Owning an apartment building has its challenges. Tenants don’t pay their rent and local governments make it almost impossible to evict them. Plumbing starts getting old and leaks break out everywhere. People trash their apartments causing costly repairs, or leave trash around their apartments attracting all sorts of pests from mice and roaches to bed bugs and rats. What if I told you that you could own a ten story building with none of those problems. When you want your tenants out, you can simply cut them out with a machete if they refuse to leave. You’ll won’t mind if there are water leaks everywhere, even when it starts leaking to the floors below. No one will trash their apartments, no one will smoke in the hallways or fry smelly foods, no one will make loud parties late into the night disturbing the neighbors, as a matter of fact, most of your tenants will literally not make a peep!

This building is still a few decades out, but I’m talking about a vertical farm. Currently there are many startups working on urban farming, and the tech is still in the development phase, but it’s only a matter of time at this point. You have a ten story building that has thirty layers of crops. The walls are made of glass to allow the sunlight in but you can supplement the sunlight with precision placed LED lights during the darker months of the year. The glass wall panels can be electronically swung open to let in beneficial breezes and temperatures, or swung close to keep out damaging winds and extreme temperatures.

Water is sprinkled in from above, and whatever is not used simply drips down to the next level, and the next and the next, ensuring that no water is wasted. On the bottom floor, you have a herd of organic sheep and goats that you grow for meat, but they also serve as your recycling plant. You feed them the waste leaves and stems from your crops, and they produce manure that you use as fertilizer for your crops. The nutrients from the fertilizer, which in regular fields leach away when rainwater drains off the land, also go down to the levels below and fertilize more plants. The crops that need the most nutrients are planted on the higher floors and the ones that need the least are planted lower, but you can always add extra nutrients at any level if not enough are coming through from above.

Currently, most vertical farms focus on greens and leafy vegetables, which have a relatively fast grow cycle, but scientists are already working on new strains of all sorts of other vegetables and berries, strains designed to flourish in urban vertical farms. Peppers, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, beets, peanuts and all sorts of herbs will be able to thrive indoors, and produce larger yields, once the geneticists have worked their magic. Trees are still going to need to grow outdoors, at least for now, and watermelons too, and most definitely watermelon trees…

You can set up a farmer’s market right outside your front door, and market to the thousands of people who pass by your urban location daily, or you can sell it to the many restaurants and grocery stores in your vicinity. No one will be eating fresher food than your customers, and they will appreciate you for that! You won’t have to fight with tenants who don’t want to pay, you won’t have leaky toilets, broken windows, malfunctioning refrigerators, or aging electric wires stuck in the walls. The peppers won’t be partying loudly all night long, and the cucumbers won’t be smoking in the hallways. The strawberries won’t leave their place in shambles with graffiti and holes in the wall, and the lettuce beds won’t have any bedbugs. Life as an urban farmer might be slightly less lucrative than owning apartment buildings, but there will be significantly less stress, more reliable income, and besides, it’s a growing business!

When I think of the Jewish community, I see urban farms everyone, only we are not growing leafy greens or bell peppers, we are growing human beings, as the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The urban farms, with their ability to trickle down water and nutrients from level to level is like a simcha, a joyous occasion, which Thank G-d, the Jewish community has plenty of. At a simcha, the people making the Bar Mitzvah, Bris, wedding or Sheva Brachos, are overflowing with joy. But if they were alone, that joy would dissipate into thin air. Instead, the community joins in, and everyone is able to catch the joy dripping off the Simcha family. A few weeks later a different family makes a simcha, and the community joins in, catching the joy dripping off of their family. Throughout the year, there are so many different simchas, that we constantly are being watered with the happiness and joy coming off of others. While in other parts of the world, after a wedding, the couple flies off on a honeymoon, in our communities they stick around for six more days of Sheva Brachos parties, there is simply so much joy in that new couple that we don’t want it go to waste!

We also are there to provide nutrients for each other when there is a tzara, a difficulty in the community. When someone loses a loved one, we all join in the family’s pain, spending seven days of Shiva comforting them and strengthening them. The Jewish community is a vertically integrated farm, organically raising beautiful people filled with kindness, sunshine, love, compassion and responsibility for one another. Because we live inside this incredible environment, we don’t often stop to realize the blessing that it is, but it behooves us to stop and recognize this gift that we have, and be thankful to Hashem for setting un a society so vertically integrated! It’s a growing community!


Parsha Dvar Torah

In this weeks parsha, Shmini, we read about the inauguration of the Tabernacle, and the first service ever performed by the Kohanim, the priests. For the seven days leading up to the inauguration, Moshe performed the service as a “dry run,” and in this parsha we read about the climactic moment when Aaron the High Priest is about to begin the service.

“And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Approach the altar and perform your sin offering and your burnt offering, atoning for yourself and for the people, and perform the people’s sacrifice, atoning for them, as the Lord has commanded.’” (Lev. 9:7)

One might wonder why was it necessary for Moshe to instruct his brother to approach the altar, wouldn’t that be a natural part of the performing the offerings? Rashi explains, “Moses had to order Aaron to do so, because Aaron was bashful and afraid to approach the altar. So Moses said to him: ’Why are you ashamed? For this you have been chosen!’” (Ibid.)

Moshe was telling Aaron that this was his role in life, his calling, and he shouldn’t be bashful, but should come forward and accept it.

