For those who like to party, you’ll get another opportunity this month. No, it’s not one of God’s biblical feasts, but it’s been around for some 3,000 years. Not that age equates with goodness, but I thought it was interesting that it’s been a thing for that long.
What am I talking about? The holiday for trees, called Tu B’ Shevat! Judaism has used this date (the 15th of the Hebrew month Shevat) traditionally to link trees to humans and trees to the Torah. So that makes this a good month to look into the biblical significance of trees.
Trees are an interesting motif seen in the scriptures and also were important to ancient cultures, including pagan ones. This isn’t surprising since the Holy One of Israel first used trees to teach us spiritual things pertaining to the 3rd day of Creation, and, as all things that come into the hands of people, these original symbols sadly became objects of worship. How many times has mankind ended up worshipping the object (for examples trees) instead of the Source – the LORD?
The Trees of Day Three
The mystic sages teach that each Hebrew month possesses a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The letter for last month (Tevet) was the letter ayin. The letter for this month of Shevat is tzade. Together they combine to form the word etz, “tree.” One possible word picture for “Etz” is a composite of ayin (eye, spiritual discernment) and tzade (submission to the divine will). The letter tzade forms the word tzedakah, which is based on the Hebrew צדק, Tzedek, (used as an adjective) meaning righteousness, fairness, or justice.
Each and every child of God is in pure potential a tzadek, as it is said:
Then all your people will be righteous (tzadekim) and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor. Isaiah 60:21
Through spiritual discernment that only God gives, (ayin), our potential is activated (tzade) when we allow God’s presence to indwell us. He has given us the opportunity to be His “plantings;” may we respond to Him with the same Emunah (trust and faith in His goodness) that plants do toward their nurturing environments.
Torah is a tree of life for all who grasp it. (Proverbs 3:18)
In various places, the Torah compares a person to a tree:
- A person is like the tree of a field... (Deut. 20:19)
- For as the days of a tree shall be the days of my people. (Isaiah 65:22)
- He will be like a tree planted near water... (Jeremiah 17:8)
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
To the ancient Hebrew trees brought to mind action, specifically the action of lifting up and supporting. Trees come into existence on the 3rd day of creation, which is also the first mention of etz. Day three invites us to remember the seed-bearing fruit trees which represent resurrection. Within a seed is the hope of eternity. A seed only appears to die, but in the dark, behind the scenes so to speak, there is new growth. Remember the words of our Master Yeshua, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24
Seeds represent reproducing “after its kind.” This is what you and I are called to do and that doesn’t just mean biologically. We are God’s image bearers and we are given the honorable task of reproducing the likeness of the Son, the ultimate Seed. You and I have a hopeful eternal seed within us, we are the Holy One’s plantings.
All trees need water, soil, air, sun:
We need the living water that only Messiah can provide. The Torah is also compared to water, as Moses proclaims: May my teaching drop like the rain (Deut. 32:2).
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).
We need connection to our Hebraic heritage. We need to be nourished by the rich soil of those biblical patriarchs and matriarchs who came before; we need the wisdom of our ancestors and elders. We need each other to sink our roots of belonging into. It is true that we are called out to become separated from the world. But this is only so that we can then come together with others of like mind and like kind.1 All the Feasts of God and essential observances and ceremonies of the faith are based on family and community. We aren’t meant to do this life alone; we need to plant our roots deep in community.
We need air to live. On day six, the Holy One God breathed His own breath into humanity, giving us a divine soul, a little piece of God. He is still breathing. His Ruach (Spirit) still breathes in and on us. God could have used anything to create the world, but He is said to have used speech, which needs breath. (Of course, God is Spirit so He has none of the physicality used to create sounds.) Speech, in Jewish tradition, is viewed as the manifestation of the divine breath that resonates within man. What comes out of our mouths is very important. Our mouths (speech) should be used to bring honor and glory to God. The words that come out of our mouths reveal what is inside of us. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” May we breath out clean air.
We need heat to live, this includes sunlight. The Spirit of God which hovered over the waters of chaos in the beginning is depicted as flames of fire, the Hebrew letter shin. God’s manifest Presence, as represented in the bush that was on fire yet was not consumed, is what sustains us and moves in our life to change us into the image of the Son. The Holy Spirit hovers over us, always moving, always burning off the chaff of our lives if we are open to the experience.