙ אֶל־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה כִּ֥י מִמֶּ֖נָּה לֻקָּ֑חְתָּ כִּֽי־עָפָ֣ר אַ֔תָּה וְאֶל־עָפָ֖ר תָּשֽׁוּב׃

To Adam, God said, "Because you did as your wife said and ate of the tree about which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed be the ground because of you; by toil shall you eat of it all the days of your life, thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you. But your food shall be the grasses of the field; by the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat, until you return to the ground - for from it you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return. [JPS translation]. Edited for gender neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why is Adam's punishment having to work the land?

2. Why is farming and agriculture, often seen as advancing human civilization, described in such negative terms?

3. How does the final line "you are dust and you will return to dust" along with the shared root of Adam's name and earth (Adama)encourage us to consider humanity's relationship with nature?

Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsh commentary to Gensis 3:19

The whole lamentable condition of gaining a scanty subsistence via sacrifice is expressed in the little word-bread (L-Ch-M). The Hebrew word for sustenance (T-R-F) carries the root meaning of snatched, for it must be ‘snatched’ in the struggle implies that in the same moment of struggle against nature, there is another struggle against one’s fellow, the struggle of all against all. Did we not have to direct our minds so much to obtaining our daily bread, strife between man and man would be not so pre-eminent, and the idea of property would not weigh so heavily in the scales. But now that part of man’s very existence depends on every little piece of bread which he must gain through sacrifice, after he has struggled to wrest it from nature, he at once starts the struggle with his fellowman to keep that which he has won, or even earlier, to get ahead of him at the source in Nature.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why does Hirsh make the links between the struggle of humankind with nature for bread and the struggles between people and peoples?

2. Linking this to the punishment of Adam to be a farmer or taking the view of agriculture as punishment, what is the Torah and this commentary on it, suggesting about the risks and dangers involved with becoming dependent on cultivating nature for food?

(א) וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֱלֹהִ֔ים אֶת־נֹ֖חַ וְאֶת־בָּנָ֑יו וַיֹּ֧אמֶר לָהֶ֛ם פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֖וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (ב) וּמוֹרַאֲכֶ֤ם וְחִתְּכֶם֙ יִֽהְיֶ֔ה עַ֚ל כָּל־חַיַּ֣ת הָאָ֔רֶץ וְעַ֖ל כָּל־ע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם בְּכֹל֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר תִּרְמֹ֧שׂ הָֽאֲדָמָ֛ה וּֽבְכָל־דְּגֵ֥י הַיָּ֖ם בְּיֶדְכֶ֥ם נִתָּֽנוּ׃ (ג) כָּל־רֶ֙מֶשׂ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר הוּא־חַ֔י לָכֶ֥ם יִהְיֶ֖ה לְאָכְלָ֑ה כְּיֶ֣רֶק עֵ֔שֶׂב נָתַ֥תִּי לָכֶ֖ם אֶת־כֹּֽל׃

And God blessed Noah and his sons, and He said to them: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. And your fear and your dread shall be upon all the beasts of the earth and upon all the fowl of the heaven; upon everything that creeps upon the ground and upon all the fish of the sea, [for] they have been given into your hand[s]. Every moving thing that lives shall be yours to eat; like the green vegetation, I have given you everything. [Chabad Online Translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

What commandments are included in this text?

What is Noah and the people of his time allowed to eat that those prohibited for those before them?

Why might this change in what humans are allowed to eat have happened after the story of Noah and the Flood?

(א) לכם יהיה לאכלה שֶׁלֹּא הִרְשֵׁיתִי לָאָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן בָּשָׂר אֶלָּא יֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב; וְלָכֶם-כְּיֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב שֶׁהִפְקַרְתִּי לָאָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן, נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת כֹּל (סנה’ נ”ט):

"Shall be yours to eat": For I did not permit the first man [Adam] to eat meat, but only vegetation, but for you [Noah], just as the green vegetation which I permitted for the first man, I have given you everything.

Suggested Discussion Questions

Why was meat originally prohibited?

Why did this change after the flood?

(י) כִּ֣י הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אַתָּ֤ה בָא־שָׁ֙מָּה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ לֹ֣א כְאֶ֤רֶץ מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ הִ֔וא אֲשֶׁ֥ר יְצָאתֶ֖ם מִשָּׁ֑ם אֲשֶׁ֤ר תִּזְרַע֙ אֶֽת־זַרְעֲךָ֔ וְהִשְׁקִ֥יתָ בְרַגְלְךָ֖ כְּגַ֥ן הַיָּרָֽק׃ (יא) וְהָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אַתֶּ֜ם עֹבְרִ֥ים שָׁ֙מָּה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ אֶ֥רֶץ הָרִ֖ים וּבְקָעֹ֑ת לִמְטַ֥ר הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם תִּשְׁתֶּה־מָּֽיִם׃

For the land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables. But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What are the distinctions between farming in Egypt and farming in Israel?

2. What affect could being reliant on rain and carefully sowing seeds, rather than an overflowing river easily watering your produce, have on how you relate to food?

3. Egypt in Hebrew (Mitzrayim) comes from the root word for narrow (tzar). In Egypt farming was literally narrow, along the banks of the nile, what 'narrow mindedness' is the text suggesting comes form the place and way of farming in Egypt?