The Arizal (1534-1572), the father of the Kabalistic renaissance, has another explanation, which teaches a beautiful lesson. He explains that Moshe was telling Aaron that he was chosen because he was bashful and ashamed to approach the holy Altar and perform the service. Had he been the kind of person who would approach the altar with a more cavalier attitude then he would not be the one for the job. But precisely because he had bashfulness and humility, and he didn’t feel worthy of the job, he was chosen for this mission.

Today, this idea still rings true. Some of the greatest leaders of the Jewish people, both in Israel and abroad, are people who practically had to be dragged out of the study halls and classrooms and brought to their positions of leaderships. They saw themselves as simple teachers, and did not feel like they should be leaders in any way. But, as Moshe said, “For this you have been chosen!”


Parsha Summary

This week we will be reading from two Torah scrolls, the standard parsha, Shemini, and then a special reading about the red heifer called Parshas Parah. This week’s parsha begins with a description of the offerings and ceremony involved in inaugurating the Tabernacle. For the seven days leading up to the inauguration, which was done on the first day of Nissan (the first month in the year), Moshe did all the temple services dressed in a simple white tunic. Throughout this period no heavenly fire came down to burn the offerings as this was not yet the real service. Finally, on the eight day, Moshe gives Aaron the green light and tells him in front of the whole nation to bring special inauguration sacrifices.

Aaron brought the various sacrifices and the people stood expectantly, hoping to see some sign that G-d was happy with the dwelling they built for Him, and was going to manifest Himself there. Nothing happened. Then Moses and Aaron went into the Tabernacle (until now they had been in the Courtyard), and prayed, asking that it be G-d’s will the He bring His Presence into the Tabernacle. At that moment, a fire came down from heaven and consumed the offerings on the Altar, indicating that G-d had come down and assumed a dwelling place in the Tabernacle.

The Jewish people greatly rejoiced at this wondrous sight. Caught up in the joy of the moment, two of Aaron’s sons went into the Tabernacle bearing an incense offering. A fire came out of heaven, entered their nostrils, and burnt them to death. There are many explanations as to for why this happened. Commentators state that the brothers into the Tabernacle to do service under the influence of alcohol, and/or that they brought a sacrifice that was not commanded of them.

The idea behind both of these explanations is that we do not tread lightly around G-d or His dwelling place. A relationship with G-d does not flourish  by our doing what we feel like doing, but rather by following the laws He sets up for us, and in the manner He prescribes. Aaron, after seeing his two sons die in the midst of this great celebration,

does not complain, does not say anything, but accepts G-d’s judgment in silence. He is rewarded for this by G-d giving him a special prophecy. G-d tells Aaron that a Kohen is never allowed to serve in the Temple after drinking wine. G-d wants us to get joy from our service of Him, without needing or having any external stimuli.

After that, the parsha continues with a discussion of how the food remains of the sacrifices of the day were to be eaten. One of the salient points here is a disagreement between Moshe and Aaron regarding eating certain sacrificial parts. At the beginning of the disagreement the Torah tells us that Moshe got angry at Aaron and his sons, and chastised them for not eating some of those parts. Aaron explains why he didn’t eat them, and Moshe agrees with him. We can learn two things from this exchange. Firstly, we see how quick Moshe was to back down; he didn’t allow his pride to get in the way. Moshe was in it for the truth, and had no personal stake in what happens. The Sages also teach us that we see from here that when someone gets angry, they forget their learning and make mistakes.

The last part of the parsha deals with the laws of kosher, the spiritual diet of the Jewish people. Some of the many benefits of kosher are that it always reminds us of who we are. (I have had the opportunity to travel to dozens of locations around the world, but I always remember that I’m a Jew because I can’t eat what everyone around me is eating, I have a special diet.) Here is a basic rundown. Mammals have to have split hooves and belong to the ruminant family (animals with multiple stomachs that send back their food from their stomach to the mouth for further chewing, also called “chewing their cud”). This includes cows, sheep, goats, bison, deer, and a few others.

Fish have to have fins and scales. Birds are different, in that the Torah forbids 20 families of birds, and allows all other families. Since we have lost most of our tradition of exactly what those families are, we only eat birds for which we do have a tradition regarding their kashrut status. We are then prohibited from eating most insects with the exception of some grasshoppers.

The parsha concludes with G-d telling us not to contaminate ourselves with all the non-kosher creepy crawlies and foods, because G-d is holy and those foods are spiritually contaminated. One way to view eating non-kosher foods is that it builds up spiritual plaque in the arteries that pump the lifeblood of our relationship with G-d. Besides what in the world could possibly be better than a good cholent?!? That’s all Folks!

This week, we will also read Parshas Parah, the portion in Leviticus that deals with the laws of the Red Heifer, the Parah Adumah. The red heifer was brought as a sacrifice and its ashes were mixed with water and a few other ingredients to create a liquid that could be sprinkled on people to remove spiritual impurity from them.

We read it at this time of the year, because it was at this time of the year that they would bring the red heifer sacrifice and because we are in middle of a cleansing time of the year, cleaning our houses for Pesach. The physical cleansing we do on our houses is supposed to remind us of the spiritual cleansing that we should be doing concurrently. Reading about the spiritual cleansing powers of the red heifer waters reminds us of that all-important job! That’s all Folks!!!

Quote of the Week: Great people undertake great things because they are great; fools because they think they are easy. – Vauvenargues

Random Fact of the Week: People in Siberia make clothes out of halibut skins.

Funny Line of the Week: Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.


Have a Charming Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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