Gardens

גנים

At the heart of a retreat center there is often a garden.

When I think of Elat Chayyim retreat center in Accord New York (now incorporated into the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut), I picture the large organic garden. Earthy scents, warm soil, the buzzing bees lulled me into a state of peace each time I stepped inside its gate. The garden produced much of the food for the retreat center’s scrumptious vegetarian meals, and it also provided a spot for meditation, whether at work pulling weeds or sitting in stillness.

For some people, a garden is a place to grow food or flowers and connect with the soil. It’s a place to be most human because Adam, the first human being, was shaped from Adamah, earth. A garden may be a large and lavish backyard mini-farm like that of many of my friends in Northern California, a plot in a bustling community garden, a container garden on a city balcony, or a even a houseplant jungle.

Start On Your Journey

A public garden can be a place to relax and smell the roses, or perhaps be transported to another biome by strolling through a botanical garden.

In Jewish tradition, a garden is symbolic both of idyllic beginnings and a harmonious future. The earth itself is seen as God’s garden, the divine gift of humanity that we are bidden to “serve and to guard.”

Join me in this Gateway of Gardens to explore the symbol of the garden in Jewish tradition and in your life.

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

Soundtrack: Summer Meadow

Continue to the next path: read some reflections by gardeners or return to the Gateway of Gardens Featured image: meadow and stream at Rockefeller State Park Preserve, Pleasantville, New York, JHD

Gardeners Reflect

Gardener friends share their thoughts on the spiritual meaning of gardening... Oneness in the Garden Carla Resnick The garden is a versatile place. It can be highly tended, or let to run amok. In either instance, or in between, it is a place of infinite beauty. In...

Gallery: Growing Up in the Garden

We call my friend's enormous Northern California garden, "The Kibbutz." What a paradise for children! Getting hands dirty in the garden is healthy fun for young and old Click on the picture to activate the gallery.  

Eden: The Once and Future Garden

Eden represents the idealized human past...and future. The paradigm of all gardens is Eden. The opening chapters of the Torah, Genesis, present the concept of earth as a primal paradise, the Garden of Eden, in Hebrew,Gan Eden, גן עדן. There the first person, Adam, is...

Torah Study: Two Versions of the Creation Story

The Torah contains two competing or complementary accounts of how God created human beings:   Version I: Genesis 1:24-31 And God said, "Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures, cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their...

A Short Midrash: Don’t Mess Up the Earth

In this selection from the Midrash, God shows Adam all around the Garden of Eden and then gives him a warning not to mess it up: "To me, the sight of our Earth from outer space is not only  scientific triumph but today's most potent religious icon as well." --Rabbi...

My Garden of Eden–And Yours

My own Gan Eden was not in the East by the Tigris and Euphrates, but 90 miles west of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country near a small town with the improbable name of Utopia, on the cool, green Sabinal River. My parents bought it when I was 12 years old as a place...

Sacred Song of 42

Here is a beautiful chanting song of an ancient mystical prayer whose words include the 42-letter Divine Name. to a melody composed by Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks and performed by the musicians of Chochmat HaLev, a Jewish spiritual center in Berkeley, California. You...

Feet on the Earth: Take Your Shoes Off

When Moses stood at the burning bush,  (Exodus 3:5), YHWH told him to remove his shoes, because he was standing on holy ground. If weather, terrain, and social setting permit, going barefoot can be a great way to make a fast connection with the earth (even indoors but...

Hands on the Earth: Find Your Own Garden Connection

Experience a taste of Eden by growing some of your own vegetables, fruits, or flowers. There are may ways to find your own connection to the vibrant energy of growing plants, wherever you may live. Beginner gardeners can get guidance on sites like this. Even if you...

The King is In the Field: A Meadow Gallery

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi taught a parable of a king on the way to the palace, who can be approached by everyone in the countryside with ease. His expression, "the King is in the field," characterized the late summer month of Elul prior to the New...

Bitter and Sweet of the Garden at Passover

Passover, the Festival of Spring and Freedom, is a holiday associated with food. Matzah, of course, the flat unleavened bread (I recommend whole wheat), to remind us of the unleavened bread that our ancestors baked in their haste to leave slavery in ancient Egypt,...

Farming Tzedakah: The Gleanings and Corners of Your Field

The Torah (Leviticus 19:9-10) teaches that farmers must  leave the gleanings of their harvest and the corners of the fields for the needy to come and collect This is an early form of tzedakah (justice, charity) that is elaborated on in the Mishnah, the foundational...

Shemitah: The Sabbatical Year

Shemitah, the Sabbatical year (Levicitus 25), is a revolutionary Torah commandment: every seven years the land will lie fallow and enjoy a Sabbatical year of rest and release. The land needs to rest just as human beings need a weekly Sabbath. Deuteronomy 15 adds a...

Community Gardens: Edible Towns and Gangsta Gardeners

Gardening today is becoming  one of the most innovative areas of Tikkun Olam, healing and repairing the world. Community Gardens and sharing of garden harvests help the environment and feed the hungry while fostering community. Community Gardens are springing up...

Gallery: A Synagogue Farm in the Suburbs

Congregation Sons of Israel in Briarcliff Manor, New York, founded the CSI Community Organic Farm on 1.5 acres at the back of the synagogue’s property. The farm offers communal gardening, a farmer's market, and donations to the needy. Chickens are raised and their...

Sharing Circle: Your Garden of Eden

Join the sharing circle to share your reflections about any of the themes in this Gateway. Did you have a special place in nature that was formative to your soul, your own "Garden of Eden"? What was it like? Do you have such a place now? Is gardening a spiritual...

CW Song about Dirt!

As a Texan, I often find wisdom in Country Western Songs, and here is one about the Adamah--Dirt! Share some of your thoughts about your own Garden of Eden or return to the Gateway of Gardens.