Daf Yomi Shabbos 85: On tasting the earth like a snake

You shall not cross your neighbor’s border, which they of the old times have set in your inheritance that you shall inherit”

Today’s reading felt like a page turn of the Burpee seed catalog, which I used to pore over as child when it would arrive at my family’s home. For some reason, which makes no sense if you know me, I was fascinated by the possibilities of planting seeds that would bring forth flowers, vegetables, perennials, herbs, and fruits. I was particularly fascinated by the pictures of fruit trees and would plot out my imaginary garden with different varieties of fig, peach and orange trees. I convinced my parents to order a baby orange tree, which I over-watered out of my enthusiasm to own a tree of my own and sadly watched wither and die.

Today’s Daf Yomi is deeply rooted in the earth and we are provided with a blueprint on how to plant a vegetable garden, like the one I would conjure in my imagination as a child when I would study the Burpee catalog. We are provided with instructions in today’s reading on how to ensure seeds of different varieties do not comingle. We are told to respect borders that were established through plantings of our ancestors for they determine “the parameters necessary for each plant.” This suggests that we should respect the knowledge and wisdom of those who came before us who understood in their very essence the best use of our land.

We are introduced to a dynasty that is so connected to the land that they “taste the earth like a snake.” The reference is to the sons of Seir the Horite who we are told were experts in settlement of the land. They knew how to plot their land so that olive trees, grapes and figs would flourish. The mention of being able to taste the earth suggests they were fully aligned with its texture and mineral content. The notes in the Koren Talmud suggest that the Horites might have tasted the earth to determine the PH level, so that they could better plot the most optimal placement for each plant.

All of a sudden, I have the desire as I shelter in place to start a vegetable garden on my little balcony. I have reacquainted myself with the offerings from Burpee, but this time through its online website rather than the glossy catalog. There is a section on the website entitled “mix and match” plants which I am positive violate the prohibition against comingling.  But for $19.95 you can order three varieties of vegetable seeds for a starter garden. When I told a friend recently that I wanted to grow something, she suggested verbenas and petunias, which she gently added are impossible to kill. I have the urge to see something transform from a raw seed into a flower, or a fruit, or a vegetable; it is being able to say I have some connection to the earth, even if it is through a small pot on a balcony in the middle of New York City.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
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