Herein lies a brief sketch of analogies between the anatomy of a tree and the corresponding four worlds which are explored in the Safed Kabbalist inspired seder often performed at this holy time. In the northeast where snow covers the frozen earth, we cannot plant trees but rather can go outside and praise them, listen to their 'original instructions', and bless before & after eating the fruits of these trees. As we share in red, pink, and white wine while eating tough shelled, hard pitted, shelless, and beyond fruit we journey through the four worlds: the physical world: assiyah, the world of creation: beriah, the world of formation: yetzirah, and the world of emanation: atzilut. While we travel between these worlds in both directions through our days and nights, it is noteworthy to investigate the details of these levels and to hone our consciousness of our place within and between. In the following analogy using tree anatomy, a trees' bark offers protection and habitat for much life just as our mitzvahs in the physical world of assiyah protect the lovelight we are transmitting against fear, doubt, fragmentation, disconnection which in tree language could be water loss, insects, disease, and fire. A tree's phloem is the level under the bark and it transports food made via the interaction of leaves with sunlight, water, carbon dioxide, angels.. down to the roots. This layer of creation aka: beriah is where our spiritual practices of mindfulness, prayer, awareness, discernment, Shabbas, celebration.. as we interact with our surrounding environment inform how nourishment is crafted from the networks within which we are nested. The next layer in a tree, xylem (sapwood) involves tubes which carry water and dissolved minerals from the roots to the leaves which is akin to the world of formation: yetzirah in that our relationship with where we came from and what we were raised within provides material from which to nourish the rest of our living being. This often involves a lot of healing, translation, and transformation just as nitrogen & nutrients in the soil often require cyanobacteria, fungal nodules, mychorrhizae, & various microbial workers to make these gifts accessible to surrounding trees. And finally the inner most layer of a tree, often called the heartwood (which is sometimes rotted away and represented by a hollow space!), can be akin to the world of emanation: atzilut in that its presence is beyond the realm of biotic or abiotic but rather is a portal for Divine live force. In this analogy (please forgive its potential contrived and anthropomorphic tone), I find a fertile landscape of pathways to explore for the rewiring work we can do this Shmita winter. The heartwood and bark (the inner and outermost layers) are no longer living and to me are potent reminders of how my earlier behaviors, thoughts, and persona patterns which (often developed in childhood & adolescence) helped me survive and do my work in the world now need to surrender and transform into shells to protect or be a sturdy axis for the currently evolving living trails through which I can serve. While this is humbling, painful at times, and sometimes uncomfortable I look to the trees as role models and teachers for they so gracefully hold whatever life offers them and allow their shifting of old and new cellular networks to serve the greater whole. Some trees like birch and cherry wear horizontal lines, known as lenticels and I find these 'eyes' to be sweet reminders to allow for permeable places where exchange can happen between my interior landscape and surrounding environment. This process feels like it would be better represented with an 'under desconstruction' sign but instead I can just relax into knowing that it is mid winter and a time to look to the trees for leading the way.
This weeks' past parsha, Beshalach 'When he Sent..' involves the Israelites' journey out of Egypt via the Sea of Reeds when they were concealed in a cloud by day which became an illuminating fire by night. A holy companion shared with me this past Shabbas that the lines 19-20, which explain in more detail how G-d's angel moved from the front to behind the Israelites to serve as a buffer between the Egyptian and Israelite camps, actually includes the 72 names of H-shem if decoded in a particular manner. This process involves taking the first letter of the first line with the last letter of the second line and the first letter of the third line which in this case is: והו translated by the Kabbalah Center as 'return to creation-time travel back to the future.' As I continue with this pattern using the second, third, fourth letters... through these lines and decode the seventy two names of G-d, I found the following ones to be instructive and resonant: אום translated as 'reducing ego builds a bridge to upper worlds, ייל 'drawing down the light to do battle for us', ירת 'becoming partner with light to create abundance', כלי 'build your vessel and spiritual DNA of fertility' 'הו ' accessing angelic network to bring in order, and יזל 'personal transformation to achieve inner messiah'. While this parsha involved a lot of fascinating accounts such as the trail of Joseph's bones, the sweetening of water via the addition of wood, the faithful steps into the waters before they split, the song and dance of victory, the gift of manna provided only what was needed in the moment was taken and a double portion on Shabbas was gathered, the tribulations of doubt, the impulsive complaints of discomfort, and the battle of Amalek I was most struck by the lines involving these holy names in which the movement of the Angel from the front to behind the Israelites in how it served as a buffer between the Israelite and Egyptian camps.
As I see vestiges of the 'babylonian' empires in the modern western-capitalist-military-industrial-system today, I can tune into this very present cloud that is still here. While I understand the term Israelites to encompass more than just the Jewish people but rather all who are conscious members of the ecological community we share in this planet, I find the image of this cloud/light/presence to be instructive and comforting. It allows me to extend my Shabbas to take a night off during the work week despite emails & phone calls to answer, to carve time out each morning & micro-moments throughout the day for prayer, meditation, and stretching, to remember that financial capital is only one of several valuable forms of capital when living on the financial edge to volunteer and do wholesome low-wage work, and when noticing vestiges of slavery in my thinking and behavior. This cloud, this pillar allows the space, the time, the protection to pause, to choose a different way: an untrodden path, a freestyle trail towards freedom; to stop feeding the empire and instead to nurture the garden. May we all recognize the gifts of this Shmita mid winter arboreal glory and enjoy the sweet fruits of garden nourishment and inner tending however it appears to us in our particular nooks in the web.