This thriving urban farm takes up 4,000 square feet of Mizmor LeDavid’s outdoor facility and enlivens the neighborhood, providing vegetables and herbage to anyone interested. Nourished by the local community’s compost and the care and labor of its dedicated volunteer family, the garden flourishes. Everyday people from the neighborhood come to harvest the beans, kale, cabbage, tomatoes, basil and much more to enjoy over the next couple of days, as stipulated by the shmitta halachot.

The garden not only provides delicious, healthy produce for the community, but is a springboard for teaching sustainable agriculture. The garden hosts community programs for synagogue members, student groups, and plan to integrate at-risk youth, the elderly, and adults with disabilities.

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Be a part of this holistic, holy effort. Support the Land of Israel by donating a small plant or fruit tree to this shmitta garden. Help cultivate a healthier Jerusalem and a healthier Israel.

You can track the efforts of the community garden with the Garden Digest and our Facebook page.

Donate to the garden HERE.

Parshat Ha’azinu

(Dvarim 32:1-52)

  1. We start Yom Kippur with Kol Nidrei. We declare publicly that we are clearing ourselves of the promises that we did not keep. All of us have real sins that need to be forgiven—and sometimes heavy sins. Why do we start Yom Kippur by focusing on unkept promises when there are more serious things that we have to deal with?
  1. After Kol Nidrei, we say together to God, “Forgive the whole congregation of Israel, because everyone sinned unintentionally”. Surely some of our sins were intentional. In what way can we interpret our sins as being unintentional?
  1. [Yom Kippur] On Yom Kippur, during the mincha service, we read the book of Yonah. This book tells about how the prophet Yonah is sent by God to Nineveh to prophesy to the people and tell them to repent of their sins. Yonah tries to run away and not go to Nineveh to warn the people. However, in the end, he goes. Why, on Yom Kippur, do we read about a prophet who is so agonized by his call to prophecy?  Why don’t we read about someone who answers God’s call willingly?
  1. [Ha’azinu 32:44] “…all the words of this song…” It seems that a song is effective because it will stay in the minds of the people in a more permanent way than regular spoken words. If songs or poems are so effective, then why isn’t every major statement or commandment in the Torah expressed as a song or poem?
  1. [Ha’azinu 32:52] “…you will not go into the land…” Moshe cannot enter the land of Israel. He is being punished for what seems to us to be a rather small sin. Our sages tell us that very righteous people are held up to a much higher standard than regular people. Much more is expected of the righteous. Is it just and fair that a regular person with many sins could go into Israel, while Moshe, with one small sin, could not go into the land?

Commentary

Sins between people are not forgiven until one has asked forgiveness from his fellow man and has appeased his fellow man. (Talmud Yoma)

On Yom Kippur we all become united. The truth is that we are always very close to each other, but our sins separate us both from God and from other people. We have to repair the wrong that we’ve done to each other in order to return us to our natural state of being close to each other–to return to our natural unity.  But we must remember that in addition to sins like theft and so on, we must especially repair the sins of the heart. We must really love each other.

–R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (18471905), Góra Kalwaria, Poland—the Sfat Emet

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

And to the memory of Sarah Beila Kummer bat Yitzchak and Chana, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

Shabbat Shuvah

(Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30)

(Hoshea 14:2-10, Michah 7:18-20, Yoel 2:15-27)

  1. [31:2] “…I can no longer go out and come in”, says Moshe. It says in another place (Deuteronomy 34:7) that Moshe never lost his physical vitality. What might be a physical interpretation of this statement and what might be a spiritual interpretation of the statement?
  1. [31:17] “…because God is not within me, these bad things happened”. What does it mean for a person not to have God within him or her? Why does this absence of God make bad things happen?
  1. [31:21] “…and this song will serve as a witness for them…” When the Jews will have turned away from God and  bad things will happen to us, this song will help to return us to God.   What qualities does song have that makes it better than stories or declarations to change a person’s attitudes?
  1. [Haftara: Hosea 14:3] “Take words with you and return to God…” Why does one need words to return to God?  Isn’t  tshuvah an experience which is above words?
  1. [Haftara: Hosea 14:6] “I [God] will be like the dew for Israel…”  What does this image mean and why is it considered such a blessing?

