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Earth Etude for Elul 3: How will seeds of light and kindness grow?

by Rabbi Michael Birnholz

It is an adventure to be a garden educator. For me, while I plant produce for food for my home table, I am also planting on my synagogue campus to use the garden to teach Jewish values and the Jewish values of taking care of the garden and appreciating nature. Like many gardeners, I do plan my beds and planting spaces. I have many copies of elaborate maps so the right plant gets into the right spot. However, like many garden educators, hoping to bring my students into the planting experience, the outcome of the planting seldom matches my (elaborate) plans. How often do we say “Humans plan, God laughs?” I have updated it. Gardeners plan and kids plant. Sometimes it is frustrating (those cucumbers need to be next to the trellis) and other times a miracle (those tomatoes are happier near the sprinkler). I have seen the results, as my plan differs from the reality of the planting, range from waste (of a plant, a space, and energy) to wonder.

The challenge of “gardeners plan and kids plant” came to mind as I heard the story of Clay Elder–in a time of great personal challenge and adventure, a random stranger gave him $200 to attend Sweeney Todd on Broadway. The performance rocked Elder’s world and changed his life dramatically, leading ultimately to a Broadway career. It’s an amazing story of a figurative seed being planted, with no plan in mind except to make an impact on the world. 

I was reminded that planting seeds is both literal and figurative. Witnessing “gardeners plant and kids plant” in the garden is instructive as we move through the world. Now each time I go into the garden, with students or without, I look at all actions as planting. Whether the spark of the Divine goes to the plant or the planter, whether a literal seed or just a seed of kindness and caring, if it is full of love, joy, care, that energy goes forward. It is a reminder that might not be what was planned or intended, but that act of giving positive energy builds much needed kindness and love (Chesed), spirit and strength (Ruach and Koach) into our world.

Rabbi Michael Birnholz arrived at Temple Beth Shalom in Vero Beach in 2002 following his ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.  Over the 20 years that Rabbi Birnholz has been in Indian River County, he and his family have had a chance to grow in body, mind and spirit right along with Temple Beth Shalom.  Rabbi Birnholz enthusiastically shares his ruach and koach -spirit and strength – with the many diverse generations and facets of the Jewish community. From the biblical garden to tot Shabbat, from Men’s club breakfast to adult learning while making challah, Rabbi Birnholz is proud to be part of vibrant and meaningful life of his congregation.  Rabbi Birnholz has also enjoyed his wide variety of community opportunities to teach and preach Jewish values and wisdom. His hope is to build Temple Beth Shalom into a House of wholeness, harmony and peace and see these efforts spread caring, compassion and justice to the whole Treasure Coast and beyond. 

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Member since 2013
Rabbi Michael Birnholz came to Temple Beth Shalom in Vero Beach, Florida in 2002. Our congregation of 200 families enjoys our Florida paradise and works to create a vibrant Jewish community. We have been using our garden to teach Jewish values and using Jewish values to take care of the Earth since 2008.
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