Planting for the Future Written by: Devorah Katz

You can lead a Global Day of Jewish Learning ( event in your community by inviting people to study together on Sunday, November 17, 2019. At the same time you are learning, hundreds of diverse communities across the continents will also join this experience. Communities receive free learning resources to help facilitate the experience (this source sheet is adapted from the full 2014 curriculum - Heroes and Villains, Saints and Fools: The People in the Book). The 2019 theme is "Speaking Volumes" exploring how and why words matter. Together we can unite the Jewish people.

The act of planting is at the core of gardening and farming, and serves as a universally understood metaphor for long-term planning and investment. Planting holds a special significance in Jewish life. Sources from the Jewish tradition that address planting can apply to our lives today.

Part 1: The First Gardener

(יא) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים תַּֽדְשֵׁ֤א הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ דֶּ֔שֶׁא עֵ֚שֶׂב מַזְרִ֣יעַ זֶ֔רַע עֵ֣ץ פְּרִ֞י עֹ֤שֶׂה פְּרִי֙ לְמִינ֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר זַרְעוֹ־ב֖וֹ עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן׃ (יב) וַתּוֹצֵ֨א הָאָ֜רֶץ דֶּ֠שֶׁא עֵ֣שֶׂב מַזְרִ֤יעַ זֶ֙רַע֙ לְמִינֵ֔הוּ וְעֵ֧ץ עֹֽשֶׂה־פְּרִ֛י אֲשֶׁ֥ר זַרְעוֹ־ב֖וֹ לְמִינֵ֑הוּ וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֽוֹב׃

(11) And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation: seed-bearing plants, fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. (12) The earth brought forth vegetation: seed-bearing plants of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that this was good.

In these two verses, the Bible repeats four times the fact that the plants God creates contain seeds. Why is this fact apparently so important?

Part Two: Plant First and Foremost

אף אתם כשאתם נכנסין לארץ ישראל לא תתעסקון אלא במטע תחילה, כי תבאו אל הארץ ונטעתם כל עץ מאכל.

Leviticus Rabbah 25:3

Therefore, when you are in the Land of Israel, occupy yourselves first and foremost with planting. Hence it is written, “When you come into the land, you shall plant trees for food”(Leviticus 19:23).

Why do you think the first action the Children of Israel are to take when they enter the Land of Israel is to plant? What might be the significance of the commentary emphasizing that planting be done “first and foremost”?

אם היתה נטיעה בתוך ידך ויאמרו לך הרי לך המשיח. בוא ונטע את הנטיעה (ואח”כ צא והקביל).

Midrash Avot Derabbi Natan, Version B, Chapter 31

If you had a sapling in your hand and were told that the Messiah had come, first plant the sapling [and then go out to greet the Messiah].

Jews have been praying for the Messiah for thousands of years, yet this text says planting a sapling is more important than greeting the Messiah. How would you explain this?

Part Three: Planting For The Future

יומא חד הוה אזל באורחא חזייה לההוא גברא דהוה נטע חרובא אמר ליה האי עד כמה שנין טעין אמר ליה עד שבעין שנין אמר ליה פשיטא לך דחיית שבעין שנין אמר ליה האי [גברא] עלמא בחרובא אשכחתיה כי היכי דשתלי לי אבהתי שתלי נמי לבראי
One day, he was walking along the road when he saw a certain man planting a carob tree. Ḥoni said to him: This tree, after how many years will it bear fruit? The man said to him: It will not produce fruit until seventy years have passed. Ḥoni said to him: Is it obvious to you that you will live seventy years, that you expect to benefit from this tree? He said to him: That man himself found a world full of carob trees. Just as my ancestors planted for me, I too am planting for my descendants.

אשקא קא דריספק חריב ביתר דהוו נהיגי כי הוה מתיליד ינוקא שתלי ארזא ינוקתא שתלי תורניתא וכי הוו מינסבי קייצי להו ועבדו גננא

§ It was stated earlier that the city of Beitar was destroyed on account of a shaft from a carriage. The Gemara explains that it was customary in Beitar that when a boy was born they would plant a cedar tree and when a girl was born they would plant a cypress [tornita]. And when they would later marry each other they would cut down these trees and construct a wedding canopy for them with their branches.

What common theme are both of these texts addressing? What is the main idea of each text?

Bring to mind the theme and main ideas you identified in the previous question. Considering that many of us today live in urban societies rather than agricultural ones — even in places where we don’t have our own gardens — how would you apply the same theme and main ideas to our modern lives?


Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz. “Banishment from Eden”. In the Beginning.

God sent Adam forth from the Garden to till the soil from which he had been taken, work that requires sorting out, sowing, plowing, and harvesting. In order to be able to live from the earth, man has to keep digging, weeding and drawing forth from the ground. The point is that the work of weeding out the harmful and proliferating the good can be done only in and with the earth itself. The war of man against thorns and thistles, insects and rodents, is an incessant struggle, and it is part of his work of Tikun, correcting the world.

אע”פ שתמצאו אותה מליאה כל טוב, לא תאמרו נשב ולא נטע אלא הוו זהירין בנטיעות שנאמר ונטעתם כל עץ מאכל, כשם שנכנסתם ומצאתם נטיעות שנטעו אחרים אף אתם היו נוטעים לבניכם שלא יאמר אדם אני זקן כמה שנים אני חי מה אני עומד מתיגע לאחרים למחר אני מת.

Midrash Tanchuma, Parshat Kedoshim, Chapter 8.

Even if you find the land full of all good things, you should not say, “We will sit and not plant”; rather, be diligent in planting! As it says “you shall plant trees for food” (Leviticus 19:23). Just as you came and found trees planted by others, you must plant for your children; a person must not say, “I am old, how many years will I live? Why should I get up and exert myself for others? I’m going to die tomorrow.”

In these texts, Rabbi Steinsaltz and Midrash Tanchuma mention cultivation of plants alongside individual responsibilities to others. What are those responsibilities?

Which points made by these texts do you particularly agree or disagree with? Why?