Judaism is an ancient and mystical belief system that has been forced to hide many of its roots in symbols, letters and stories. Most of these stories were passed on in the oral tradition and some went underground until it was safe to write them on paper. In the search for oneness the concept of one God was created. The Tree of Life represents their journey.
The story of two trees in the Garden of Eden – is told in the Judaic Book of Genesis. Genesis is the first of five books that make up the Torah.
This particular story begins with Adam and Eve, who lived in the Garden of Eden; home to the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. They were told by God, (YHWH, Yahweh, Jehovah, Elohim, El, Adonai) not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, but they did. They were subsequently cast out of the garden and separated from the Tree of Life.
Genesis 3:22-24 – “And the LORD God said: ‘Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.’ Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the Garden of Eden the cherubim, and the flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way to the tree of life.”
2000 BCE – Abraham – the “father” of monotheism (belief in one god) through his sons Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac, born from Sarah a Hebrew, laid the foundation for Judaism and Christianity. Ishmael, (the eldest son) born from Hagar an Arab, laid the foundation for Islam.
What came first? The tree or the seed?
Abraham originally came from UR, the capital of Sumeria (Iraq). He carried with him the stories contained in the Epic of Gilgamesh along with others of the ancient world. According to Judaic tradition God asked Abraham to show his allegiance by marking the men whose “seed” would create the “Great Nation.” God demanded that every male be circumcised or it would break the covenant between Abraham and God. Abraham had all the men of his household/caravan along with himself, Ishmael and Isaac circumcised. Abraham was rewarded by God for his obedience and went on to father more children, thus spreading his “seed” throughout Canaan, Egypt and the Middle East. His Grandson Jacob, son of Isaac is considered the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. The “seed” is paramount in fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham’s descendants.
Genesis 21:33 – “Abraham planted a grove (tamarisk trees) in Beersheba, and called there the name of God.” A sacred grove of trees became the first house of God.
Tamarisk trees (salt cedars) – are evergreens with needles that can grow to be 50′ tall. They were common throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa. The symbolism of the Tamarisk as an Evergreen is that it is everlasting and eternal. It does drop its needles once a year so it is also a symbol of resurrection.
The Menorah as the Tree of Life – The Menorah is an oil lamp with seven “lights” supported by two sets of three branches, one set on each side of the singular trunk. The Menorah is seen as an Almond Tree.
Exodus 25:31-40 – “You are to make a menorah of pure gold. It is to be made of hammered work; its base, shaft, cups, ring of outer leaves and petals are to be of one piece with it. It is to have six branches extending from its sides, three branches of the menorah on one side of it and three on the other. On one branch are to be three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with a ring of outer leaves and petals; likewise on the opposite branch three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with a ring of outer leaves and petals; and similarly for all six branches extending from the menorah. On the central shaft of the menorah are to be four cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with its ring of outer leaves and petals. Where each pair of branches joins the central shaft is to be a ring of outer leaves of one piece with the pair of branches -thus for all six branches. The rings of outer leaves and their branches are to be of one piece with the shaft. Thus the whole menorah is to be a single piece of hammered work made of pure gold. “Make seven lamps for the menorah, and mount them so as to give light to the space in front of it. Its tongs and trays are to be of pure gold. The menorah and its utensils are to be made of sixty-six pounds of pure gold. See that you make them according to the design being shown you on the mountain.”
1020 BCE – King David came to power after defeating Goliath and established Jerusalem as his capital and Israel as his land.
950 BCE – King Solomon’s Temple. King David’s son built the first temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem using wood from the Cedars of Lebanon. It’s entrance is symbolic of the Garden of Eden which is flanked by two 27 foot, bronze pillars named Jachin and Boaz fashioned after two pomegranate trees. These pillars are thought to represent the Tree of Knowledge as aspects of Good and Evil. The space between forms the entrance to the Tree of Life.
Pomegranates with their red “seeds” and white “flesh” were seen as symbols of the “Promised Land” that lives within each of us.
Jachin (right pillar) – represents the sacred masculine seen as the logical intellect: concrete, physical, earthly aspects of natures. In Hebrew Jachin means “will be established.” Jachin was often associated with the Sun as a symbol of “knowledge as good” or that which is “seen” such as the light of day.
Boaz (left pillar) – represents the sacred feminine and the intuitive ability found in the abstract and creative principles of our higher spiritual nature. In Hebrew, Boaz means “strength is within.” Boaz was often attributed with the Moon as a symbol of the knowledge of “evil” or that which is unseen, such as the darkness of the night sky and the mysteries of life.
