Saturday, 21 May 2016

Our Tree of Life


I wanted to write an article about Jewish survival.

But then I realize that the vast story of survival, growth and progress spanning over a few millennia as experienced by Am Yisrael and the Jewish People cannot be pressed into several hundred words. Like many, though, I am intrigued and I cannot help but marvel at this very unusual experience, the Jewish experience, on the timeline of world history.

I keep asking myself. What was it? What was that nourishing Spring, that powerful source, that elixir that sustained our People through some very difficult chapters over the ages and kept them alive? What was the spark that constantly charged our essence and reignited that pillar of fire which brightened our People’s path through history in our pursuit of Life?

I always come back to that same answer: Torah.

“She is a tree of Life to them that lay hold upon her, and happy is every one that holdest her fast.”

יח  עֵץ-חַיִּים הִיא, לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ;    וְתֹמְכֶיהָ מְאֻשָּׁר

 (Proverbs Chapter 3, VS. 18).

Before anyone jumps down my throat, let me add that yes, I am aware that when King Solomon wrote these wise words, he was describing wisdom. To me, and I venture to say, to King Solomon as well, Torah is wisdom. It is a book aimed at teaching us how to conduct our life. It is a manual that spells out what a Jew is expected to do and how a Jew should behave in order to be able to live a fulfilling life. It is one of the oldest such manuals, one that is flexible, adaptable and leaves room for choice. Its ultimate message to us is, choose life
"  יט העידותי בכם היום, את-השמיים ואת-הארץ--החיים והמוות נתתי לפניך, הברכה והקללה; ובחרת, בחיים--למען תחיה, אתה וזרעך. " (I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live) Deuteronomy chapter 30, verse 19.

And is there one here who can say that this message is not saturated with wisdom, divine wisdom? It is the essence of the contract that G-d entered with Am Yisrael at Mount Sinai. It is the legacy that our forefathers and foremothers have passed on to us. The Heaven and the Earth  are its eternal witnesses.

Torah study and its decree to hang on to Life through learning and discussing it, however, were not always easy and simple to come by for our People. There were times when Am Yisrael and the Jewish People were forbidden to engage in it. That is where our wisdom, our strong desire to cling to it and to Life came into play. It gave birth to the Haftarah.

The Torah, AKA “The  Five Books of Moses,” is divided into 52 Parashot, portions or segments, one for each week of the year. The Haftarah, on the other hand, is a section taken from the Prophets, one of the three parts of the Tanach. It is read at the conclusion of the Torah reading.

Though the origins of the reading of the Haftarah are shrouded in vagueness, the most common explanation is as follows.

In the year 168 B.C.E., Antiochus Epiphanes, the Hellenistic Greek king of the  Seleucid Empire, issued an edict forbidding Jews to read from the Torah. It was however, limited to the Five Books of Moses. How does one prevent slow death by suffocation that such a severance of once lifeline can bring about? The answer is part of the secret of Jewish survival.

In response, our wise sages instituted the custom that a certain section of the Prophets be read instead, a section where an idea that was related to the Torah reading that was slated for that week. Indirectly, the Torah lesson for each week was taught. Our People continued to subsist and endure by imbibing that which is essential to its survival

This is but one example of what it took to maintain Jewish steadiness and permanency. There are many more examples one could cite in order to highlight it. They are old, new, individual or national epics, painful and joyous sagas. Whatever they are, we are here. We will continue to cling to our Tree of Life. We will maintain our wonderful and wise tradition and hang on to Life. We will continue to do it with the same vigor and vivacity that very little and very few can extinguish, if ever.


  1. My personal feelings are that the generation post the Holocaust have got the slogan never again in our lifetime running around in our brains and souls.
    Torah is one aspect but there is a far greater burning desire to never go quietly into the night again.
    We may be the smallest nation in comparison to the other religions but we are striving to be the greatest...that is our heritage going forward.

    1. Thank you, Batzi, for all that you do.