There is a piece of liturgy that is recited every week in many assemblies, both Jewish and Messianic alike: Etz Chaim. Etz Chaim (Hebrew: עץ חיים) means "tree of life." Or perhaps more literally, "Tree of Lives" as chaim is plural. This liturgical prayer is said weekly in relation to the Torah. Yet there is a specific reason for this.
In Genesis 2:9, we have a mention of two trees: the Tree of Life (etz chaim), and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. For many millennia scholars and laymen alike have debated the significance of these two trees. Are they literal, or allegorical? What do they represent? Scripture contains hints, but seldom has there been a generally accepted answer. This particular study will focus on the Tree of Life.
After Genesis, we find another mention of the Tree of Life in Proverbs, where it begins to get defined.
1 My son, do not forget my Torah; but let your heart preserve my commands: 2 for length of days, and years of life,and peace, will they add to you. 3 Do not let kindness and truth forsake you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 So you will find favor, and good understanding in the sight of Elohim and man.
5 Trust in YHWH with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. 7 Do not be wise in your own eyes. Fear YHWH, and depart from evil. 8 It will be health to your body, and nourishment to your bones.
9 Honor YHWH with your substance, with the first fruits of all your increase: 10 so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.
11 My son, do not despise the discipline of YHWH, neither be weary of His reproof: 12 for whom YHWH loves, He reproves; even as a father reproves the son in whom he delights.
13 Happy is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gets understanding. 14 For her good profit is better than getting silver, and her return is better than fine gold. 15 She is more precious than rubies. None of the things you can desire are to be compared to her. 16 Length of days is in her right hand. In her left hand are riches and honor. 17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness. All her paths are peace. 18 She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her. Happy is everyone who retains her. – Mishle / Proverbs 3:1-18 (SQV)
Verses 17 and 18 are part of the etz chaim liturgy mentioned above. But notice after verse 14 the feminine forms of words. These pronouns (she, her) are feminine, so they must be applied to a feminine word. The word appearing right before it starts in verse 14 is the word תבונה (tevunah) meaning "understanding" which is a feminine word. Of course, so is the word חכמה (chokmah) which means "wisdom." But we find a very interesting parallel throughout this entire section. Namely, that we started with a feminine word: Torah.
In Hebrew writing, there are always numerous wordplays, puns, parallelisms (sometimes called "doublets") and so on. If you've read many of my writings, you see a lot of this explained. Throughout this entire chapter of Mishle / Proverbs, we find the following words all paralleled with each other:
This is important, because, as we find all throughout Scripture (especially the Psalms) these terms all refer back to a central source: the Torah. (Read Psalm 119 for clarification).
So the Torah, then, is the "Tree of Life." But let's examine a couple more Proverbs and see a little more on the subject.
30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life. He who is wise wins beings. – Mishle / Proverbs 11:30 (SQV)
12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when longing is fulfilled, it is a tree of life. 13 Whoever despises the word will pay for it, but he who respects a command will be rewarded. 14 The Torah of the wise is a spring of life, to turn from the snares of death. – Mishle / Proverbs 13:12-14 (SQV)
Again, the Torah paralleled with a Tree of Life, with "the word," with a "command" and with a "spring of life." As well as, as witnessed in 11:30, the "fruit of the righteous."
1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. 2 The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of fools gush out folly. 3 The eyes of YHWH are everywhere, keeping watch on the evil and the good.
4 A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but deceit in it crushes the spirit. 5 A fool despises his father's correction, but he who guards reproof shows prudence. 6 In the house of the righteous is much treasure, but the income of the wicked brings trouble. 7 The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so with the heart of fools. – Mishle / Proverbs 15:1-7 (SQV)
Just as above in 3:11,12 we saw the mention of the Torah being used for "reproof" and "correction," here again we see mention of reproof and correction. Consider also Paul's words to Timothy:
16 Every Scripture is breathed out by Elohim, profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of Elohim may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.– Timotheos Beta / 2 Timothy 3:16,17
When Paul wrote this, the majority of the Shelichim Writings (what is commonly called the "New Testament") were not yet written, and none of them had been compiled and "canonized" yet. So what "Scripture" is Paul talking about? The Tanakh ("Old Testament").
So as we can plainly see, the Torah is the Tree of Life. But what is more, is that Torah is the very foundation of all other Scripture. All Scripture is hinged on it, and dependent on it. Not merely because it is the "beginning of the book" but also in content itself. Allow me to explain.
Immediately after the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) we have the Book of Joshua.
I think it is safe to say that every single book of Scripture is based around the Torah, in one way or another. This is definitely an over-simplified list, but I wanted to give you an idea of how important and central the Torah is to the entire Bible. And given that the entirety of Scripture should central in our lives as individuals, we need to understand how to live and apply Torah principles.
According to Judaism, there are 613 commands in the Torah (I argue that this list is wrong and there are actually fewer, but we'll go with it for now). That being said, all of these commands can be broken down into the Ten Words (Ten Commandments). Further, all of these Ten can be broken down into two as follows:
1. Have no other elohim before YHWH (1)
2. Do not make an idol (1)
3. Do not bring YHWH's Name to nothing (1)
4. Remember the Sabbath and set it apart (1)
5. Honor father and mother (2)
6. Do not kill (2)
7. Do not commit adultery (2)
8. Do not steal (2)
9. Do not bear false witness (2)
10. Do not covet (2)
The number in parentheses next to the command shows which of the "two commands" it falls under. (1) is "Love YHWH your Elohim" and (2) is "Love your neighbor." Thus, we find the true meaning of Yeshua's statement in Matthew 22:
35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him, testing Him, 36 "Teacher, which is the great command in the Torah?" 37 And He said to him, "'You shall love YHWH your Elohim with all your heart, and with all your being, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the great and foremost command. 39 The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commands depend the whole Torah and the Prophets." – Mattithyahu / Matthew 22:35-40 (SQV)
Remember that during Yeshua's time, the "Torah and the Prophets" encapsulated all of Scripture, as Paul mentioned to Timothy.
So then, let us hear the conclusion of the matter: The Torah of YHWH IS a Tree of Life. In Deuteronomy 30 we are told that YHWH gives us a choice: life, or death. Blessing, or curse. We get to decide which way we go. Just as Adam and Eve were given the choice between the two trees (one leading to life, the other to death), so we are given the choice between two paths. The way to Life is lit by the lamp of the Word. Thus, let us "choose life" and choose the Torah of YHWH. Yeshua, as the Living Word made flesh, is the living Torah, and we are to follow His example. He perfectly kept the Torah, and we can to.
Not in hopes of earning salvation, but in hopes of showing our Creator and Bridegroom how much we love Him. Yeshua said in John 14:15 "If you love Me, guard My commands." This is not a suggestion: IF we love Him, we WILL guard His commands (which are not burdensome).
I hope and pray that this study has blessed you. Be Berean. Shalom.