Commentary

[31:12]  “Gather the people—the men, the women and the children…”

Why did God say that all the children should all be brought to this gathering? Everyone is supposed to listen to the Torah, and the smaller children disturb one’s concentration. They make noise and they  demand attention.

This is coming to teach us the following: One’s own spiritual development is very important. But sometimes, in order to serve God, and especially in order to pass the Torah way of life onto one’s children, one has to give up on what seems like one’s own spiritual development. Focusing on others, rather than on oneself, in itself brings a great deal of spiritual growth.

–The Sfat Emet, R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (1847-1905),  Góra Kalwaria, Poland

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava—Eli Zucker

And this study page is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

 

(Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)

(Isaiah 61:10-63:9)

  1. [29:28] “…the hidden things are God’s…” What are the “hidden things” ? What are the “revealed things”? Why are the “hidden” things in the world at all, if they are not for us to relate to?
  1. [30:2] “And you will return to God and you will listen to His voice…” Rav Kuk tells us that we hear the voice of God speaking to us as individuals and as groups, in our everyday lives. In what ways do we hear the voice of God speaking to us?
  1. [30:11-12] This mitzvah which I command you today… It is not in heaven…” The Talmud teaches us that matters of Jewish law are decided by the majority of Rabbis. “It is not in heaven…”–the rabbis should argue about the law and decide.  If  Jewish law is telling us how

to do the will of God, then how can the majority of rabbis decide what the will of God is?

  1. [30:14] We are told that the ultimate purpose and greatest good of life is “not in heaven or across the sea, but rather is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it.” What are these “things” which are the greatest good, and are so close to us?
  1. [Haftara: Isaiah 63:8] “For He (God) said, ‘Certainly they are my children, they will not lie.’ So He was their saviour”. It seem in this pasuk that what makes the Jewish people beloved in God’s eyes is the fact that they don’t lie. In many psukim, however, it is stated that keeping the commandments is what makes the people beloved. How can this contradiction be resolved?

Commentary

[Devarim  29: 9,10]  “You are standing this day, all of you, before the Lord, your God: your leaders, your tribes, your elders, and your policemen, and each Israelite man; your little ones, your wives, and your stranger that is in your camp, from your woodchopper, to your water-drawer”.

In the Talmud (Pesachim 50a) Rav Yosef  had a near-death experience. About this experience, he said,  “I saw an upside-down world. Those who are on top here, are on the bottom there; and those who are regarded as lowly here, are elevated in Heaven.”  In our world, the leader or the wise-man is superior to the woodchopper or the water-carrier.  But in the ultimate reality, in God’s eyes, it is very different.

–R. Moshe Alsheich, Turkey, 16th century

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

And to the memory of Sarah Beila Kummer bat Yitzchak and Chana, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

Having struggled through the noisy, dusty and sometimes unpredictable soccer pitch construction, we have come out the other side stronger and more vibrant than ever. Our garden is now surrounded on all sides by a tall fence, giving us a sense of privacy and intimacy previously lacking. At the start of August we bade farewell to the super gardening team Julie and Marcel (pic below, standing and in hat), who returned to France, leaving us their amazingly healthy bed— neat rows of artichoke, tomato, celery, strawberry, basil and courgette. All the best to you both in Montpelier. You are missed… Au-revoir…

We also gained two new members — Sarah (pictured below right, with me left in my protective ushanka) and Ilana, who are already working industriously and productively in the garden. Sarah made several raised beds, a la permaculture, which within weeks yielded a mammoth tomato and cucumber crop. Her largest tomato, 20 cms in diameter, shows no sign of fatigue, and the vine from which it hangs looks none the worse for wear. Neither does she, despite working 20 hours plus each week in the garden, with her jigsaw and hammer, planks of wood and balls of string, buckets and spade.

Vered, hard at work below, returned from her summer vacation to find her beans had grown almost to the ground. I picked some while she was away and ate them spaghetti style, twirled around a fork in a rich tomato sauce. Her vigor unabated, she immediately set about cleaning the garden, clearing a space for 2 new composters (in the area outside the garden perimeter so people can deposit their peelings directly in the composters rather than leaving them outside the gate for us to pick up –or rather scoop up—when we arrive the following day).

