Monday, June 9, 2008

A Tree of Life...

Where has the time gone?
Yesterday it was Pesach,
and yet we have come through
the time of the counting of the Omer,
and here it is Shavuot--the Feast of Weeks.
Shavuot--Z'man matan torataynu--the season of the giving of our Torah.
Last year, I posted thoughts on the 'tachlis' of this Holy Day--the customs
and folkways, the meaning of Shavuot.
This year I am thinking about Torah as a Tree of Life.

"Etz chayim hi..."
"She* is a tree of life to those
who hold her fast,
and all who cling to her
find happiness.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace."

*Torah is feminine in Hebrew.
In Jewish thought there are
feminine and masculine aspectsof G-d.

Here we see that the Sefer Torah is rolled on two wooden dowels, called the "etz chayim" which means the "tree of life." The Torah tree of life has roots in heaven, implanting eternal life within the Jewish people.

The idea of the tree of life is common to many cultures, and many religions, and even transcends them, for in evolutionary biology we talk about the tree of life on earth.

This is a cladogram, which shows the evolutionary history of the kingdoms and smaller taxa of life on earth; the genetic history that all earthly life carries in the nucleus of our cells.
On this tree of life, the three kingdoms of life--Archaea, Prokaria, and Eukaria--are shown in a circle because of the amazing number of species represented.

The biological tree of life has "roots on earth" for it demonstrates the unity of all life on earth by virtue of common descent and a common genetic code.

The Kabbalistic (mystical) tradition in Judaism has developed another tree of life, composed of the seven earthly and three heavenly "sephirot" (spheres) mapped out on the human body--or the Adam Kadmon--the primordial human.

There are three pairs of divine emanations that inhabit the human world, and each pair represents opposite qualities that, when brought together within the human soul, bring about balance.

Sephira Gevurah (strength, judgement) alone creates rigidity and lack of compassion. Gevurah is paired with Sephira Chesed (loving kindness), which alone creates weakness and lack of boundaries. Together, the Kabbalist say, Sephirot Gevurah and Chesed creat balance; the stream of loving kindness flows within the banks of strength and judgement. Without Gevurah, the waters of Chesed flood the land and create ruin. Without Chesed, life on the land thirsts and withers and dies.
Without Gevurah, the human soul does not recognize the difference between good and evil, and cannot choose life and goodness. If humans do not distinguish between good and evil, chaos reigns in our relationships and our societies. Without Chesed, the human soul becomes rigid and self-righteous, and tends to choose evil means to attain perfectionistic ends. If humans do not choose good with compassion, life will disappear from our relationships and societies.

The Kabbalistic tree of life has roots deep in the earth and deep in heaven.
It represents the union of Adonai and Shechinah, the eminent and immanent aspects of G-d, which creates balance represented in the marriage of the Eternal Creator of the Universe and Israel under Mount Sinai when the Torah was given.

Torah is the tree of life, and Torah is the water of life that nourishes the tree.
Words of black fire on white fire, words of ash and gall on the skins of dead animals.
Torah is rooted in this world and the world to come.
Torah is "not in heaven" but written on our hearts and carried in our minds.
Torah is the living covenant between G-d and Israel.

From Haftarah Re'eh (the CGP's Bat Mitzvah Portion):

"Ki ka'asher yared ha-geshem...
As the rain descends, and the snow from the heavens,
and there does not return, except to water the earth,
and cause bringing forth and flourishing,
and give seed to the sower and bread to those that eat;
So shall be my word that comes out of my mouth: It will not return to me void,
except to make what I desire, and form that which I sent it to form.
So, go forth in joy, be sent forth in everlasting sign that shall not be cut off."
(Isaiah 55: 10-11,13).

Somehow those verses, which will be read in late summer,
come to mind for me now at the first harvest of summer.
They give me hope for the continued goodness of life and the
abundance of the earth, satisfying the needs of every living thing.

"She is a tree of life to those who hold her fast..."

1 comment:

~L~ said...

One of the more startling things in my adult life was recognizing that the tree of life also shows up on the human placenta. On the back of the placenta, the veins that literally sustain the life of the gestating infant branch out from a central trunk and form the branches, exactly forming a tree of life. It's amazing.