The Tree of Jewish Peoplehood

"Everything is part of a single organism. And each part "remembers" how once it, too, was part of a great unity that had no parts...  We may each trace our ancestry back to specific "limbs" of that first human "tree." Some were branches, others, trunk, and still others roots. All organically connected to one another. More than a common history, it is a biologic, a genetic connection. A single living being."  
                                                                           Lawrence Kushner, The River of Light
The Jews
    Beneath the cosmic consciousness which unites all of creation, those who identify themselves or are branded by others as Jews are united or divided to varying degrees by religious belief and practice, culture, ethnicity, historical legacy, national identity, choice, or happenstance of birth.
    In a democratic, pluralistic society,  a Jew within one community need not justify his or her beliefs or practices to the Jew of any other community;  the Orthodox Jew is not required to explain his Sabbath ritual to a Reform Jew, nor must the liberal progressive Rabbi defend her right to perform a same sex wedding to any Jew outside her community.

    The passions which often accompany differentiated life experience do not honor the awe of Creation's organic interconnectedness:
When some cells and organs fail to effectively co-operate with other cells and organs which serve a different role to sustain the life of an organism, disease ensues.  Only when all of the differentiated cells and organs work together can an organism manifest its fullest potential.

    The Tree of Jewish Peoplehood is a living symbol which describes the structure and function of the Jewish collective organism.  When engaged within exploration of personal identity or as a springboard for inter-denominational or inter-religious dialogue, the Tree filters conflict into understanding, reveals the splendor of functional differences in ideology, and illustrates the natural relationship of the Jews to other world cultures and civilizations.  
    Like many of the symbolic cultivations populating the Garden of Humanity, it suffers from disease and its soul yearns to heal so that it may fulfill its transformative potential.

From One Seed

"I will plant them upon their land,
and they shall never again be uprooted
out of the land which I have given them,"
  says the Lord your God.

        Amos 9:15

    All of the mysterious wonders for the potential life of a tree are harbored within a single seed.  The Tree of Jewish Peoplehood was planted with the seed of One God by Abraham in the Land.   

Germination and Growth
The human strivings for relationship with an ambiguous, ungraspable, ineffable source of creation generate a tension which continually seeks liberation through expression. This process leads to the dynamic growth which has continued for over 4,000 years of probing the soil of spirit, reaching for light beyond and recording the experience in the texts which serve as the structural framework of the organism. The tree has been mutilated, uprooted, and transplanted; it has mutated, evolved, produced fruit, and propagated. Currently rooted over Jerusalem, the trunk towers high above Israel and the branches extend to umbrella the nations of Earth.

From the Roots
    When standing before a tree, the casual observer sees only the exposed upper region of the root structure, but to understand the life of the organism, one must explore the hidden depths through the intricate twists and turns in the network of roots - the letters and the words of the Torah.  Torah is the root of Judaism, the foundation of the tree.  
    The tangible scrolls and all texts which probe them for deeper meaning, link the present world to an ancestral past.   The roots store the collective historical memory of the tree, the stories told through all of its stages of growth.  All people regardless of religious affiliation or denominational branding can enter the root structure by exploring the texts of ancient wisdom with a competent guide.
     The extent to which a soul is nurtured on a quest into the hidden realms of Jewish sustenance depends on the individual's patience and willingness to find light in what at first may seem to be only darkness buried in the soil.  Barriers of language are rocks to grow around.  Orthodoxies represent limitation to selected practices of navigating the root system. Fanaticism is root-rot caused by a lack of the nourishment provided by work in the branches and leaves.
    Without living people, Torah exists only in a physical realm as markings of ink on parchment or paper; but when souls are nurtured by the source of life and spiritual light towards which the roots are drawn, words of Torah are animated in the physical realm and resonate in the world of spirit.

To the Fruits
    A tree, by its nature, grows in balance, down into the earth and up to the light.  The branches and leaves of the Tree of Jewish Peoplehood grow towards the light of ideas, philosophies, and cultural influences external to traditional Jewish sources and stories and then reconcile them within the root structure, stimulating its growth as well. The branches are reactions to the modernity of every age in which the tree has evolved. They represent the tree’s growth, adaptation, and survival in the ever changing climate of an unpredictable, and often dangerous, external world.  
    Today, the branches of the Tree of Jewish Peoplehood are represented by strivings towards social justice, secular aesthetics, moral psychology, and the integration of spiritual teachings derived from sources other than traditional Jewish texts and wisdom.
    These social, cultural, intellectual and spiritual energy sources represent spiritual carbon dioxide, a secular waste gas which must first be transformed by the leaves if it is to be of use in nourishing the roots buried in the soil.  But by the spiritual photosynthesis effect, the foliage transforms light and CO2 into oxygen which nourishes the external world and food energy which sustains the tree. The energy from filtered light also transforms the roots, often creating the context for a fixed "traditional" root structure in future generations.
    The positive contributions of non-traditional "branch and leaf" Jews in the fields of art, culture, social service, science, and business are gifts of the tree to humankind: sustaining breaths, blossoms of the human spirit and the fruits of human civilization.
    Unfortunately, the structure built up through the generations can also be exploited as a resource with no regard to the wondrous and slow process of growth which has resulted in its enduring survival.  Old growth wood is a prized sacrifice to the materialism of the age.
    The health of branches and leaves deteriorates when deprived of spiritual nourishment from the roots and support from the trunk. The lost Jew is a withered leaf, often blown from the tree in the winds of change into the assimilation of an autumn wilderness.
    But there is hope for rebirth in every new season of life and learning.

