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:
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,...
You can make eating a piece of fruit into a meditative experience. Say the blessing and consider what a gift has come to you from God's bounty. Our Sages saw the blessing as a kind of thank-you or payment, as it were, for partaking of God's creation. I am filled with...
My youngest daughter's friends were impressed that Judaism celebrates a New Year of Trees, marked by planting and honoring trees. Here’s a round-up of how to observe this special day. Tu Bishvat means the 15th Day–at the full moon–of the Hebrew month of Shevat,...
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...
This is a guided meditation on the Sephirotic energy in our bodies, based on the teachings of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. According to Kabbalistic tradition, the world was created with 10 Sephirot. In Jewish mysticism, the Tree of Life refers to much more than a...
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...