She also salvaged some shelves from the roadside and is using them to house all our odds and ends (string, nozzles, scissors, nails, irrigation pieces, piping, paints etc). In true Vered style, each drawer is labeled (in Hebrew and English) and perfectly tidy.
Vered is onto Yossi, the soccer pitch contractor, to move our tool shed into the garden as promised (it currently stands outside) and to move the former sports equipment shed which is no longer in use since the basketball court has been grassed over. That will give us a lot more space for planting trees, creating a shaded seating and schmoozing area close to, but not inside, the garden.
Some beds are unattended and rampant with weeds. We are hoping to give those beds away, because the weeds are ugly and spread fast. If we can’t find people to take them, we will cover them and simply leave them unplanted throughout the winter.

At our meeting on August 26th, attended by all the regular garden members except Neil who was in Norway, we decided that it would be good to erect a succah at the back of our garden, which would serve multiple purposes, not least providing a covered seating area in all seasons and weathers. Given that it will soon be Succot, there is no better time than now to get that idea off the ground.

We also discussed the issue of water leaks, of which there have been many these past months. It is important that we are vigilant and if we find a leak, we turn off the irrigation line to that section. We have had several floods of late that are not only a terrible waste of water, but also damage the garden.
The manginot festival is coming up soon and we are considering participating. Members who wish to help should make themselves known (to Vered) and come up with ideas. We have 2 weeks in which to decide if we want to take part this year (the past 2 years were quite successful). The happening would be one day in October, to be determined by us.
Soon it will be time to plant for the winter season. We are busy pulling up our summer crops and preparing the beds for winter. Last week we had a timely delivery of eight bags of woodchips which will be used for the paths between the beds, the vines, and around the garden.
The felines are doing well. Kittens abound. Proud 4-legged mothers lounge on the bench and survey their offspring amidst morning glory, carob and bougainvillea. A fecund pastoral scene in the heart of the city, an oasis for man and animal, a cooperative venture from which everyone benefits.
Summer is coming to an end and the New Year approaching. I wish everyone a Shana Tova!

(Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)

(Haftara Isaiah 60:1-22)

(Pirkei Avot Chapter 3 & 4)

(Elul)

  1. [26:2] “And you will take from the first of all the fruits of the ground…” Why is the first of anything so special to us?
  1. [26:3] “Today I am affirming to Hashem, your God…” The person who brings the first-fruits says this. Why does he say “Hashem , your God”, rather than “Hashem my God”, or “Hashem our God”?
  1. [28:23] “The heavens above your head will be copper, and the earth under you will be iron”. What does this mean in a physical way, and what does it mean in a spiritual-psychological way?
  1. [Haftara: Yeshayahu 60:9] “…to bring your children from far..” This pasuk is referring to the “ingathering of the exiles”—the Jews gathering in the land of Israel. Rav Kuk speaks about a personal “ingathering of one’s exiles”.  What are one’s personal exiles? How does a person gather his or her personal exiles?
  1. [Elul] For the general non-Jewish world, the New Year is a time of celebrating the beginning of a new year and renewing ourselves. For us the new year is a judgment day in addition to a time of renewal. What is the difference between these 2 approaches?

Commentary

[28:47] “Because you did not serve Hashem, your God,  with joy and a happy heart…”

When a person is introspective, and he, himself, judges all the things that he does, then there is no judgment from above. Through this introspection and self-judgment a person can come to such great joy that he wants to dance as a result of his joy.

–R. Nachman of Breslov (Ukraine, 1772-1810).

