For Balfour Brickner, gardening is a serious avocation. His gardening provides the metaphoric trellis work on which to develop his convictions on philosophical and social issues. Particularly in the garden, he “finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones.” He credits his busy mother, Rebecca, with inspiring his love of gardens, noting that in Cleveland “friends and colleagues would joke that they could sell ‘Rebecca dolls’; ‘Wind one up and it will start an organization.'”
Eden, the first garden, prompts Brickner to a discussion of the well-worn question of free will versus predestination: choice is available and choice matters. “What we do makes the difference between whether God is expressed or denied in the world.”Brickner emphasizes that the actual text of the Eden story does not, as some later commentators do, link sex and sin. He deplores this “harmful equation” that persists in education and social policy in relation to both heterosexuality and homo sexuality.
The author’s gardening experiences in planting, weeding, composting and losing precious plants suggest analogies to love, sexuality, euthanasia, bereavement, cross pollination of group Torah study, the dignity of labor, the blessing of Sabbath, and the relationship between science and religion.
Consistently and knowledgeably Rabbi Brickner offers the Jewish perspective on tikkun olam—repair of the world—in which his garden work instructs him.
Lillian Steinfeld is a copy editor who finds inspiration at the family tree farm in the Catskill Mountains.