Common Ground
         There is hope for a tree;
         If it is cut down it will renew itself;
         Its shoots will not cease.
         If its roots are old in the earth,
         And its stump dies in the ground,
         At the scent of water it will bud
         And produce branches like a sapling.
                            
     Job 14.7‑8
    
          The tree never completely died in the Land of Israel, the roots endured when the physical mass was transplanted into the Diaspora.  When the buzz saws of the swastikas tore into the flesh of the tree, the flood of tears from the Shoah followed by the infusion of water and fertilizer through the Zionist lifeline, and the sweat from toiling the land awakened the old roots buried in the soil of Jerusalem.  With this desperate infusion of life and spirit, the trunk of the Tree of Jewish Peoplehood thrust upward, bursting the seams of the land, displacing the inhabitants who had spread out across the wilderness; a sprawling and resilient desert vine planted by the seed cast off by Abraham and Sarah through the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael.
    With the land of its roots consumed by the massive trunk, the proud vine began coiling itself upward; it's only perceived options: strangle the tree, bring it down, liberate the land, survive.
    Roots of the tree cut off from the nourishment of filtered light, cling to the earth, grasping for land, expanding the girth of the trunk, fueling the will of the vine to prevail.  Largely disconnected from the potential source of vitality within the roots, The Trunk of Israel sadly suffers from disease. It flexes its muscles in the mirror while getting drunk on sugary light filtered by leaves dancing naked in the winds of the style du jour.  An infestation of opportunistic bark slugs eats away at the spiritual core, threatening the life of the tree.
    But the tree will not fall. The hope dream flowing through the heartwood will be nourished through channels of spirit and life extending from enlightened roots to the healthy branches and leaves above.  
    There is hope for a tree.
    With the work of the caretakers of the region and the promise of the Gardener of the Earth the vine will eventually come to release its stranglehold. Given space in the soil for its roots to spread, and made fertile with hope and the resources channeled in by its many offshoots into neighboring lands, the vine will unwind, take to its stake, and raise the descendents of Ishmael up out of the dust, transformed, into the branches of a new Tree, rooted in Jerusalem, reuniting and reconciling the children of Abraham.
    There is hope for a tree.
    Two thousand years ago, the Tree of Jewish Peoplehood was characterized by traditionalists who held firm to the textual basis of the roots in conflict with forces coaxing new growth into the light. During his lifetime, Jesus created a new and controversial branch of Judaism;  In the eyes of his followers, he appeared as a blossom and then as a fruit on the tree. Upon crucifixion, the fruit fell from the tree, revealing the Seed of One God. That seed took root not in Torah, but in the idea of acceptance of Jesus as messiah (consumption of the fruit) for communion with God (the seed).  The consequences of this evolution have not always been favorable toward the Tree of Jewish Peoplehood, sapping its life force to feed its own rootedness in spirit.  Yet there exists today a growing movement in Christianity which seeks to reclaim a connection to its historical and textual source in Torah and Jewish Community - to spiritually graft Christianity back on to the tree from which it was propagated.
    There is hope for a tree.
    A multi-trunked tree with an infusion of new life, seeking the light in the soil and the light in the heavens, healing the land and sustaining the world with its breath and its fruits. Planted within a Garden of Humanity, of diversity in symbolic flora and fauna representing all the civilizations of the earth. A place of blessed creation.

The Tree of Life
    A tree is a complex organism which sustains life, demonstrates balanced growth and adaptation, and accumulates character with age.  Although a root does not serve the same function as a branch, and the leaves do not work like the bark, every cell in every sphere of the organism contains the genetic blueprint for the entire being.  
    A Jew who solely derives understanding from roots in Torah which in the past were infused with the filtered external light of their age does not function in culture or society in the same manner as a Jew whose entire connection to history and tradition comes with the annual opening of a Hanukkah gift. Yet both possess a spiritual DNA which defines the essence of the entire Tree of Jewish Peoplehood.  Regardless of personal identity or assumed function within the symbolic structure, the life of every Jew is intimately connected with the lives of every other Jew by its nature.
    The symbolic tree is vitalized by individuals and communities who transcend its parts and embody its wholeness: drawing spiritual insight from the textual roots; feeling the pains of growth in the trunk; reaching to the light beyond for new ideas; breathing healing life into the world; reborn each year in the spring; dying each year to make way for next year's growth; blossoming into beauty to grace the lives of others; creating fruits of the soul as gifts for humanity. To spiritually become one with the tree is to know unity with the Jewish People and to glimpse the potential of a return to the Garden.
    Beyond it's effectiveness as a diagnostic tool promoting individual identity and practical pluralism, the Tree of Jewish Peoplehood is a living, evolving metaphysical archetype.  Just as the long exposure of a photograph capturing a moving light reveals the image of a solid luminescent line, a continuous exposure of Jewish history from a divine spiritual camera reveals the pattern through which the forces of human creation and destruction, love and fear, joy and pain, celebration and mourning, have flowed through the generations: The movements of these Images of God over time reveal in form and function the great Tree of Life, the metaphysical transformational organism designed to work in concert with God towards the perfection of creation from the world of matter.  
    Yet today, the spiritual obstructions which exist within and between the roots, the trunk, the branches, and the leaves, hamper the production of the eternal fruits for which humanity yearns. The Tree of Jewish Peoplehood calls out from the land for wholeness and healing. Only through individual and communal collective soulwork within an organic framework of beauty and life, will the obstructions be cleared.
     Let the light of tolerance and love be drawn in through the leaves, flow through the trunk, and reinvigorate the roots. Let the roots grow deeper to the source of creation and send their healing forces up through the trunk and into the branches upon which eternal fruits may ripen.