Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What Is the Tree of Life?

In the Garden of Eden, which was teeming with all the wonderful flora of creation, God placed two special trees: Etz Hada’at (the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) and Etz Hachaim (the Tree of Life). Humankind ate from the Tree of Knowledge and was expelled from the Garden of Eden, cut off from the Tree of Life.

It is interesting then that this same term, “tree of life” (minus the definite article), is used as a metaphor for Torah, as it says in Proverbs 3:18, “It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it, those who support it are happy.” Is there a connection between the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden and the Torah? 

According to the biblical text, if humankind had eaten from the Tree of Life, they would have gained immortality: “And the Lord God said: 'Behold, the human is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also from the Tree of Life, and eat, and live forever.' Therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken (Genesis 3:22-23). While involving oneself with Torah does not gain a person actual immortality, it does earn a person eternal life in the world to come.

The life force of Torah, however, is mitzvot, often translated as good deeds or commandments. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Germany 1808-1888) commented on Proverbs 3:18: “For the righteous person, everything he does is a tree of life. Out of his every deed grows something beneficial and lifegiving to his surroundings.”

Tradition says that one mitzvah begets another (Ethics of the Fathers 4:2). Following the mitzvot of the Torah brings continual reward to its followers, just like a fruit tree that constantly replants itself through its seeds and thus continues to provide fresh air and nourishment to the world.

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1 comment:

Hannah Niva said...

beautifully explained, thank you