Hold Tight To A Tree Of Life – OpEd


About 140,000 species of woody plants grow on planet Earth and only about 25-30 can, without human assistance, produce trees that reach the age of 1,000 years or older. Of those only about 10 can reach 2,000 years and only three can live for 3,000 years. Only one (in current knowledge) can live for 4,000+.  

Inversely, stunted old trees persist in submarginal habitats like New Mexico’s El Malpaís (fields of lava), Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment (cliffs of dolomite), or New Jersey’s Pine Barrens (expanses of sand).

The longest-lived trees of eastern North America, the bald cypress, grow in swamps and blackwater rivers. The eldest occur in backwater sections of North Carolina’s Black River, just miles from industrial hog farms and fields cleared long ago for tobacco. As only recently discovered, these bald cypresses reach ages of 2,600+ years.

As a rule, flowerless plants with naked seeds grow slower and live longer than flowering plants with fruits) For pines, 5,000 years is the approximate limit. For giant oaks 800 years counts as ancient, with outliers reaching 900+ years. The cypress family contains the most thousand-year growers.

Conifers achieve maximum longevity when conditions are cold and dry, or hot and dry, or steep and exposed, or high altitude, or nutrient poor. In the case of Great Basin bristlecone pine, the longest-living plant on the planet, it is all of the above, with some of these plants reaching up to 4,900 years old (the Jewish Calendar, the oldest in the world, is now at 5784). 

There’s an apt maxim developed in the 1950s by tree-ring scientist Edmund Schulman: “longevity under adversity”. This matches the 3,500+ years of historical experience of Jewish People who have survived and overcome the most cultural, religious and military challenges of any other tribe or nation.  

Everyone has heard of the Tree of (super long) Life that was in the Garden of Eden. Very few people are aware that this Tree of Life is also referred to four other times in the Biblical Book of Proverbs (and in no other book in the Hebrew Bible). 

By examining these four references we can learn very important things about the Tree of Life that stood next to the Morality Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. 

Proverbs 15:4 teaches us that just by speaking words of kindness and comfort we are able to strengthen, revive and heal a human’s spirit; while speaking nasty words of anger, hate and meanness are able to crush people’s spirits, “A soothing tongue is a Tree of Life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. 

Today we are so concerned with freedom of speech that we have lost awareness of our responsibility to always use our tongues kindly as a Torah (Divine teaching) of kindness (31:26). Politicians especially need to learn this.

Proverbs 13:12 teaches us the importance of our seeking to realize our longings for love and peace, because negativity, cynicism and despair destroy our spirits. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, 
but a longing fulfilled is a Tree of Life” that makes us productive and generous. 

Proverbs 11:30 teaches us that doing good deeds for others and for God is the way to save our lives from a perverse and negative tongue filled with criticism of others and ourselves. “The fruit of the righteous is a Tree of Life, and the one who is wise saves lives.” 

Proverbs 3:18 tells us that by making a strong commitment to following God’s teachings we will live a life of goodness and love. “She (Torah wisdom) is a Tree of Life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her tight will be happy” 

But to understand the nature of the whole commitment we have to read the preceding verses: 

1   My son, do not forget my Torah, keep my Mitsvot (commandments) in your heart, 
2   for they will prolong your life for many years; and bring you peace and prosperity.
3   Let love and loyalty never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on your heart. 
4   Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man…

13  Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, 
14  for she (Torah wisdom) is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. 
15  She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. 
16  Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. 17  Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peaceful. 

18  She is a Tree of Life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her tight will be happy.19  By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding God set the heavens in place; 

Thus the Tree of Life does not automatically make one immortal. Living a righteous life of kindness and hope leads to a longer life filled with greater spiritual peace. But how does this differ from the Morality Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?

The fruit of the Morality Tree is conscious ethical choices. The fruit of the Tree of Life is empathy, sympathy, kindness, loyalty and love. Dogs offer these character traits without knowing anything about ethics or morality. But not to strangers. 

Moral knowledge is the result of learning the moral wisdom that comes from sacred scriptures that are taught by righteous men and women who have the Torah of Kindness on their tongues (Proverbs 31:26) and should be applied to strangers as well as the home-born. 

The Tree of Life could have offered us a very long life; but without morality it would not be very different from a non-conscious life form like a virus; that will never die of old age because it has no self personality, and is simply cloned and reproduced. 

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a wish fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12

Without knowledge, zeal is not good. Proverbs 19:2

The one who finds me (wisdom) finds life, and receives favor from the Lord. Proverbs 8:35 and 

He who finds a wife finds happiness, and receives favor from the Lord. Proverbs 18:22

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

One thought on “Hold Tight To A Tree Of Life – OpEd

  • October 20, 2023 at 8:44 pm

    “Everyone has heard of the Tree of (super long) Life that was in the Garden of Eden.”

    Yes, if Adam and Eve had eaten allowed fruit from only the Tree of Life, their super long life would have been for eternity, according to the story. But instead, they eat forbidden fruit from the Tree of Life’s next-door neighbor, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, also in the center of the Garden (Genesis 2:9; Genesis 3:1-6). What fruit gets eaten?

    They disobey the commandment–their first commandment–to “be fruitful and multiply [in the Garden]” before donning the infamous telltale fig leaf aprons after they become one flesh incorrectly by eating the allegorical forbidden fruit of pleasure from the allegorical wrong tree in the allegorical Garden’s center. Some would say they make a joke out of their marriage and God responds accordingly.

    “Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden may just as well have been Adam and Steve”
    Published in News Ghana on August 13, 2023.


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