God Himself planted a garden in preparation for the arrival of Adam:
“וַיִּטַּ֞ע יְהוָ֧ה אֱלֹקֶּ֑ים גַּן־בְעֵ֖דֶן מִקֶּ֑דֶם “And God planted a garden in Eden to the East.” (Genesis 2:8)
You might assume that since Adam was a vegetarian, what better place to be than the fruit and vegetables aisle of the supermarket.
Midrash Tanchuma presents a very different idea. It all starts with Roman emperor, Hadrian. He and his legions were on his way to put down a rebellion when he came across an old Jewish man planting a fig tree. Hadrian asked him why he was bothering to put in so much effort when he was very old. The man answered:
אִם אֶזְכֶּה, אֹכַל מִפֵּרוֹת נְטִיעוֹתַי. וְאִם לָאו, יֹאכְלוּ בָּנַי
“If I merit it, I shall enjoy the fruits of my plantings, if not, my children will eat from it.”
On the way back from their 3-year mission, Hadrian’s army passed the old man again. The old man filled a basket of his first figs and sent it to the Hadrian with the following message:
אֲנִי הוּא אוֹתוֹ הַזָּקֵן שֶׁמָּצָאתָ אוֹתִי בַּהֲלִיכָתְךָ.., הֲרֵי כְּבָר זִכַּנִי הַמָּקוֹם לֶאֱכֹל מִפֵּרוֹת נְטִיעוֹתַי, וְאֵלֶּה שֶׁבְּתוֹךְ הַסַּלְסִלָּה מֵהֶן מְנָתְךָ.
“My lord king, take these figs, for I am the same old man whom you found when you were on your way [to the war] … God has already found me worthy to eat some fruit from my saplings. Now this [fruit] in my basket is your portion from those [saplings].”
The Emperor was so impressed that he returned the basket filled with gold.
What was Hadrian’s outlook on life
Although Hadrian built a temple to Jupiter on the site of the Beit Hamikdash, the Midrash seems to credit him with appreciating the lesson he learned from the elderly Jewish man. Of course, one has to wonder what drove Hadrian to conquer and subdue so many nations? Was if for the future of the Roman empire or the immediate gratification of power and wealth?
Whatever the case, the Midrash makes clear God’s view on planting for the future:
יוֹסִיף וְיִטַּע, אֲפִלּוּ יִהְיֶה זָקֵן. “One should still continue to plant even though he is old.
This is related to the verse in our Parsha that instructs the Jews to plant when they reach Israel no matter how much vegetation is already there וְכִי־תָבֹ֣אוּ אֶל־הָאָ֗רֶץ וּנְטַעְתֶּם֙ כׇּל־עֵ֣ץ מַאֲכָ֔ל
“When you arrive in the land, plant fruit trees…” (Leviticus: 19:23)
The instructive symbolism of God planting a garden
Midrash Tanchuma concludes this piece with a cryptic but highly revealing statement:
אָמַר הַקָּבָּ’ה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, לִמְדוּ מִמֶּנִּי, כִּבְיָכוֹל אֲנִי צָרִיךְ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיִּטַּע ה’ אֱלֹהִים גַּן בְּעֵדֶן מִקֶּדֶם (בראשית ב, ח).
“The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said to Israel, ‘Learn from Me. Do I need [fruits], as it were?’ [And yet] it states ‘And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east.”’ (Genesis 2:8),
The fact that God started with the Garden of Eden was meant to send a powerful signal to all Mankind for all time. Perhaps God was even revealing part of His motivation in creating the world – to give humanity an opportunity to see the world as one big, shared, garden. A garden that needs constant cooperation and care in order to flourish. Each of us must think beyond ourselves, Even in our old age we must continue to plan for the sake of the next generation.