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

And to the memory of Sarah Beila Kummer bat Yitzchak and Chana, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

(Haftara: Isaiah 51:12-52:12)

(Chodesh Elul)

  1. [17:14] “..and you will say, “I will put over myself a king like all the nations…”  The king, apparently, is the political leader, and the High Priest is the religious leader.  Wouldn’t it unify the nation more to have one person as both the religious and the political leader? Why didn’t the Torah command one leader?
  1. [17:20] “So that his heart will not be lifted up above his brothers…” Isn’t a king supposed to be above the other people?  What is the function of a king who is not above the other people?
  1. [21:1] “If a corpse is found on the land…” A very symbolic ceremony is carried out by the elders of the closest town to the corpse. The Rambam, one of our main authorities, says that this ceremony is for publicizing the murder and arresting the murderer. If the Rambam is correct, why did the Torah make this ceremony seem so symbolic and meaningful?
  1. [Haftara: Yeshaya 52:12] “You will not go out in a rush, or by fleeing…” When the Jews will return from Babylon, they will return in a relaxed way. What is the significance of returning in a relaxed way?  Why is this different from the very hasty way that the Israelites left Egypt (Shmot 12:11)?
  1. [Elul] “…God is my light…” From the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, we say Psalm 27 twice a day. What is the meaning of “God is my light”?  What makes this psalm suitable for the month which is a preparation for the High Holy Days?

Commentary

Tshuvah is the healthiest feeling of the soul. A healthy soul in a healthy body inevitably comes to the great happiness of Tshuvah.  One feels the greatest natural delight in Teshuvah.  The elimination of all bad spiritual  influences must come when one is both spiritually and physically healthy.

-R. Avraham Y. H. Kuk, 1865-1935, Lithuania and Israel.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

And to the memory of Sarah Beila Kummer bat Yitzchak and Chana, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

(Haftara: Isaiah 54:11-55:5)

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 6)

  1. [47:26] “…the blessing is listening to the commandments…the curse is if you don’t listen…”  The Torah does not say that if you listen to the commandments, you will get blessing.   The “listening to the commandments” itself, seems to be the blessing.

How is the listening a blessing?  Why is listening to the commandments a blessing, rather than “doing” the commandments?

  1. [11:29] “…the blessing on Mount Grizim and the curse on Mount Eival…”  What educational purpose is served by the blessings and the curses being centered on physical places and being expressed in such a dramatic way?
  1. [12:1] “…you will keep to do…all the days that you live on the earth…”   “What is the meaning  and purpose of the phrase, “…all the days that you live on the earth”?
  1. [Haftara: Isaiah 54:13] “And all your children will be taught by God, and the peace of your children will be great.” In this messianic vision, we are told that when God, himself, will teach us, we will have great peace.  Couldn’t it be true that having God as our teacher would bring us anxiety? How can we possibly live up to God’s expectations?
  1. [Pirkay Avot 1:3] “If one learns from his friend…even one letter, he should treat him with respect.”   What if one laughs with his friend or has a pleasant conversation?  Why is learning so important in our tradition?

Commentary

My mother, Mirl, did not pray from the book  because she could not read.  She only knew how to say the blessings. But wherever she said the blessing in the morning, in that place the radiance of God rested the whole day.

–R. Zusia, 1718-1800, Annipoli.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava—Eli Zucker

And this study page is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

(Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

(Haftara: Isaiah 49:14-51:3)

(Pirkay Avot Chapter 5)

  1. [10:16]     “Circumcise the foreskin of your heart…”  Circumcision is a sign of the covenant (agreement) between God and the Jewish people. Why is this sign on the sexual organ?   What does it mean to “circumcise the heart”?
  1. [10:20] “…and to Him you will cling…”   How does one “cling” or “stick” to God?  How does one cling or stick to God in everyday life?
  1. [Isaiah 50:1] “…where is your mother’s document of divorce [from Me]…” The relationship between God and the Jewish people is sometimes expressed in the image of a husband and wife, or of two lovers. Why is this a good image for the relationship between God and the Jewish people?
  1. [Pirkay Avot 5:10] “There are 7 qualities in a wise person: …he doesn’t interrupt another’s speech, he answers clearly without confusion, he asks according to the subject and answers properly, he answers in the order of the subjects raised…he admits to the truth”. The Torah wants everyone to try to develop these qualities. Are these qualities within the reach of every person? What kind of personality is the Torah trying to build?
  1. [Pirkay Avot 5:16-19] “Any love that is dependent on something–when the thing is gone, the love is also gone. But a love that is not dependent on anything never ceases.” We are told to “Love the person next to you like you love yourself” (Vayikra 19:18).  The Torah wants us to love ourselves. Is our love for ourselves a love that is dependent on something or a love that is not dependent on anything?

