There is so much to learn from a beautiful midrash on a verse in this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Kedoshim: “When you [the Children of Israel] shall enter the Land [of Canaan], and you shall plant every food-bearing tree…” (Lev. 19:23):
The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Israel: “Even though you will find the Land filled with every good thing, you must not say, ‘we shall dwell there and not plant saplings.’ Rather, be careful to plant saplings! This accords with the verse, “When you shall enter the Land, and you shall plant every food-bearing tree…”. Just as you entered the Land and found saplings planted by others, so too must you plant for your descendants.
Since trees take many years to bear fruit, this midrash continues by noting that some individuals might deflect this overarching collective duty to plant by claiming, “I am old and tomorrow I shall die, so why should I exert myself for others?” The midrash answers by noting that Hashem does not tell a person the time of his death, in part so that he will remain motivated to engage in productive activity throughout his life, for his potential benefit and/or that of his descendants. It then tells a story of an old man who planted with precisely this thought in mind and become rich in a surprising way from the resulting fruit – as well as the story of the man’s neighbors, who didn’t. The midrash then concludes:
Therefore, a person must never desist from planting. Rather: just as he found trees planted [in the world by others], so must he plant – and even more so. This is true even for an elderly person. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Israel, “Learn from Me!”, regarding Whom the Torah states, “And God-Hashem planted a garden in Eden.”
There is so much to learn from this beautiful midrash. By planting trees and moving Earth closer to an Eden-like reality, every person emulates God. Each generation must plant for each subsequent generation, leaving behind even more fruit trees than its predecessor bequeathed it. We must engage vigorously in long-term constructive activities without excuses, regardless of whether we will live long enough to benefit personally from them – and God will bless us for doing so.
— Rabbi Barry Kornblau