Whispering… With Trees

orange treeOnce upon a time, when the earth was bare, when no grasses filled the field, water swelled and rose until, finally, it found release, a place to flow out and over the earth.

Waters of life gave life. A human was born and the breath of life came into this human. With this breath, Targum Onkelos says, humanity was granted speech: “And the Lord God created the human of the dust of the earth and breathed upon the human’s face the soul-breath of life and, [then] the human had a spirit for speaking.”

A garden grew of the water and the earth, a garden Torah calls eden, “pleasure.” In the very center the Holy One placed the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and bad.

Imagine these not as two separate trees but as one — one singular tree of life and wisdom. Our Torah is both, so Tanakh tells us. Etz hayyim hi, Torah is a tree of life to those who uphold it (Prov. 3:18). Rabbinic tradition has long identified Lady Wisdom, who describes her own presence at God’s side when the world was created (Prov. 8: 22-30) as Torah.

Wisdom is the source of life. The two are bound together.

In Genesis 2:5, we read: When no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted… Genesis Rabbah tells us that that while the first three words of the second creation story may seem to read “no shrub was in existence” we should understand the passage quite differently:

No one to converse with, siakh, in the field (Gen. 2:5). All trees converse (mesikhim), as it were, with one another. Indeed, one may add, all trees converse with mortals; all trees [were] created to provide fellowship for mortals (Gen. Rabbah 13:2).

The rabbis translate siakh not as “shrub” or “bush,” though that seems natural enough given the context. Instead they read its homonym, also formed from the three-letter root sinn-yod-chet. Multiple possible meanings present themselves, including “to ponder, to reflect,” “to concern oneself with,” “to meditate with thanks and praise,” “to talk, discourse,” or even “to whisper.”

In Genesis Rabbah, humanity wakes up, breathing into a world that will include whispering, speaking trees. In another rabbinic vision, the tree of life is a canopy for knowledge. Life is the source of wisdom. The two are bound together

In the Garden of Eden, in every one of its recesses, there are eighty myriad species of trees, the least of which is more beautiful than all varieties of spice trees. Sixty myriads of ministering angels sing sweetly in each recess of the Garden. The tree of life is in the center, and its foliage spreads over the entire Garden of Eden. The tree has five hundred thousand kinds of fruit, each differing in taste; the appearance of one fruit is not like the appearance of another, and the fragrance of one not like the fragrance of another. Clouds of glory hover above the tree, and from the four points of the compass [breezes] blow at it, so that its fragrance is wafted from world’s end to world’s end. Under the tree sit disciples of the wise, explaining the Torah. Each of them has two canopies, one studded with stars and the other with the sun and moon. Between each pair of canopies there is a curtain of clouds of glory. Beyond each canopy there is Eden, in which are three hundred and ten worlds. (Yalkhut, Bereishit)

Our story may have divided one ancient story of one tree into two. Humanity has relied on binary categories to organize the world, sets of opposites and oppositions. Male and female. Black and white. Heavenly and earthly. Material and transcendent. Spiritual and religious. Them and us.

But we all know that such oppositions confuse rather than clarify. We all know that there is no such thing as race and that we are all related. We all know that we can’t place people on the opposite sides of any category and call it quits. We all inhabit and travel on a spectrum where our culture, our color, our gender, our age, our education, our everything may shift with time or inclination.

This world – and humanity itself — is made for fluidity, not for rigidity.

Imagine we had created our stories with wholeness, rather than separateness and separation. Imagine we had created all our stories and all our human histories by the light and guiding image of one tree to converse with, a tree of wisdom and life.

Then, go outside into the created world. Whisper.

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