1 Kings 7:15-22 ” 15 He cast two bronze pillars, each eighteen cubits high and twelve cubits in circumference.16 He also made two capitals of cast bronze to set on the tops of the pillars; each capital was five cubits high. 17 A network of interwoven chains adorned the capitals on top of the pillars, seven for each capital. 18 He made pomegranates in two rows encircling each network to decorate the capitals on top of the pillars. He did the same for each capital. 19 The capitals on top of the pillars in the portico were in the shape of lilies, four cubits high. 20 On the capitals of both pillars, above the bowl-shaped part next to the network, were the two hundred pomegranates in rows all around. 21 He erected the pillars at the portico of the temple. The pillar to the south he named Jachin and the one to the north Boaz. 22 The capitals on top were in the shape of lilies. And so the work on the pillars was completed.
The Kabbalah – Tree of Life – was created to help mankind receive and reveal their divine light and know their true nature after being exiled from the Garden of Eden. Each circle on the Tree of Life is called a Sefirot, (emanation of divine will). There are ten Sefirot that mirror each other as they reveal and receive information for the soul. The Sefirot challenge and support the soul as it travels up and down the Tree of Life, providing 22 insights or paths. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew Alphabet that correspond to each path within the diagram.
Ten Sefirot – Emanations of Will
- Kether (Keter) – Crown
- Chokhmah (Hokhmah) – Wisdom
- Binah – Understanding
- Chesed (Hesed) – Mercy
- Gebarah (Gevurah) – Strength
- Tiphereth (Tif’eret) – Beauty
- Netzach (Netzah) – Victory
- Hod – Splendor
- Yesod – Foundation
- Malkuth (Malkhut) – Kingdom/Earth
Da’at – Self-giving eternal oneness.
Ein Sof – Abyss/Void – The nameless essence that is beyond the tree.
Shekinah – The mothering essence that surrounds the Tree of Life and guides people on the journey of oneness.
It is believed that to journey through the Tree of Life is to first know one’s self as a human grounded on earth (Malkuth/Kingdom.) From this place of awareness, one can embrace their humanness and travel up the Tree of Life to remember being a soul. This is called the “way of the return.” When the soul attains Da’at, it becomes one within the knowledge of unity consciousness and sees itself as both human and divine.
The Tree of Life is both male and female, dark and light, human and divine, division and wholeness. The left branch represents the mysteries held in the darkness (moon); the right are the forces of light (sun). The trunk is the self-giving one.
The entrance to Solomon’s Temple reflects the structure of the Tree of Life in both the Kabbalah as well as the Menorah.
Boaz – left column or three left branches is headed by Binah (Understanding), then Gebarah (Strength), and Hod (Splendor). It symbolizes the feminine mothering aspect of life.
Jachin – the right column or three right branches is headed by Chokhmah (Wisdom), then Chesed (Mercy) and Netzach (Victory). It symbolizes the masculine fathering aspect of life.
Entrance – the invisible central column, is symbolic of the unified trunk of the Tree of Life headed by Kether (Crown) then Tiphereth (Beauty), Yesod (Foundation), Malkuth (Kingdom). Represents the entrance to the Garden of Eden and remembering our oneness/true nature as human and divine.
Asherah – “sacred tree” – Asherah groves and poles were erected throughout the Middle East to connect the Earth with the Heavens. Asherah poles – were sacred trees, groves and wooden poles that honored the goddess Asherah, also known as Innana, Astarte, Atirat, Ishtar, Aphrodite, Venus etc… She was seen as the counterpoint of Anu, EL and Yahweh. Asherah originated as a Phoenician and Canaanite Goddess of motherhood and fertility; Lady of the Sea.
850 BCE – Syrian potter inscribes – “Blessings for Yahweh and his Asherah” on a piece of pottery. This was recently unearthed and is one of a few historical records that confirms the existence of Asherah in the time of the Judaic Yahweh. Asherah was originally
722 BCE the Assyrians conquered Jerusalem – The Prophet Ezekiel, (31, 3-9) wrote of the wonders Assyria: “Consider Assyria, a cedar of Lebanon, with fair branches and forest shade, and of great height, its top among the clouds. Under its branches all the animals of the field gave birth to the young; and its shade all great nations lived. The cedars of the garden of God could not rival it, nor the fir trees equal its boughs; the plane trees were nothing compared with its branches; no trees in the garden of God was like it in beauty. I made it beautiful with its mass of branches, the envy of all the trees of Eden that were in the garden of God.”
