Rabbi Oury Cherki
Kedoshim - Sanctified for Praise
Translated from Hebrew. Published at the Noahide World Center website and in Shabbat B'Shabbato.
While it is true that in a straightforward reading, the verse "When you come to the land you shall plant any fruit tree" [Leviticus 19:23] is part of the introduction to the commandment of Orlah (forbidding the fruit of the first three years of the tree), the Midrash also sees this verse as a statement on its own. "'Cling to Him...' [Deuteronomy 13:5] – From the beginning of the creation of the world, the Holy One, Blessed be He, occupied Himself first with planting. As is written, 'And G-d planted a garden in Eden' [Genesis 2:8]. So, when you enter the land occupy yourselves only with planting, as is written, 'When you come to the land you shall plant any fruit tree.'" [Vayikra Rabba 25:3].
We are used to understanding clinging to G-d as carefully copying His traits (Sifri Eikev 49) or as staying near Torah scholars (Ketuvot 111b), that is, through spiritual activity. But here we see a style of "clinging" through a pastoral act of nature, by planting. Forming a link through nature is not an obvious element in the traditions of our nation. Our attempt to keep our distance from the pagan world, which deifies nature and which turns man into a natural creature without any connection to his moral awareness, has been an important facet of the existence of Israel for all time.
On the other hand, our belief in the pure element of unity requires us to recognize G-d's presence in everything that surrounds us. This is the foundation of the holiness of nature, which operates in a concealed way in the world. Rav Abraham Isaac Kook explained that the need for holiness to appear in nature is the cause for the rise of secularity during the process of national reawakening. And this is opposed by a movement of religious opposition, representing "normal sanctity," which struggles against nature. (Orot Hakodesh volume 2, General Sanctity, chapter 23).
However, since both of these movements draw their sustenance from the same roots, the "exalted sanctity," neither one can ever defeat the other. In a way, this is similar to the war between the Leviathan and the Wild Ox at the end of days, when they will both fall down and be served at the banquet for the righteous souls, who watch the unification of the two levels of holiness from the sidelines.
On a personal level, every person encounters the sanctity of nature by reciting a blessing over food. Rabbi Akiva derived the obligation to recite a blessing from the phrase in this week's Torah portion, "sanctified for praise" [Leviticus 19:24], with reference to "Neta Rev'ai" – fruits of the fourth year (Berachot 35a). The first three years during which a person abstains from the desire to eat in a natural way gives him a level of sanctity that lifts him up above nature. And this is the point of departure from which he recites a blessing for the food. A blessing is not a way of making the food holy, as the other nations of the world think, it is rather a way of removing its sacred character. In the Midrash quoted above, it is written, "Do not read the word as 'hilulim' – praise – but 'chilulim' – not sacred." The blessing removes the natural holiness of the food, which would have meant that anybody who eats it is making use of something holy, and instead lets it lose its holiness, so that it can be eaten. And that is why "anybody who enjoys the pleasures of this world without reciting a blessing has sinned by partaking of something holy" [Berachot 35a]. When the food is eaten properly and in a moral way, it becomes holy with the sanctity of the human soul, as is described in the verse, "and you shall eat, you shall be satiated, and you will bless G-d" [Deuteronomy 8:10], by virtue of the blessing after eating. And this completes the cycle which combines the sanctity of nature, before the first blessing, with the sanctity which is beyond nature, after the second blessing has been recited.