Commentary

Every person has  the ability to enrich the whole world from his spiritual treasure-house, should he have the strength to reveal it. And this refers not only to the wise and learned, but also to a simple person. The natural wealth which is in the soul is immeasurable since it is the light of God in the world.

  1. Avraham Y. H. Kuk, 1865-1935, Lithuania and Israel.

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

And to the memory of Sarah Beila Kummer bat Yitzchak and Chana, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

 

(Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)

(Haftara: Shabbat Chazon: Isaiah 1:1-27)

(Pirkay Avot: Chapter 3)

  1. [1:17] “…don’t be afraid of any man, for the judgment is God’s…” This pasuk is speaking to a judge. What does it mean?
  2. [Haftara: Isaiah 1:11] “What do I need your many sacrifices for? says God.” God tells us through the prophet that He has no pleasure in the festivals and sacrifices if the Jews don’t act morally. Can giving sacrifices with the right motivation help to make a person moral? What effect are the sacrifices supposed to have on us?
  3. [Haftara 1:27] “Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and those that return to her with righteousness”. It seems that the collective redemption is dependent on justice, while the individual redemption is dependent on righteousness. Is there individual redemption without collective redemption? What is the difference between justice (mishpat) and righteousness (tzedek)?
  4. [Pirkei Avot 3:15] “Everything is foreseen, and free choice is given…” The Rambam (1135-1204) understands this mishna to be saying that God foresees everything, but, nonetheless, there is free-choice for mankind. It seems to be a paradox, and that is the usual explanation. Our main commentator on the mishna, R. Ovadia (late 1400’s), however, says that this statement means that God knows even secret things that a person does, and a person can choose to do good. Why didn’t R. Ovadia accept the usual explanation? Why did he disagree with the Rambam?
  5. [3 weeks before Tisha B’Av] Our tradition tells us that the Messiah is born on Tisha B’Av, and that Tisha B’Av will be a joyful festival in the future. In our every-day lives, how can tragedy have a positive outcome in the future?

Commentary

Waves from the higher realm act on our souls ceaselessly. The stirrings of our inner spiritual sensitivities are the result of the sounds released by the violin of our souls, as it listens to the echo of the sound emanating from the realm of the Divine.

–R. Avraham Y. H. Kuk, 1865-1935, Lithuania and Israel

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker

And to the memory of Sarah Beila Kummer bat Yitzchak and Chana, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer

 

(Numbers: 30:2-36:13) / (Haftara: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1,2) / (Pirkay Avot 2)

  1. [30:3]  “When a person makes a vow…” The Talmud tells us that vows—promising to separate oneself from things that are permitted–is the first step to refined spirituality. What do vows have to do with more refined spirituality?
  2. [35:11-34] “…cities of refuge will be for you…” If someone killed a person accidentally, he could run away to a “city of refuge”, and he would be safe there from revenge. In those days, it was rare that someone killed by accident. Why does the Torah devote so much space to the “cities of refuge”?  What principles of law and behaviour are being taught here?
  3. [Haftara: 2:19] “Your own wickedness will correct you…”  How does one’s wickedness correct him or her? Is this an effective way of learning or an inferior way of learning?
  4. [Pirkay Avot 2:1] Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the rewards of the mitzvot.”  If we read this mishna in a simple way, it seems to say that one should not choose between mitzvot, but rather, do whatever mitzvah comes to hand even if there seems to be a more important mitzvah to do. That, however, cannot be true. What is this mishna coming to teach us?
  5.  [2:1] “Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is proper for the one who does (or made) it, and proper in the eyes of others.”  Rav Ovadiah of Bartinuro (16th century, Italy) understands this to mean that one should find a balance between one’s own desires and the expectations of the community. However, R. Moshe Zacuto, (1625-1697) says that one should do balance both what God expects and what the community expects. How is this mishna understood differently by each of these explanations?

Commentary

[33:1]   “These are the journeys of the children of Israel…”

The forty-two “stations” from Egypt to the land of Israel happen in the life of every person from his birth until his return to his source. Leaving Egypt represents birth, and one moves on until one comes to the land of elevated life (elevated life in this world and in the next world).

–R. Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, (1700-1760)

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Gad Eliahu ben David and Kochava–Eli Zucker