586 BCE the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Solomon’s temple. The Jewish people were exiled to Babylon (Iraq).
550 BCE – The Persians and Zoroastrians were tolerant of the Hebrews but they wanted to know their laws. This forced them to begin committing their stories in writing.
530 BCE – 130 AD – The Torah includes the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The traditional belief is that the Torah was written by Moses, but there is no historical evidence of this. There is evidence that parts of it were written down as early as 850BCE. As the Torah was written, the Hebrew culture began shifting to a very strict interpretation of One Male God, which marked the beginning of patriarchy within the Judaic religion.
Torah and TANAKH – “teaching” or “law” also known as the Pentateuch
Torah (T) – Teachings – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Nevi’im (N) – Prophets – Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, Malachi, Isaiah.
Ketuvim (K) – Writings – Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles.
The mystical knowledge of the Tree of Life became strictly forbidden as the TANAKH became formalized and Jewish Law became more conservative. The following passages are a few examples of the call to destroy the knowledge of Asherah as the sacred feminine and the mystical connections to the Tree of Life. The understanding of the Kabbalah also had to go underground at this time.
Exodus 23:24 – “You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their works; but you shall utterly overthrow them and completely break down their sacred pillars.
Exodus 34:13 – “Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles.”
Deuteronomy 7:5 – “But thus you shall deal with them: you shall destroy their altars, and break down their sacred pillars.”
Deuteronomy 12:3-4 – “And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place.”
Deuteronomy 16:21 – “You shall not plant for yourself an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of the LORD your God, which you shall make for yourself.”
Leviticus 26:1 – “You shall not make idols for yourselves; neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar shall you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it; for I am the Lord your God.”
The Oak Tree now became the symbolic tree of Abraham (versus the Tamarisk tree) as patriarchy came to power. (The Hebrew word for Oak Tree is Elon, related to the ancient name of El, Elohim etc…)
Genesis 35:4 – “So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.”
166 BCE the Jewish Maccabees – reclaimed the temple Mount and rededicated the second temple officially to Judaism. Because the temple lantern burned for eight days the seven branched menorah of Moses was changed to nine branches. The eight candles symbolize the number of days that the lantern blazed; the ninth, the shamash, is a helper candle used to light the others.
Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights – honors the rededication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah last for eight days and starts on the 25th of Kislev, the month in the Jewish calendar that occurs at about the same time as December. (Note: Shamash is the name of the ancient Sumerian Sun God whose symbol was incorporated into Zoroastorism as the symbol a person’s spirit.)
50 BCE – 100 AC – The Magdala stone is a carved stone block unearthed by archaeologists in the Migdal synagogue, near the Sea of Galilee. The synagogue was in use during the Second Temple period (50 BCE-100 CE). The stone features the earliest known image of the seven-branched Menorah (Tree of Life) along with iconography depicting the two columns of Solomons Temple, two trees and a “seed of life” symbol.
70 AC – Romans conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple.
300 AC – Jerusalem Talmud was compiled as explanations of the Written Torah. After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, it was decided the Oral Torah should be written down so it would not be forgotten.
400 AC – Babylonian Talmud – is more comprehensive.
1200 AC – The Zohar – the mystical teachings of the Kabbalah, were finally put into written form to be shared.
“Who forces time is pushed back by time; who yields to time finds time on his side.” – Talmud
“Elijah began to praise God, saying: “Lord of the universe! You are One but are not numbered. You are Higher than the highest. You are the Mystery above all mysteries. No thought can grasp You at all.” – Zohar
“All souls must undergo transmigration and the souls of men revolve like a stone which is thrown from a sling, so many turns before the final release…Only those who have not completed their perfection must suffer the wheel of rebirth by being reborn into another human body.” – Zohar
“Before God manifested Himself, when all things were still hidden in Him… He began by forming an imperceptible point; that was His own thought. With this thought He then began to construct a mysterious and holy form… the Universe.” – Zohar
“Everyone should carefully observe which way his heart draws him, and then choose that way with all his strength.” – Hasidic saying
“There are stars who’s light only reaches the earth long after they have fallen apart. There are people who’s remembrance gives light in this world, long after they have passed away. This light shines in our darkest nights on the road we must follow.” – Talmud
“The highest form of wisdom is kindness” – Talmud
“We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are.” – Talmud
“Do not be confused because you hear many voices. Know that I am One and the same.” – Talmud
“Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’” – Talmud
“When you teach your son, you teach your son’s son.” – Talmud
God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” – Torah
“Deeds of giving are the very foundations of the world.” – Torah