The Midrash tells us that when the children of Israel arrived in the Land of Israel, it was already filled with trees. Nevertheless, God commanded them to plant new trees. They were obligated to provide for others in the same way that others had provided for them. Perhaps that generation would not enjoy the fruits of their labour but the next generation would.
A story is told of Emperor Adrianus, who on his way to war passed an old man planting fig trees. Adrianus asked him, “Why is an old man like you planting these trees? You will not live to see their fruition. Others will enjoy their fruits.”
The elderly man replied that if he is worthy, he will live to eat them but if not, then at least his sons will eat them.
Three years later on his return from battle, Adrianus saw the same man. The man filled a basket of figs and gave it to Adrianus. Impressed with the man’s wisdom and determination, Adrianus took the basket and filled it with gold and gave it back to him.
God’s commandment to plant new trees teaches us the moral obligation that we have to work and plant for future generations. God gave us a perfectly prepared world, filled with all that we need. We shouldn’t just take and enjoy it. We must also show appreciation and pass on to others a world which is as complete, if not more so than the world we received.
This is not limited just to trees and plants, but also to our traditions, heritage and Torah, which we are obliged to pass on to the next generation so they too can benefit from all that we have benefited from.