Clergy’s Corner

Read Rabbi Barras’ Monthly Reflections — “Rav Bar Oz

In this space each month, we feature the writings of one of the members of our Beth Am Clergy. This month we invite Rabbi Judith Kempler to share some thoughts with you. You may contact her at with any comments.

We are guardians of the Earth... SHOTS/KEMPLER_judith.gif

As a child, I vividly remember my father planting our first vegetable garden. It wasn’t anything impressive — just a little patch on the side of our house. But, as a child it was intriguing and in some ways, magical. Somehow small dots of white and black seeds grew into sprawling tomato plants and watermelon patches, peppers and basil. In my memory, nothing could match the taste of those fruits and vegetables, grown in the humid mid-Atlantic summertime, eaten on our screened porch during bar-b-ques and family gatherings. From these early years I was inspired by nature and specifically our ability to plant something so small and nurture it into something profound, beautiful and tasty!

As a college student I spent two summers working on an organic farm near my parents’ home in Columbia, Maryland. Hours were spent weeding literal “cabbage patches,” straightening vines for pole beans and harvesting raspberries. Each day, I returned home parched, exhausted, filthy and satisfied: spending hours in close connection with nature allowed me to experience God’s presence in immeasurable ways. Each day’s work was a meditation on our responsibility to take care of our world.

In Judaism, we learn about the middah (value) of shomrei adamah, which translates as “guardians of the Earth.” Each of us is called to take care of and cultivate the land. In the book of Genesis, in our first narrative about humanity’s relationship to nature we read, Vayikach Adonai Elohim et ha’adam vayanicheihu b’gan eden l’avdah u’lshamrah. “Adonai our God, took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to till it and to tend to it.” (Genesis 2:15)

In this one line of Torah we learn that we are beneficiaries of the earth’s produce and also are held responsible to guard and protect it. God gives man (and by extension) and all of humankind the gift of the land.

Today, the “Jewish food movement” applies these early teachings as well as agricultural laws and practices set down in the Talmud. Jewish farmers are teaching peers and institutions alike the value of growing one’s own food in a Jewish way. For example, they leave the corners of their field for the poor, as we learn in Mishnah Tractate Pe’ah; they don’t plant wheat and barley together, a teaching found in Tractate Kilayim. For those raising animals (some for slaughter, they teach and model tzaar ba‘alei chayim, the value of kindness to animals. It is possible, according to the modern Jewish farmers, to “do Jewish” farming wherever Jews live, in Israel or in the diaspora (in places like Miami!).

At Temple Beth Am this past Mitzvah Day, we planted the beginning of our first community garden, right here on our campus! Forty Beth Am individuals ranging in age from toddlers to grandparents, spent hours digging, planting, watering and beautifying small raised beds of peppers, broccoli. kale, tomatoes and several other plants. In our garden (which still needs an official name), we plan to create a space for our congregation to learn about what is means to farm in a Jewish and organic way. Want to be involved? Please email us at

Rabbi Judith Kempler

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