By Ellen Goldstein
This week’s Torah portion, Sh’mini, is found in Leviticus and deals with sacrifices, the death of two of Aaron’s sons, and the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher). In the section dealing with kashrut, the text tells us “…for you must distinguish between the sacred and the profane.” Today I am going to focus on what I see as sacred, one of the ways I forge a path to God.
In Genesis, we meet Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a place of unparalleled beauty and divinity. Elsewhere, we are introduced to the “seven species”: wheat, barley, figs, grapevines, pomegranates, olives and date palm honey. The Torah exhorts us to love God, and Maimonides teaches us that one way to do that is to focus on the wonders of creation. For me, that’s easy. I love to spend time focusing on the beauty that resides in gardens. Specifically, my little Elmwood Village garden, and the many other exquisite gardens all over the Buffalo Niagara area.
When God first appears to Moses in a burning thorn bush, we are shown that vegetative life is infused with divine presence. And I see that divine presence every time I go outside into my garden and look at a flower, a seed, a green plant, a tree, even a weed. I see it every single time. And early spring, which began last week in Western New York, is the perfect time to appreciate God’s magical work of plants, flowers and trees.
As I write this, the snow drops—little white flowers on green stems which look like, well, drops of snow—are flowering all over the back and front yards. Crocuses are starting to push their spiky leaves up through the dirt, as are early tulips. The lilac buds that formed last fall are fuller now as they prepare to burst open in a few weeks, and the forsythia is nearly in flower.
I’m beginning spring clean-up this week, to prepare for summer’s busy garden calendar, which includes Garden Walk Buffalo the last weekend of July and Open Gardens every Thursday evening during July, all through the auspices of Gardens Buffalo Niagara. And as I wait to see what survived the winter weather and animal foraging, I am planning magnificent pots of flowers, grasses, tomato and cucumber varieties, and sunflowers that are in my head or drawn on paper.
I love the process of beginning the season with infant plants, then tending and caring for them as they grow into magnificent bouquets and fruits of God’s presence here in my small yard. I adore the feel of the soil, stems and seeds, the smell of the earth and the flowers, and the taste of the tomatoes, berries and basil that is the swan song of those little spring seeds.
Our tradition teaches us that beauty for its own sake is not the point, but beauty is an opportunity to praise God. And that, for me, is what is sacred. I invite you to come by this summer on Garden Walk Buffalo or Open Gardens and share my view of a little piece of God’s heaven in urban Buffalo.
Ellen Goldstein is Editor of The Jewish Journal of WNY and a member of Temple Beth Zion and Congregation Beth Abraham.