Planting Seed

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated.

Rated PG-13

One of the most frequently-used analogies for sex and procreation in Biblical literature is vegetation and the earth’s ability to produce.

Truly – it is everywhere. When Adam and Eve are cursed after eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, she is cursed by being sexually subjected to her husband’s temperament, and by “toil” in childbearing. For the same crime, he is cursed by being subjected to the earth’s temperament, and with “toil” in producing crops. See Genesis, 3:16-19.

The same expressions are used for both the earth producing, and for male ejaculation. Thus, for example, after he murders his brother Abel, Cain is cursed with the earth no longer giving “its strength (koach) to you.” Genesis, 4:12. When Jacob blesses his sons before his death, he refers to Reuben as “my firstborn, my strength (koach), and the first of my might.” Genesis, 49:3. The Talmud states that this is a reference to the fact that Reuben was conceived from Jacob’s very first drop of semen.

Indeed, in one of Isaiah’s prophecies, he says “the rain and the snow fall from the heavens, and it does not return there, unless it has satiated the earth and caused it to bear offspring and caused it to produce vegetation.” Isaiah, 55:10. Thus, Isaiah explicitly borrows expressions relating to human procreation to describe earth’s plant life.

Of course, there are abundance examples of the reverse as well. Have a quick look at how the Urban Dictionary defines the word “plow” Proverbs describes “a harlot” as a “deep ditch,” Proverbs, 23:27. The Hebrew word for semen is “zera,” meaning “seed.” “Man is a tree of the field.” Deuteronomy, 20:19. And so on and so forth. This is without even looking at the myriad examples of the anthropomorphization of the Land of Israel throughout the Tanach.

The truth is that the relationship between earth and man is not merely a euphemistic one. Kabbalah explains that there is very profound parallel between the ground’s ability to produce and the human ability to procreate.

A tree is grown by first opening up and loosening the earth by plowing, and then sowing a seed. Deep in the earth, the seed rots and disintegrates, until it is replaced by a sapling, which grows and grows, until it breaks through the surface. There it continues to grow until maturity, producing much fruit and many thousands of seeds. There is no reason that a new tree should not be able to exceed the tree from which it originally came, in terms of its strength and fruitfulness – and it often does.

Humans are created in much the same way. Through sexual intercourse (“plowing”), a woman is stimulated and loosened to receive the male’s seed. In her womb, the seed grows into an embryo, then a fetus. Finally, after nine months, the baby “breaks the surface” and emerges into the world, where he/she continues to grow to maturity. There is no reason that a child cannot grow to surpass his/her parents – whether in terms of physical proportions, looks, talents, skills or intelligence.

This parallel is because both sex/childbirth and planting/growth are reflections of G-d’s own attribute of creation ex nihilo – creating something from nothing. The incredible variety that we see in our world was created from nothing, with the Ten Utterances described in the beginning of Genesis. Indeed, science has long recognized that all of matter can be reduced to pure energy; that although our sense tell us that our world is comprised of solid materials, a powerful microscope will reveal that what we think is solid is no more than a loose association of energy particles. Something from nothing.

There is, however, an important distinction between the source of plant life and the source of human life. Kabbalah explains that, with plant life, a tree’s origin is actually not the seed that was planted. Rather, the seed is merely a marker and a beacon, sending a message to the soil: “Please produce an apple tree, and please produce it here.” The seed then disintegrates, acting as a trigger for the earth to produce an apple tree in that very spot. The essence of every tree, therefore, comes from the earth itself, and from the power of growth that G-d bestowed upon it when He commanded: “Let the earth sprout vegetation, seed yielding herbs and fruit trees producing fruit according to its kind in which its seed is found, on the earth.” Genesis, 1:11. The seed is merely a signal, giving up its own existence for the purpose of provoking a reaction in the earth.

Conversely, the essence of every human is the seed that was implanted in the woman’s womb. Unlike the earth, a woman does not spontaneously conceive, nor is the seed merely a trigger. Rather, Kabbalah sees the seed itself as the essence of the child, an essence that forever maintains its link to the the child’s father. Thus, whereas the seed of a fruit withers and rots, the seed of a human grows and develops. The seed of a fruit surrenders its existence, invoking the earth’s own awesome power of growth; the seed of man holds that awesome power within itself, though that power is unlocked and nurtured by the mother’s body.

In this week’s Parshah, Ki Tavo, the Torah describes the commandment of Bikkurim – the gift of the first fruits. In this mitzvah, the Jews were commanded to gather “the first of all the fruit of the ground” for that season in a basket, and to bring them to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There, the fruits would be presented to G-d as a gift of thanks, demonstrating our appreciation for His blessings and care, and a testament to the depth of our relationship. There will be plenty more fruits and produce to satisfy our own hunger; but our first fruits are to be a gift.

On a human level, “the first of all the fruit of the ground” is perhaps a symbolic parallel to “the first of my might” of which Jacob spoke. The first seed; the first intimate release. And the Torah teaches that the first release should not be hoarded for oneself; it should be a gift, a sign of appreciation. Appreciation towards G-d, certainly, for blessing us with the beauty inherent in intimate relationships. But also appreciation for our partner, a reaching out, a confirmation of our relationship, and how much the other person matters to us. There is room for self-gratification in the relationship, but that can come later. Our first fruits should be spent strengthening and cultivating our bond with another.

Shabbat shalom!