A Journey to the Tree of Life

The holy rabbi would go out into the forest by himself each day. What he did there was a great mystery to his students. One morning, the holy rabbi asked three of his students if they would like to go with him into the forest. All three of them eagerly agreed to go.

The students climbed onto the wagon, and the holy rabbi himself served as the driver. Never once did he crack the whip, but the horses responded to his presence by racing forward, and it seemed to the students that the hooves of the horses and the wheels of the wagon never touched the ground.

After some time they arrived at a beautiful forest that none of the students had efver seen. Without saying a word, the holy rabbi dismounted, unhitched the horses from the wagon, and motioned for the students to follow. Now they wondered why he did not rack-up, (secure horses to a fixed object by means of a halter and lead rope) the horses to nearby trees, and one of the students asked the holy rabbi if he wanted him to do it for him, and the holy rabbi answered: “It is not necessary to tie up the horses here, but if you are worried about them wandering off, you could stay here with them until we return.” The student did not want to miss any lesson from his teacher and did not want to left behind.

Never had the students seen a forest like this. The trees were so ancient that some of them were so wide that their span was wider than all of them together and so high that they seemed to reach into heaven. When one of the students tried to see the top branches of an especially tall and magnificent tree, he saw a nest high in its branches and a golden bird of such great beauty fly­ing into the nest. The student stood rooted in that place, marveling at the sight of the shining golden bird. He hoped to learn secret words of holiness as it is written, “for a bird of the air may carry your voice, or some winged creature tell the matter. (Ecclesiastes10:20) Meanwhile the other students continued into the forest, leaving their companion behind.

A little further on they came to a still, clear pond filled with the deepest blue water. The students saw the holy rabbi lean over and peer into the pond, and they wondered what holy things he saw. They each decided to look into the pond as did their holy teacher. What they saw was not their images, but a divine presence that seemed to gaze back at them from beneath the waters. Now the students were greatly amazed at what they saw and raised their eyes to ask the holy rabbi to explain the images they saw, but when they did, they saw that he had already left the pond, and one student hurried off to catch up with him. The other student remained staring at that angel, for he understood that it was his own guardian angel he was seeing, and he could not tear himself away from the remarkable sight.

Etz Chaim Hi

Further in the forest they came to trees that seemed to be shimmering as if they were on fire, yet they were not consumed. The last student wanted to stop to explore this strange sight, but the holy rabbi barely paused to glance at the trees and continued on his way. The last student, remembering well the vision of Moses at the burning bush, (Exodus 3:2) remained behind, trying to understand the mystery of that fire, and he did not notice that the holy rabbi had left him behind.

In this way hours or days passed, and the three students were lost in the mysteries of that forest. Then, all at once, they found themselves back at the Beis haMidrash – House of Study, where they had started their journey. They could not understand how they had gotten there, and when they looked to the holy rabbi for an explanation, he said: “When Moses left Egypt he knew that some of the Children of Israel would never reach the Promised Land. And, indeed, some of them crossed the Red Sea but were no longer present at the giving of the Torah, and some who were present both when the sea was crossed and the Torah was received did not reach the Promised Land. So it is that I brought you with me into Paradise where “there is a tree of life for those who do His will.” (4 Maccabees 18:16). Sadly the further we went, the fewer were those who followed. When I came to the Tree of Life, I found that all of you had lingered behind.”

May all your tales end with Shalom (Peace)

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