TreesEitz • עץ
One of the first things I noticed at Elat Chayyim (“Tree of Life”) Retreat Center near Woodstock, New York, were the huge trees, especially some venerable giant pines growing outside the dining area. As days went by, the trees seemed to me more than just features of the landscape, but rather as fellow beings who partook in the love of the environment, creatures from whom I could learn. It was not so fanciful when I learned that Jewish tradition compares trees to human beings. Humans seem to rule the animal kingdom while trees are the most developed of plants. Both receive nourishment from our roots and aspire upward toward the light, and as Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi pointed out, both trees and human beings never stop growing. Moreover, he often pointed out that the growing edge of a tree is on the outside, and so we–and our tradition–must continue reaching outward in order to be renewed.
“For is a tree of the field human” (to withdraw before you in a siege, Deuteronomy 20:19)? The biblical verse prohibiting the logging of fruit trees during a siege can also be read literally as: “For a human being is a tree of the field” Ki ha-adam etz ha-sadeh כִּ֤י הָֽאָדָם֙ עֵ֣ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה
In forests, jungles, orchards, and cities, trees are essential to life on earth, since they provide oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide and remove pollutants, while also providing countless expressions of beauty, shade, food, wood, and soil conservation. Read about the “top 22 benefits of trees.”
Join me in this Gateway of Trees to explore the symbol of the Tree in Jewish tradition and in your life.
The five famous fruit trees of the Holy Land are noted along with two grains as the “Seven Species” (Shivat Haminim, (Deuteronomy 8:8). Embrace their bounty in artwork, Sukkah and home decorations, and foods for Jewish celebrations, especially Tu Bishvat (New Year of Trees). In California, my husband Avraham planted all five in our garden.
At the heart of the Bible’s first story, humanity in the Garden of Eden, two trees play a central role, the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life
Are we really exiled from the Tree of Life? While the book of Genesis depicts the exile from the Garden of Eden and it’s Tree of Life, elsewhere Bible declares that the Tree of Life is available to us in another form.
She is a tree of life to those that hold on to her, and all who support her are happy.עֵץ־חַיִּ֣ים הִ֭יא לַמַּחֲזִיקִ֣ים בָּ֑הּ וְֽתֹמְכֶ֥יהָ מְאֻשָּֽׁר
Etz Khayim Hi – It is a Tree of Life, Rabbi David Shneyer, Psalm Songs from Rock Creek
Honi (or Choni) ha-Ma’agel (the Circle Maker) was a second century tzadik (righteous person) who was kind of a cross between Johnny Appleseed (or Carob-Seed) and Rip Van Winkle. Honi was known for his ability to pray successfully for rain in times of drought, while standing in the middle of a circle he had drawn on the ground. One of the most famous stories about Honi is found in the Bablyonian Talmud:
Every time we eat a piece of fruit from a tree, we have an opportunity to pause and appreciate the divine force that flows through all creation and brings this delicious bounty to our lips. We can do this with a spiritual practice of saying a berachah, a blessing, before eating. read more…
In Jewish mystical thought, the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life were intended to flourish together in the Garden, but human beings forsook the vital Tree of Life to pursue knowledge alone, introducing duality to the world and preventing the ideal Edenic state that will be restored only in the Messianic age.
By the end of my first retreat at Elat Chayyim, I had internalized the paradigm of living fully in the mystic’s “Four Worlds” of body, emotions, mind, and spirit and I wanted to commune physically with a tree. I approached a great Pine (I think a White Pine) that grew outside the dining hall, embraced the trunk–yes, I hugged a tree–and gazed upward. I will do my best to embody in words the living vision that I experienced:
Trees in Your Life
Join the virtual circle and share your reflections.
Did (or do) have have a tree that played a big role in your life? What kind of tree, where was/is it, and what is your relationship to it?
How do you protect, enjoy, and celebrate trees?
Please share the names of organizations you support that plant trees and protect our environment. read more…