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Garden for God

Words have power according to Judaism. “Death and life are in the hands of the tongue; those who respect it will eat its fruit.”(Proverbs 18:21)

Declarations about our own selves have religious consequence; by declaring one’s self a Nazir, grapes, wine, and all their derivatives become strictly forbidden in the same way that non-Kosher food is forbidden to all Jews. Additionally, the Nazirite vow causes prohibitions on cutting or shaving one’s hair and coming into contact with dead bodies.

The Nazirite declaration was normally made for a set period of time, minimally thirty days, after which the Nazir brings a sin offering to the Temple allowing her or him to return to a normal life with the Torah’s standard set of Jewish prohibitions.

The need for a sin offering is remarkable, for it implies that there is something wrong with becoming a Nazir. But if so, why wouldn’t the Torah just forbid it, and deem Nazarite declarations halakhically ineffective? Not only does the Torah sanction it, it calls the Nazir “kadosh” – holy!

Some Talmudic sages saw this as a sign that Judaism does not intend for us to voluntarily deny ourselves permitted pleasures. People may sometimes feel the need to assume added restrictions to cope with certain challenges in life, and the Torah respects our self determination, but we are to understand that this is not ideal. The Torah already delineates those practices which are spiritually detrimental to Jews and forbids them; others are not to be denied if taken in moderation.

Rather than withdraw from the world, we are taught to value that which God has placed in our lives and to seek new experiences. In order to cultivate not only an appreciation but an appetite for God’s bounty, the Jerusalem Talmud states at the end of Tractate Kiddushin, that “…it is forbidden to live in a city without a vegetable garden… A person will have to answer [in the Heavenly courts] for everything their eyes saw but which they didn’t eat. Rabbi Eliezer was particularly concerned about this teaching, so he grew many species and tasted from each minimally once a year.”

This is something we can think about as we cultivate our own gardens.

Shabbat Shalom.