Baal Shem Tov, or Besht — the founder of Chasidism —
Longer meditations on Pri Etz Hadar
According to Kabbalah, the telos or goal of creation is to become unified throughout all its realms in wholeness, according to the pattern of the Sefirot. This powerful idea is expressed in many Kabbalistic texts. One of the most beautiful expressions we can find is in the blessing prayer for the first Tu Bishvat seder, which was published in the 17th century as part of the book Chemdat Yamim, in a section known as Pri Etz Hadar, "Fruit of the Majestic Tree".
Poetically, this prayer is unparalleled in its expression of the nature of blessing: "May it be your will that you will make the flow of desire and blessing and free, overflowing energy flow over the fruits of the trees…'then the trees of the forest will sing out' ". The Pri Etz Hadar gives an interpretation of the Psalms' picture of an exultant singing nature that is simultaneously mystical, physical and morally potent.
The very direct spiritual connection between human fertility and the fertility of trees and plants described in this blessing suggests a kind of spiritual ecosystem which includes both God and the entire cosmos. This ecosystem is described not just from the perspective of food growing in order to support human life (as we find in many other traditional texts). Pri Etz Hadar teaches that both trees' fruit and human offspring are expressions of the fertility of the earth, and manifestations of divine blessing.
According to the Pri Etz Hadar, the earth is a model of the upper worlds. Since the term "upper worlds" can also mean the Sefirot of Kabbalah, which are the same as God's tselem or image, this means that the earth is patterned in God's image. The purpose of this twofold image above and below is also twofold: it enables people to understand the upper realms by studying the living forms below, and it enables the upper and lower realms "to join together to become one" – to become unified despite their disparateness.
The rhythm and sequence of the prayer suggests that the universe was destined to be unified from the moment the upper and lower realms received their common pattern, even before the creation of humanity.
This process of unification is both a part of Nature and a part of our work as human beings. What it means for us to be in God's image is that we can unify the 'lower world' where we live with the upper worlds from which we acquire the divine image. In Kabbalah, fruit trees, birds, rainbows, and other natural phenomena are also seen as connectors between upper and lower, manifesting the image of the upper worlds here in the physical earthly realm. Thus the image of the Tree of Life, which is an image of God, is found in the trees which give us fruit.
Pri Etz Hadar uses some technical terms from Kabbalah to indicate the connection between the trees and God's tselem. The pattern of the trees and plants is b'qomah uv'tsivyon shel ma`lah, "in the stature and pattern of what is above". Here qomah refers not to the height of the tree itself, but to the spiritual pattern and variegation of the upper worlds, beyond what is physical or earthly. These patterns enable human beings to know wisdom. This is the element in the lower ones that represents God's image.
We pray at the end of the blessing, "May the whole return to his original strength," hoping to restore through our small acts of unification the cosmic image of God that embraces and comprises all creation. Most importantly, Pri Etz Hadar's prayer emphasizes that this unification and raising of the sparks occurs not only through consuming the fruits, but also through "our meditating over the secret of their roots above".
This emphasis on contemplative appreciation is something that makes the Pri Etz Hadar unique. The vision of human participation in bringing blessing to creation is stronger in Pri Etz Hadar than in many other Kabbalistic works (as one might expect from the first Tu Bishvat seder).
We read in the Zohar, "all who wound God's works wound God's image …" As we find in Pri Etz Hadar, the image of God in creation can not only be compromised by human action, its restoration depends directly upon conscious human endeavor. By engaging with the image of God in the created world, our consciousness becomes a vessel which receives blessing for all.
Imagine a Jewish practice which has the purpose of restoring all the species and creatures, and all the sparks they contain, to the fullness of blessing. Using the model of the Pri Etz Hadar, we could explore how our actions and intentions sustain each part of the cosmic body of creation, so that each creature will reflect and manifest God's image. This image is both the Tree of Life and Adam Kadmon, the primordial human that embodied the cosmos itself. This image was diminished by human sin at the beginning of creation, and it can be repaired through our right actions.
As we pray in Pri Etz Hadar: "May all the sparks scattered by our hands, or by the hands of our ancestors, or by the sin of the first human against the fruit of the tree, be returned and included in the majestic might of the Tree of Life."
Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006