Etz chaim he lamachazikim bah v’tomchecha m’ushar: deracheha darchei no’am v’chol n’tivotecha shalom
If you attend a weekly Torah service, the words above may be familiar to you. The Torah is a tree of life for all who hold fast to it.” (Proverbs 3: 17-18) It is a beautiful melody crafted with deep symbolism and meaning.
What do a tree, a Torah, and a human being have in common?
Roots. The roots of a tree travel deep. They are embedded into the Earth and provide a foundation of strength from which the tree will grow. The roots bring nourishment to the tree. The Torah is the foundation from which the Jewish people seek guidance. It connects us to our ancestors and brings sustenance to our lives. Individually, we also have roots in the families we were born into. Our families ground us and give us a starting place from which to grow.
Trunks. The trunk of a tree is its pillar. It is the support we can observe. The trunk is the strength of the tree. The written and oral words are the trunk of the Torah. Without them, we could not exist. We would collapse. The trunk symbolizes the Jewish peoplehood – our actions and our very being.
Branches. The branches of a tree reach upward. They stretch toward the sun, the source of its energy. The Torah reaches out to every Jew and offers many pathways for connection. The branches also symbolize the various denominations and practices of Judaism. People are forever reaching and stretching. We yearn for growth in wisdom and spirit. With our arms outstretched, we extend ourselves like the trees.
Fruit. Trees bear fruit. They provide us with a tangible reward. Something that will nourish us. The Torah offers us fruit as well. Each time we read a passage, we are enlightened anew. The Torah never ceases to provide for us. And, we – humankind – have fruits to share as well. They come in the form of mitzvoth and teaching others. We blossom over and over again.
As the tree stretches from Earth to Heaven, the Torah is our guide connecting the physical and the spiritual. With our feet firmly planted in this life on Earth, we continue to stretch, learn, and grow. We – like the tree – reach toward Heaven.