The Tree of Life
By: Rabbi David Zeller zt”l
For the most part, we live in a world that doesn’t acknowledge the existence of the Self, the Soul or of God. Where it is acknowledged, it is often an intellectual understanding, a concept or a belief based on current convincing information or arguments. The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidism, said that knowing is not data/information, it is intimate knowledge, it is experiential knowledge, it is being consciously one with that which is known. It is the difference between the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. It is the difference between mental intelligence, emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence.
My work is about bringing the soul from an intellectual concept to a personal and intimate experience. Haven’t we had enough focus about the soul? From a mental approach, yes. Now it’s time for one that speaks from the soul and to the soul and calls to and awakens the soul. It combines the religious, the spiritual, the psychological and the meditative. It is rooted in traditional teachings and practices, and bears fruits that are fresh and deeply nourishing today. It is rooted in traditional Judaism, but speaks to and respects all streams of Judaism, and all world traditions. But in particular it speaks to that part of all traditions that is for those walking the path of the heart.
The book Emotional Intelligence points out how the heart has suffered and been attacked. I seek to remedy this in general – in spiritual and psychological and meditative approaches, and in specific in the realm of Judaism. Perhaps more than anything else, surviving the experience of the holocaust left the heart teachings of Judaism forgotten and almost inaccessible.
Like the high priest who couldn’t serve God in the Holy Temple if he had come in contact with death because death darkens, saddens or angers us, and in that frame of mind, one can’t serve God with Truth, Light and Joy. Similarly we today having been touched by 6 million dead, can’t serve God in our teaching and learning. The words come out, the information is passed on or over, but the light, the truth and the joy within is lost. Our greatest task today is purifying ourselves to serve God truth and joy, once again. To rediscover, regain, restore access to our soul and to God.
The soul is not a divine or Godly spark flitting around the body like a fire fly. It is not the spiritual half of our physical body. It is not another name for Self or the archetype of God (with all due true respect and love for Jung).
The Soul, this Godly Presence, is all there is. It’s all we are.
Modern physics has proved that all matter is energy. When energy turns into matter, it doesn’t stop being energy. If you take the energy out of matter, it doesn’t leave the matter like a deflated balloon. Without the energy, there is no balloon – inflated or deflated. Matter may be highly compacted and compressed or condensed energy, but it is none-the-less, only energy. There is nothing else.
Like the contents of a very vivid dream. When I wake up, it disappears with hardly a trace. Because everything, object and person, feeling and understanding in that dream, was made alive and sustained by my consciousness during my sleep. And when I awake, that sustaining consciousness is removed and its just a fragment of memory (if I’m lucky).
So, my body doesn’t have a little bit of soul in it, the body is only condensed spirit. That’s all there is.
What appears to be a split between body and soul, matter and energy/spirit, is because of a split in the Mind/Brain between left and right, the linear and the holistic. We grow up only learning of the existence of, and how to use, the linear, rational, logical, differentiating mind set of duality. No one talks about or teaches about the unitive way of being and knowing, beyond the appearance of separateness.
Judaism and Jewish mysticism in particular tried to warn us about “falling” into seeing everything through duality, by planting the story of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life at the beginning of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). We start out in Paradise (a state of oneness), eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Opposites, the Tree of Duality, and are out of oneness and paradise. Every child goes through this in his or her early development. But there is almost no education for, no maps to, regaining access to this realm of wholeness, soulness and Godliness.
And those systems that do exist, are mainly descriptions and analysis, linear vehicles – themselves from the Tree of Knowledge – that rarely can transport the seeker to the ever-present dimension of the Tree of Life. The Tree of Knowledge is horizontal, linear, rational, hierarchical, sequential, causal, time and space bound, trapped in the past or sucked into the future. The Tree of Knowledge is the vulnerable, temporal world of the mortal ego/personality/body.
The Tree of Life is vertical, holistic, multi-dimensional, simultaneous, overlapping, interpenetrating, beyond time and space, ever present in the here and now moment. The Tree of Life is the safe, protected, womblike timeless world of the immortal soul, life force, essence of all.
We must go from horizontal intelligence and information to Vertical intelligence of knowing and experiencing. To remind you that right now, this moment you can go beyond the worries, hurts, dreams, expectations and anxieties of your ego, and tune into your ever-present, satisfied, joyful soul.
Horizontal learning does not answer the need for spirituality and meaning. Today we must be concerned with vertical knowing, with the spiritual heights and depths found in the Jewish tradition. Vertical intelligence is authentic, positive and relevant, affording a deeper understanding and meaning that can be applied to one’s personal life, from whatever background one has or spiritual path one is traveling. This psychological and contemplative approach involves the spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical levels of expression.
Through teachings of the ultimate oneness of all energy/spirit and matter/body, through an understanding of the nature of Tree of Knowledge duality consciousness that cuts us off from that oneness, I try to present the teachings from the Tree of Life on how to get back to the Tree of Life. The Kabbalistic map of the Four Worlds can be taught linearly or holistically. We can learn it from the Tree of Life, seeing these worlds as simultaneous, overlapping, interpenetrating dimensions in our every day life.
This is the new education from the Tree of Life. This is the education of the Soul.