Parashat Kedoshim - Holy Horticulture in our Homeland (with Honi)
Matt Rutta – Delivered before AJU Hillel 5/2/08
This week we read parashat Kedoshim, also known as the Holiness Code. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am Holy!” There are over 50 mitzvot in this Parasha. Many of them have been over-analyzed and cliché: don’t put a stumbling block before the blind, love your neighbor as yourself, don’t steal, observe my laws, Harry Potter is liable to the death penalty... It goes on like this. The other mitzvot in this parasha include prohibitions of idolatry, agricultural laws, and sexual taboos. So I will discuss the subject I think you are the most interested in: agricultural laws!
A good number of the agricultural laws in this parasha apply in the land of Israel. When one can harvest, what one can harvest, the time one must wait after planting a tree before one can eat from the tree, and a promise that God is bringing us to a land flowing with milk and honey.
A story about Honi the Circlemaker who is probably best described as a mystical shaman from 2000 years ago. Besides the famous story of how he brought rain to the drought in Jerusalem, there is another story in which he has a real problem with understanding Psalm 126, which we will read tonight as Shir HaMaalot, the introduction to Birkat Hamazon: “A song of ascents, when God will return the exiled of Zion, we will be like dreamers.” The Talmud records a tale that he finds an old man preparing to plant a carob tree. He tells the man that he is foolish to plant a tree that takes 70 years to bear edible fruit, well past his lifespan. The old man acknowledges his mortality and says that he’s doing it so his future generations will have carobs to enjoy, just like his ancestors had planted for him. After Honi stopped berating the man he sat down to eat and fell asleep. Rocks concealed him and he slept for 70 years. He awoke because he saw the same old man and thought he had just taken a small nap, but then saw a gigantic tree overflowing with carobs, he asked the man if he had planted the tree and the man said that it was his grandfather who planted it 70 years ago, well before he was born, and Honi realizes he’s been asleep and dreaming for 70 years. I think the lesson Honi realized then that though the life of one person may be fleeting, the acts that we do can long outlive us. The old man had lived his lifespan, appreciating the contributions of his ancestors. Then the newly planted tree as well as Honi himself remained dormant for 70 years, which incidentally is the same amount of time that our ancestors were exiled in Babylon after the First Temple was destroyed and then we woke up from our exile. Our people were again removed for 2000 years, the song of ascents we may recite for this exile would be that we were in a nightmare. But finally we returned to the land of Israel and in 1948 we once again began to enjoy the fruit of the land.
The Haftarah this week, the ninth chapter of Amos, ends “Behold the days are coming, declares the Lord, when the plowman will meet the reaper, and the treader of grapes, him who holds the bag of seed, when the mountains shall drip wine and all the hills shall wave with grain. I will restore my people Israel. They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine; they shall till gardens and eat their fruits. And I will plant them upon their soil, nevermore to be uprooted from the soil I have given them – said the Lord your God.”
We have been restored and have begun to rebuild, with bountiful and varied produce, the new vineyards are some of the finest in the world, and we have caused the desert to bloom. It has been sixty years since statehood, there are still ten years left until we can enjoy carobs that were planted since the rebirth of the State of Israel, reishit tzmichat geulateynu, the first sprouting of our Redemption, a land which our grandparents fought for so that we could live free in a land of our own. We must continue to fight for it, and plant in it, not just trees, but the seeds of peace. And much like a strong-rooted carob tree, we will never again allow ourselves to be uprooted from the land. For if we will it, it is no dream. Shabbat Shalom.