“I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia-tree, and the myrtle, and the oil-tree; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane-tree, and the larch together.” Isaiah 41:19 (The Israel Bible™)
The nascent Sanhedrin is setting out to reinstate the Biblical Temple forest as part of their ongoing effort to bring the Third Temple into existence and has already begun planting around Israel to provide the agricultural needs of the Third Temple.
Rabbi Hillel Weiss, spokesman for the Sanhedrin, explained that the Temple was central to Israel as an agricultural nation strongly connected to its land. The Temple provided a link between the land, and the Divine.
“When people think about sacrifices, they think about animals and blood,” Rabbi Weiss said. “But most of the sacrifices were, in fact, from plants, grown around Israel.”
Many of the elements for the daily Temple service were agricultural and specific to the Temple. Semolina was frequently brought as a sacrifice with olive oil. The wine libation came from vines cultivated using a specific method. Rabbi Weiss pointed out that even some minor aspects of the Temple service required vast agricultural resources.
“The Mishna (Talmud) states that the Passover Lamb was roasted on a stick from a pomegranate tree,” noted Rabbi Weiss. “When the Temple is built, we will need millions of these sticks. Last week we planted 30 pomegranate trees, and this is clearly a very small step towards what we will need after the Temple is built.”
Ever-present on the altar were three piles of wood: the first for burning the animal sacrifices, the second for making coals to burn the incense, and the third for the perpetual altar fire commanded by the Bible.
The wood used in these arrangements were considered sacrifices. In the Second Temple period, the wood was provided as an annual offering.
And we cast lots, the Kohanim, the Leviim, and the people, for the wood-offering, to bring it into the house of our God. Nehemiah 10:35
There are many different plants required for the Temple, each with its own special conditions. The Sanhedrin’s new Temple forests are dispersed around Israel to provide the specific conditions suitable for each plant. In the Hebron Hills, they planted 30 Cedars of Lebanon and several pomegranate trees. In Kochav Hashachar overlooking the Jordan Valley, they planted half an acre of grapevines surrounded by Cedars. In Shaarei Tikvah in Samaria, cinnamon trees, one of the 11 ingredients in the Temple incense, are ready to be planted. In Itamar, a vineyard of 200 vines has been dedicated to Temple use. Seven date palms were planted in the Western Negev for use in the Shavuot offering.
The Sanhedrin is also making efforts to plant in the site of the recently destroyed community of Amona as an expression of connection to the land.
“In Biblical times, planting trees was one of the ways ownership of the land was expressed, but for now, it will be an act of healing,” said Rabbi Weiss, quoting Ecclesiastes.
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. Ecclesiastes 3:2
The idea of the Temple forest appears in the Bible, when Abraham planted a forest in Be’er Sheva.
Later, when Jacob returned to Be’er Sheva, homiletical teachings on Genesis collected in the fifth century describe him visiting the forest his grandfather planted in order to take seedlings down to Egypt.
These seedlings grew into trees and plants that were used by the Nation of Israel when they built the tabernacle.
The arboreal needs of the Temple are mentioned again in the Book of Nehemiah, when a wood offering is brought to the Second Temple.
And we cast lots, the Kohanim, the Leviim, and the people, for the wood-offering, to bring it into the house of our God, Nehemiah 10:35
“The Temple, as a House of Prayer for all Nations, was meant as a tikkun (fixing) for the entire world,” said Rabbi Weiss. “Reinstating the plants in Israel dedicated to maintaining the Temple paves the way to fix the plants and ecology in other places, as well.”