Rav Kook plants a tree

(On the religious significance of planting trees in Israel; March 2007)

While preparing for our annual seder Tu b’Shvat, I received an e-mail from rabbinical student and synagogue youth director Jonny Gordon that included an excerpt from An Angel Among Men, Rabbi Simcha Raz’s biography of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), the chief rabbi of the land of Israel during the early years of of the modern Jewish return. The passage describes Rabbi Kook’s dramatic religious experience while planting a tree on Tu b’Shvat. I encourage you to read it at the following Web site:

Rabbi Kook’s words are illuminating because they reveal an extraordinary and little-known idea about the religious significance of reforestation programs. He cites a midrash (homily) based on “You shall follow the Lord your God… …and cling to Him.”

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 25:3) asks how a person can cling to the Infinite, and suggests that this verse is to be understood allegorically. We cannot literally cling to God. However, just as God created the world and then planted trees in it (Genesis 2:8: “The Lord God planted a garden in Eden.”), He instructed the Jewish people that when they enter the land of Israel, they should do the same (Leviticus 19:23: “When you enter the land, you shall plant all types of fruit trees.”). When they do so, they approach the Divine Presence (the Shechinah). As Rabbi Kook planted the tree, he was overwhelmed by the feeling that he was touching the Presence of God.

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