(לב) וַיָּשִׂ֥ימוּ ל֛וֹ לְבַדּ֖וֹ וְלָהֶ֣ם לְבַדָּ֑ם וְלַמִּצְרִ֞ים הָאֹכְלִ֤ים אִתּוֹ֙ לְבַדָּ֔ם כִּי֩ לֹ֨א יוּכְל֜וּן הַמִּצְרִ֗ים לֶאֱכֹ֤ל אֶת־הָֽעִבְרִים֙ לֶ֔חֶם כִּי־תוֹעֵבָ֥ה הִ֖וא לְמִצְרָֽיִם׃

And they set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves, and for the Egyptians, that did eat with him, by themselves; because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians. [Translation by Rabbi Steven Greenberg]

(ו) הָ֘ל֤וֹךְ יֵלֵ֨ךְ ׀ וּבָכֹה֮ נֹשֵׂ֪א מֶֽשֶׁךְ־הַ֫זָּ֥רַע בֹּֽ֬א־יָב֥וֹא בְרִנָּ֑ה נֹ֝שֵׂ֗א אֲלֻמֹּתָֽיו׃

He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him [England Standard Version Translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What relationship between humans and nature does this text portray?

2. Why might someone sowing seeds be tearful?

3. How do we support those who find that they do not come home with shouts of joy?

רבי אחאי בן יאשיה אומר הלוקח תבואה מן השוק למה הוא דומה לתינוק שמתה אמו ומחזירין אותו על פתחי מיניקות אחרות ואינו שבע. הלוקח פת מן השוק למה הוא דומה כאלו חפור וקבור. האוכל משלו דומה לתינוק המתגדל על שדי אמו

Avot D'Rabbi Natan, 1:30-B

Rabbi Ahai ben Yoshiya says: One who purchases grain in the market - to what may such a person be likened? To an infant whose mother died, and they pass the baby from door to door among wetnurses and still the baby is not satisfied. One who buys bread in the marketplace - to what may such a person be likened? It is as if they are dead and buried. But one who eats from their own (they have grown themselves) is like an infant raised at its mother’s breasts. [Translation by Hazon. Edited for gender neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How is growing your own wheat different than buying grain in the market? Why is buying your bread worse than both?

2. Why is it important for us to maintain such an intimate connection to our food?

3. How can we improve our food consumption patters to better follow the Avot d’Rabbi Natan?

Michael Pollan, New York Times Magazine, April 2008

But the act I want to talk about is growing some-even just a little of your own food. Rip out your lawn, if you have one, and if you don’t – if you live in high-rise, or have a yard shrouded in shade – look into getting a plot in a community garden. Measured against the Problem We Face, planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do – to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind...You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as Wendell Barry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems – the way ‘solutions’ like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do – actually begat other solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon.

Still more valuable are the habits of mind that growing a little of your own food can yield. You quickly learn that that you need not be dependent on specialists to provide for yourself - that your body is still good for something and may actually be enlisted in its own support. If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these are skills and habits of mind we’re all very soon going to need. We may also need the food. Could gardens provide it? Well, during World War II, victory gardens supplied as much as 40 percent of the produce Americans ate.

But there are sweeter reasons to plant that garden, to bother. At least in this one corner of your yard and life, you will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to comingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen...The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines, and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.

Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. Why does Michael Pollane think growing some of our own food will help in the fight against environmental degradation?
2. How does the situation that is bothering Pollane relate to the topics being discussed by the traditional sources in this source sheet?
3. How does Pollan frame taking this small act as offering personal emotional benefits as well being part of a sustainable response to diminishing the earth's natural resources?

תנו רבנן אסור לו לאדם שיהנה מן העולם הזה בלא ברכה וכל הנהנה מן העולם הזה בלא ברכה מעל מאי תקנתיה ילך אצל חכם ילך אצל חכם מאי עביד ליה?! הא עביד ליה איסורא אלא אמר רבא ילך אצל חכם מעיקרא וילמדנו ברכות כדי שלא יבא לידי מעילה

Our Rabbis have taught: It is forbidden to a person to enjoy anything of this world without a blessing, and if anyone enjoys anything of this world without a blessing, that person commits sacrilege. What is the remedy? They should consult a wise person. But what will the wise person do? The person has already committed the offence! Raba said: What this means is that one should consult a wise person beforehand, so that the wise person would teach them blessings, so that they should not commit sacrilege. [translation by Hazon. Edited for gender neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. The word "me'ilah" refers to the sin of using something holy for personal benefit. Standing in the shade of the Temple on a hot day was a me'ilah, as was eating food that had already been offered on the alter. What do you think of this idea?

2. Which sets of wise people might you consult in order to learn how to eat healthily and responsibly?

Fred Pearce, Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Travels to Find Where My Stuff Comes From, P. 98-99

But I must confess that I am still rather unreconstructed lover of Mars bars and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. And in the end, I think that makes me part of the problem. Too much chocolate in the shops is mundane and cheap enough for us to binge on the stuff. We accept its mediocrity, and ask only for more, at cheap prices. While we do that, the big traders and manufacturers will remain in charge, and the farmers and their forests will continue to suffer.

The disconnect between my world and that of the cocoa farmers of Cameroon is just too great. One young boy, the son of one the farmers, came up to me on my last day there and asked simply, ‘What does chocolate taste like?’ Sadly, I didn’t even have a bar to give him.

1. Why does Fred Pearce consider himself part of the problem?
2. How does the exchange with the farmer's son make you think and feel about the dynamic between what we consume in the Global North and producers in the Global South?
3. If it may be unrealistic for us to completely abandon convenient consumer products, how can we change our behavior so we are less "part of the problem"?