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.
Trees have been sacred to many cultures and religions. In Judaism, we have pomegranates decorations on our Torahs, apples and honey for the new year, citrons and palm branches to wave on Sukkot, and many other customs, texts, and motifs involving trees and their fruits. Trees have great importance in Jewish tradition as symbols of wisdom and Torah. In mystical thought the Tree is a symbol of the flow of divine energy into the universe.
Join me in this Gateway of Trees to explore the symbol of the Tree in Jewish tradition and in your life.
Choose your favorite Pathway, or follow them in order:
Listen to the wind and the birds and insects in the trees, or if you are indoors enjoy this recording. Featured Image: TejonWest by RangerX via Flickr See the famous fruit trees of Israel, or return to the Gateway of Trees.
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...
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 And out of the ground the Eternal God (YHWH Elohim) made grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for...
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...
Learn traditional blessings for eating fruit, or return to the Gateway of Trees.
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...