... You gave us, God our God, the Torah of life and a love of kindness, righteousness, blessing, compassion, life and peace. And may it be good in Your eyes to bless your people Israel, in every season and in every hour with Your Peace.At first reading, the Tree of Life seems to be indefinitely off limits to mankind. However, if the Tree of Life is Torah, then just as Torah is accessible, so must the Tree of Life be accessible, which perhaps explains the unusual wording of the verse:
From the final blessing of the Prayer of 18 Benedictions
And God said, Behold, Man has become like one of us knowing good and evil; and now, in case he sends his hand and take also of the Tree of Life, and eat and live forever... (Genesis 3:22)The verse could have been written like this:
... now, in case man takes from the Tree of Life, and eat and live forever...without the phrase "sends his hand" and the word "also", both unnecessary for communicating the intent of God. However, the Torah deemed it necessary to use these words, perhaps providing a clue to regaining immortality.
What is the clue? In Jewish law, the term shiluach yad (literally, sending of the hand) means to use the property of another without prior permission. (Talmud Baba Metzia 41a; this violation is called shlichus yad (lit. the sending out of the hand), which refers to a bailif who uses the property he was asked to guard, though he had no permission to do so.) The word "also" is a word of emphasis, as if to say, in the same manner that Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: without permission.
This would mean that the Tree of Life is not off limits, at least not to everyone. However, whereas the knowledge of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil has been, and is still, accessible to anyone, the wisdom of the Tree of Life is only accessible to those who earn it. And how does one earn access to the Tree of Life?
So God banished him from the Garden of Eden, to work the soil from which he was taken. And having driven out the man, He stationed at the east of the Garden of Eden the Cherubim and the flame of the ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life. (Genesis 3:22)As one would expect, this is also the same route to Torah:
... The way ... this is derech eretz (literally, way of the land) which teaches that derech eretz preceded everything. (Seder Eliyahu Rabbah, 1:2.)
Rabbi Elazar, the son Azariah said, If there is no derech eretz, there is no Torah ... (Ethics of Our Fathers, 3:21)This is the key to the Tree of Life, as well as to Torah and the completion of the process. Derech Eretz leads to the Tree of Life, the Tree of Life leads to an accurate intellectual framework, this framework leads to wisdom, and wisdom in turn leads to fulfillment of the individual - the purpose of creation.
But what is derech eretz? Again the Torah provides an answer. The verse says,
And God said, Let us make man in our image ... (Genesis 1:26.)Who is the "us" to whom God refers, and why does He involve them in His plan? Rashi explains the usage of the term "us" as follows:
Even though God didnt require assistance in his creation, and it left an opening for rebels still, the verse wrote it this way to teach derech eretz and humility, that one who is great should still consult with one who is smaller ...According to Rashi, the Torah is prepared to create a "stumbling block" to teach mankind proper behavior, which is remarkable since the Torah later admonishes the Jewish nation against misleading people. (Leviticus 19:14. This also refers to providing information that might be misleading.) It must be that the Torah considers derech eretz to be so central to the correct learning of Torah that it must be taught at the cost of those who would abuse the lesson.
In everyday language, derech eretz is used to describe polite behavior. In mishnaic language, it can refer to business, among other things. But the truth is that these things are really a function of what true derech eretz is, which is why it specifically leads to Torah.
It is a tree of life for those who grasp it, and those who support it are praiseworthy. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.All of its paths are peace - those leaving it and especially those leading to it. The way to the Tree of Life is harmony, peace, a desire to work with creation as opposed to against creation. The route to eternity and immortality is by letting the needs of creation dictate ones contribution and not the other way around.
(Proverbs, 3:17; this is part of the prayer service said upon closing the ark which contains the Torah scrolls. Each week the Torah is read from in synagogues around the world, and upon returning the Torah, the above mentioned verses are recited.)
Even God, who needs no one and nothing, still consults with His own creations for the sake of peace. If God had done so because He needed to, then it would have fulfilled a selfish need; if He did so even though He had no need for their help, then it was for their sake, and for the sake of peace within creation.
To what extent does God go? Not only does He consult with His heavenly court, but He even consults with mankind, as we see when God came and involved Abraham in the decision about the destruction of Sodom and Gemorah. (Genesis 18:23)
This is why the Torah testifies to the harmony with which the Jewish people camped at Mt. Sinai. The reality of the event elevated all individuals there above their own personal concerns to a level of clarity that resulted in perfect shalom bayis (literally, peace of the house), the pre-requisite for receiving the Torah and restoring the objectivity of mankind:
When the serpent approached Eve, he injected her with lust; when the Jewish nation stood at Mt. Sinai, they stopped it. (Tractate Shabbos 146a)Man the manipulator can take in as much knowledge as he wishes and become increasingly more aware of how nature works. But he will never, ever, become wise. When man tries to be God, as opposed to being like Him, as in the case when,
The serpent said to the woman, You will not surely die; for God knows that on the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:4)then he or she will always by-pass the wisdom of the Tree of Life for the Tree of Knowledge. This is because in his or her eyes, the Tree of Life will look only like a piece of wood, its potential will remain hidden within for those who choose to find it. But it is only deception, illusion:
And God said to the woman, What is it that you have done!Man the manipulator bases his belief only upon seeing, based only upon appearances. He tries to make the world fit his needs, rather than satisfying the needs of the world in which he lives.
The woman said, The serpent deceived me, and I ate. (Ibid 13)
And the more this is true, the less this type of person sees creation as a masterpiece of Divine wisdom; the less people like this can see the meaning in all that occurs in the world. These people become unwilling and unable to extract principles of life from the world around them, from the people they meet and the events that occur. Eventually their intellectual framework will be faulty and the quality of their decisions poor.
Finally, such people will give up on the notion of lofty ideals and become bogged down with the details of day-to-day living. They will embed themselves intensely in what they do and consider nothing else. Ultimately their way of thinking will kill them - spiritually, and eventually physically.
In the meantime, there will always be some, a fortunate group, who will seek out a perfected existence, who will make harmony their ultimate goal and seek out the Torah to find out how to bring such a result about. The Torah, in turn, will act as a looking glass for them and will reveal to them the spiritual inner workings of creation.
They will grow as their vision of creation grows, each day arranging new knowledge within their intellectual framework until finally it becomes ever so obvious that God is everywhere. This in turn will be manifested in the level of morality by which they live, not just in the world they create, but also in the world that was created for them.
All of this they do, not for the sake of reward, but as a natural expression of all they know. They do it because the vision of life they have warrants no less an expression of truth. They do it because they see and love God - and life.
For eating from the Tree of Life first, there is a reward, for they merit both the knowledge of good and evil, and eternity, and the real secrets of creation:
To those who fear him secrets of God. (Psalms 25:14)