Do not plant a tree in the temple courtyard

The Literal Commandment

You shall not plant for yourself an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of the LORD your God, which you shall make for yourself. (Deuteronomy 16:21)

 

The literal commandment of this verse tells us that we should not plant an Asherah [pole] of any kind of tree beside the altar of the LORD our G-d. Although the traditional phrasing of this commandment indicates "in the temple" this commandment applied even prior to the Temple during the days of the tabernacle as the Israelites travelled through the wilderness and during their travels into the Promised Land.

 

Messiah Says

Messiah implicitly affirmed this commandment when He spoke about the Law:

"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

 

Pictures of Messiah

Asherah was a Canaanite fertility goddess and wooden poles or trees were the symbol that represented her. Several passages in the Bible may refer to the planting of a tree as a symbol of Asherah, or the setting up of a wooden object as an asherah—the Hebrew words for "tree" and "wood" are the same.1

Planting a tree (which was associated with Asherah worship) in the temple courtyard would inappropriately mix the imagery of the G-d of Israel with the false goddess Asherah. In a similar way we see that we should not mix any part of false religions with our worship of G-d. We should not consider Messiah as another G-d separate from the Father.

G-d, who knows all thing, declares that He does not know of any G-d besides Himself (Isaiah 44:8). He states again that there is no other god besides Him in Isaiah 45:5-6 and Isaiah 45:21.

The picture of Messiah given by this commandment shows us that, as Scripture declares, G-d is One! (Deuteronomy 6:4)

 

How Messiah Fulfilled

Messiah fulfilled this commandment by not doing what it prohibited. He never planted a tree in the temple courtyard.

 

Traditional Observance

This commandment is traditionally fulfilled in its literal sense: not planting trees in the courtyard of the Tabernacle/Temple. An additional prohibition against building wooden porches in the Temple was created to avoid the perception of sin when posts or footings were placed in the ground.

 

Other Notes

We are able to fulfill this commandment in a literal sense since the Temple and its courtyard no longer exist and so we almost automatically fulfill the commandment constantly.

In a figurative sense, we should not mix the teachings of Scripture with the teachings or activities of the worship of false gods.

 

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Footnotes

1. "Asherah." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. Retrieved May 21, 2011 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Asherah.html [back]

Commandment Details

  • Mishneh Torah # 52
  • Mishneh Torah Book # 1
  • Mishneh Torah Book Knowledge
  • Mishneh Torah Category 4- Idolatry and Gentile Customs
  • Reference Deuteronomy 16:21
  • Scripture Book Deuteronomy
  • Chapter 16
  • Verse 21
  • English You shall not plant for yourself an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of the LORD your God, which you shall make for yourself.
  • Hebrew כא לֹא-תִטַּע לְךָ אֲשֵׁרָה, כָּל-עֵץ: אֵצֶל, מִזְבַּח יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ--אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה-לָּךְ.
  • Greek 21 Οὐ φυτεύσεις σεαυτῷ ἄλσος, πᾶν ξύλον, παρὰ τὸ θυσιαστήριον κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ σου, ὃ ποιήσεις σεαυτῷ.
  • Parashah 48- Shoftim
  • Positive/Negative Negative
  • Sefer Hachinuch # 492
  • Sef. Hach. Command The prohibition against planting trees in the sanctuary
  • Category Temple and Sacred Objects
  • We can fullfill today Yes

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