May 17, 2024
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Any careful student of Hebrew would notice that several key Torah ideas are related to plant life. For example, siach means both conversation as well as a bush. Zimra refers both to prayerful song as well as to plant pruning. The siddur refers to the Moshiach as tzemach (sprouting of) David. The Talmud says that the tzaddikim will be mebatzbetzim (sprouting) at the time of Moshiach, and Hashem is often described as Matzmiach yeshuot (sprouting salvations). This should not surprise us, as our original connection to the Land of Israel was via agriculture. The Mishna, particularly Masechet Kilayim, is testament to this fact.

Thankfully with our partial return to Israel, that plant-rooted consciousness is slowly returning. We are all aware of the agricultural prowess that the modern state of Israel possesses. Whether in agricultural irrigation technology or in exports, Israel shines in the produce arena. Yet, shining in the world of agricultural skill is not only a physical trophy, rather it’s a Jewish spiritual imperative. Plants are indeed connected to the spiritual world. In fact, according to the Ramak, “Herbs can be identified by the importance of their spiritual roots in the higher worlds.” (Pri Etz Hadar on Zohar, Shmot 15:2). The Ramak is referring to the idea that each herb has a secret of its own that is derived from a higher source, as related in the Zohar, given the Divine ministers placed upon them as they grow.

It is thus critical for Jews to understand the language of plants, especially those indigenous to Eretz Yisrael. And this is the journey that ethnobotanical researcher Avraham Dahan and his wife Leah take us on in their new book, the Encyclopedia Talmud of Plants (https://cth.co.il) This impressive Hebrew volume out of the holy city of Tzfat dives deep into the original plant life of Israel, from the giving of the Torah until today, and back. The Dahans bring the reader on both an alphabetical and spiritual journey through the fields of Israel with a Torah lens, full of pictorial delights. The Encyclopedia is not only a thorough reference book to Israel’s indigenous herbal life, but opens up the world of original Jewish herbal medicine through food.

The book is divided into several sections including the seven species, healing herbs, spices, fruit trees and the Ketores Hasamim. Each section not only delves into the original Torah-based identification of the holy plants, but also delves into their past uses in food, medicine and spiritual life. The authors also serve to connect our lives today to a deep herbal-based Israeli past. This monumental work returns us to our true roots in Jewish plant principles as described in Torah literature. May we soon merit understanding of the full bitzbutz of Israel and a complete healing by the smoking pillar of the flowers around Sinai.

Rabbi Dr. Yosef Glassman, MD
Bergenfield

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