We have much to grow on in the coming year as we examine both the Torah and ourselves. I ask you to join me in a year of exploration, by sowing seeds that are a part of who we are and by reaping the fruits of our labors.
Anyone who has ever planted a vegetable garden or a flower bed knows that it takes work. Some of us have more luck than others. Perhaps it’s because of more knowledge about how to prepare the ground before planting the seeds. Perhaps it’s a matter of being more attentive to watering than those of us who trust that God will provide the proper amount of rain at the right time. Sometimes we have to take matters into our own hands if we are to fulfill our roles as God’s partner in this endeavor.
What is true about the gardens at our homes can be related to the seeds of faith that we plant in our hearts and souls. I recently read an aggadah (legend) related to what happened on Mount Sinai when we waited for Moses to return with a message from the Divine Spirit of Creation. During those three days of anticipation, the entire mountain burst forth with flowers and grass. Although it was springtime, let us not forget that we were in a relatively barren wilderness. In some Sephardic congregations, the Torah scrolls are adorned with roses in recognition of the sweet and aromatic qualities of this ancient text. In other parts of rabbinic literature, Israel is likened to God’s private and protected orchard.
The three days of waiting are significant. On the Third Day of Creation, God established all grass and fruit-bearing trees. Just as fruit is essential for physical life, the Torah is crucial to spiritual life, as we are reminded each time we return the sacred scrolls to the ark: Eitz chayyim hee—It is a tree of life to all who take hold of it.
When I attended CAJE, a convention for Jewish educators, several summers ago, I met a person who was deeply passionate about environmental issues and how they related to the spiritual nature of Jewish practice. During a hike into the mountains of Boulder, Colorado, he shared with us the following blessing from the weekday morning service that pays tribute to God as Creator:
Mah rabu ma’asekha, Adonai
Kulam b’chokhma aseeta
Mal’ah ha’aretz kinyanekha …
How wonderful are Your works, Adonai, With wisdom you fashioned them all. The earth abounds in Your creations …
Please join me in another year of exploration into the Torah and the many seeds that God plants into our hearts, our minds, and our souls. It may not be an easy task for any of us to look at ourselves in this way. But let us not lose sight of the wisdom that comes from the Book of Psalms but is a part of our daily practice of giving thanks to God after each meal. We rejoice in the great things that God has done in the same way that streams revive the desert each spring.
May we all find our share of happiness in our lives, growing in our understanding of ourselves, others, the world in which we live, and in God.