Bereishit: The Tree of Life

Tree of LifeWe all know the story of how, in the beginning, G‽D created the heavens and the earth. As the story unfolds,
G‽D creates the Garden of Eden and plants the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life therein. Adam and Eve show up on the scene and they eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Whoops.

At face value, everything seems to go downhill from there. Adam and Eve are kicked out of the Garden. Labor becomes painful, tilling becomes hard work. Cherubim are even sent with flaming swords to guard the Tree of Life from the humans, lest they eat from it and gain eternal life! But from a spiritual viewpoint, this turn of events actually signals the beginning of a great journey for humans.

Before “the fall” of Adam and Eve, they were forbidden from eating the fruit of either tree – Knowledge or Life. They didn’t have access of any of the direct spiritual benefits that partaking of such fruit might imbue. Yes, life was good for them and they had their innocence, but they weren’t able to truly grow as spiritual beings.

According to the Tzemach Tzedek, in his work Or HaTorah, the human is unique among G‽D’s creations because ze comprises all of the qualities of the sefirot, or Divine Attributes. These same sefirot constitute the genetic make up, the DNA, of the Tree of Life. Why, then, did G‽D tell us not to eat the fruit?

When a baby is born, we must feed the infant with the most basic food: milk. As the child gets older and learns to chew and digest more complex foods, we feed them things like applesauce and mashed plums. If we were to simply hand a solid piece of fruit to the baby, ze would not be able to consume it.

So it was for Adam and Eve. Humans were newbies, without a clue about how the universe works. Once they gained some insight into good and evil from the Tree of Knowledge, G‽D realized it would be too soon for them to consume from the Tree of Life.

Our Creator then gave us the Torah, in the hope that we would use it as a guide to prepare our spiritual selves for taking small steps toward connecting directly with each of the Divine Attributes of the Tree of Life. In the Book of Proverbs it says that the Torah is “a Tree of Life to those who hold fast to it.” When we cling to and study the Torah, and act on its precepts, it is as though we are sampling fruit from the Tree of Life, thus becoming ever closer to The Eternal One.

As we once again begin the annual cycle of reading the Torah, I give us a blessing for this year that we should all learn new ideas and glean fresh morsels from the Tree of Life. May we delve a little deeper, rise a little higher, and bring the Universe one step closer to the World to Come. Ḥag Sameaḥ and Shabbat Shalom!

Parsha Masei: It’s about the Journey

 :וַיִּכְתֹּב משֶׁה אֶת מוֹצָאֵיהֶם לְמַסְעֵיהֶם עַל פִּי יי וְאֵלֶּה מַסְעֵיהֶם לְמוֹצָאֵיהֶם במדבר לג:ב

Moses recorded the starting points for their journeys as directed by G‽D. These were their journeys by their starting points.” Numbers 33:2

I’ve been thinking a lot about the myriad of conflicts happening in the world right now. There are so many of them that it’s overwhelming to even attempt to list them all here. I have also been thinking a lot about R. Buckminster Fuller, the neo-futuristic architect whose ideas about humanity have been almost as influential to me as the Torah itself.

Buckminster Fuller once wrote that “The Earth is like a spaceship that didn’t come with an operating manual.” Here we are – humankind – flying through the universe on our spinning blue spherical spaceship. We are without a formal destination, we’re without a road map, and we still haven’t met any fellow travelers from whom we can ask directions.

In this week’s Torah portion, Masei, we read a rather long and dry list of all the places that the Israelites have traveled to and made camp on their way to the Promised Land. In chapter 33, verse 2 of Numbers, we read that Moses was told by G‽D to make this list of all the places through which the Israelites have journeyed. Moses then proceeds to record the journeys according to each place. When you plot this list onto a map, it’s clear that they were not taking the most direct route to Canaan. And that’s the point.

Our Sages, never ones to miss nuance, noticed that the words for “starting points” and “journeyed” in the first half of the verse are found in the reverse order in the second half. According to Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, the first half of the verse is written from the perspective of G‽D and the second half is written from the experiences of the people themselves. Why is this important?

This subtle reversal shows us that the key piece for us, the people,  is about the journey – not just the final destination. When we are working toward fulfilling our long-term plans, we often try to plot out our next move. Sometimes we find a bump along the way, causing us to regroup and rethink our short term goals. It’s these short-term goals, the stops or benchmarks along the way, that help build up toward our long term goals.

Our One Human Family has been trying for millennia to find the “road map to peace.” It’s a tall order to fill and, frankly, not very likely in our lifetimes. Still, while we keep the ultimate goal in mind, we should focus most on what we can do together in the here and now. It starts with small things: like Jews and Muslims breaking their fasts together, as thousands did around the world when the Fast of Tammuz coincided with Ramadan. These are the Holy Places we pause for along the way.

Like Buckminster Fuller, I believe that “We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.” But until we start meeting in the Holy Places, pausing for the Holy Moments, between now and then, we’ll never make it to the Promised Land. I’m ready for the journey. Join me and let’s sojourn together. Shabbat Shalom.

My Walk Home | a poem

Overture

Tap, tap. Tap, tap. Right step, left. Tap, tap. Tap, tap.
A bat. Um, two; no four! Screech! Screech! Screeching over head!
Chirp, chirp, chirp. Cricket, Cricket, Cricket! Chirp, chirp, chirp.
This cacophony is a symphony; depends on how you listen.

Act One

Sun has set, bright are the colours, vibrant pink, then purple.
Daylight vanishing behind the mountains; only for now.
Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink! Blink, Blink, BLINK!
Fireflies dancing the Goddess’ erotic tango of love.
Thousands of them looking for their beshert. Do they find
The One?

Act Two

Hoot! Hoot! Wisdom imparted to all who would hear.
A streak of light across the sky! Fireball! Wow!
Shooting stars following along, like schoolchildren their teacher.
Mars shines, red as rust; Jupiter says hello.
Stars twinkle above, a reflection of love?
As above, so below. I hope the fireflies look up,
Inspired to Aspire to glow Eternally.

Creative Commons License
My Walk Home by Yaakov Reef is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://wp.me/pVy4j-cA