Monday, May 11, 2015

Et-Derech Ets HaChayim (The Way of the Tree of Life): Rabbinic Identification of Universalist Undertones in Genesis 3:24

"He drove away the man, and stationed the cherubim at the east of Eden, along with the revolving sword blade, to guard the path of the Tree of Life," Gen. 3:24 
"Vayegaresh et-ha'Adam vayashken mikedem legan-Eden et-hakruvim ve'et lahat hacherev hamithapechet lishmor et-derech ets hachayim."

In the beginning of the Bible, we see that there is a path that leads to life.  The Bible calls this path "the Torah of Adam":
"And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord GOD. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind (Torat ha-Adam), O Lord GOD!" (2 Sam 7:19)
The problem is that most folks believe the Rabbis have always taught that there is a separate way of life for Gentiles known as the Noahide Laws.  That's not true.  If you dig into Rabbinic Writings, you'll see that the Rabbis originally had some notion of the universality of the Torah.

In Rabbinic writings, this universality of Torah is best seen in the origins story of mankind.  They once taught that the "Tree of Life" is symbolic of man's need to recover the Torah and partake of the Way of Life described therein:

A.  Said R. Abba b. Eliashib, '[The reference at Lev. 26:3 to statutes is to] statutes which bring a person into the life of the world to come.
B.  'That is in line with the following verse of Scripture:  'And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem' [Is. 4:3] -- for he is devoted to [study of] Torah, which is called the tree of life.'
A.  It has been taught in the name of R. Eliezer, 'A sword and a scroll wrapped together were handed down from heaven, as if to say to them, 'If you keep what is written in this [scroll], you will be saved from the sword,
B.  'and if not, in the end [the sword] will kill you.'
C.  When is that proposition to be inferred?  'He drove out the man, and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life' [Gen. 3:4].
D.  'The [first] reference to 'the way' refers to the rules of proper conduct, and the second reference, '[the way to] the tree of life' refers to the Torah,'" Leviticus Rabbah XXXV:VI:1f
Of course, this idea of the Torah as the Tree of Life does not originate with the Rabbis at all.  They merely picked up on references in the Bible itself:
"She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed," Proverbs 3:18
And they realized that the converse is also true:  those who reject the Torah will be cursed and will never enter into the Restored Garden of Eden (Israel).

At the end of the Bible, the Apostolic Writings capture this dichotomy between the Israel with access to the Way of the Tree of Life and the pagan Gentiles outside of Israel who have rejected the Way of the Tree of Life:
"Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood," Revelation 22:14,15
 I love how the beginning and the ending of the Bible tie together so beautifully!

Thank you L-rd for Your Torah!  May Your People recognize it as a Tree of Life and grab hold of it!

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