I Will Climb into the Palm Tree and Take Hold of its Branches

by tillerofthesoil

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Make me know the path of life. Joys overflow in Your presence, delights in Your right hand forever (Psalms 16:11).

Israel said before the blessed Holy One: ‘Master of the Universe! Teach me the path of life [חַיִּים (ḥayyim), life, is numerically equivalent to לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch]!’ He said to them, ‘Here are the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: שֹׂבַע שְׂמָחוֹת (sova’a semaot), joys overflow, in Your presence—rather read: שֶׁבַע שְׂמָחוֹת (sheva semaot), these are the seven joys, of the festival, and what are they? The four species, plus סֻכָּה (sukkah), hut, the Ḥagigah (festal) offering, and rejoicing. What is delights in Your right hand נֶצַח (netsaḥ), forever? Rabbi Avin said, ‘This is the palm branch, like one who is מְנַצֵחַ (menatseaḥ), victorious, holds a wand. What is this like? Two who entered before the judge, but we do not know who won, unless we see one of them holding a wand in his hand and then we know that he won. Similarly, Israel and the nations of the world go in and contend with the blessed Holy One on Rosh Hashanah, and we do not know who won, but when Israel depart from His presence with their לֻלַּבּין (lulabin), palm branches, and אֶתְרוֹגִין (etrogin), citrons, in their hands, we know that Israel came out victorious [cf. BT Sukkah 55b]” (Vayiqrah Rabbah 30:2).

And all the holy forms oversee all the nations. But Israel is holy [of Holies], taking the גוּף (guf), trunk, of the אִילָּן (illan), Tree, and its Heart, for the Heart is the stately fruit of the גוּף (guf), body. So too Israel takes עֵץ הָדָר (ets hadar), fruit of a stately tree (Leviticus 23:40). The date palm is surrounded by its branches all around with its לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch, in the middle. So too, Israel takes the trunk of this tree which is its heart. And corresponding to the trunk is the חוּט הַשִׁדרָה (ḥut ha-shidrah), spinal cord, which is the עִיקָּר (iqqar), root, of the body. What is the לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch? לוֹ לֵב (Lo lev), to it the heart [is attached]—even the Heart depends on it. And what is the לֵב (lev), Heart? In it are ל״ב (thirty-two) wondrous paths of Wisdom. In each path there is also a form keeping guard. Therefore it is written, To guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24) ” (Bahir §98, cf. Zohar 3:104a).

Rabbi Berakhiyah sat and expounded: What is the לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch, that we discussed? It is the ל״ו (thirty-six) dependant on the ל״ב (thirty-two). And how? He replied: There are three princes, the תָּלִי (Tali) [alt., תְלִי (Theli), like a serpentine spine which twists the heavens, i.e., Draco, Axis Mundi], the Wheel, and the Heart. Each one is twelve, and the three therefore reckon thirty-six, through which the world is sustained [see BT Sanhedrin 97b; Sukkah 45b]. Therefore it is written: The Righteous One is foundation of the world (Proverbs 10:25)” (Bahir §101).

A king had an idea to plant ten male trees in a garden. All of them were date palms. He said, ‘Since they are all the same kind, it is impossible for them to endure.’ What did he do? He planted a אֶתְרוֹג (etrog), citron, among them. This was one of those which he had intended to be male. And why is the citron, female? Because it is written, The fruit of a stately tree, fronds of palm trees, [and a branch of a leafy tree and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before YHWH your God seven days] (Leviticus 23:40). What is the פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר (pri ets hadar), fruit of a stately tree? The Targum renders this, פֵּרֵי אִילָנָא אֶתְרוֹגִין וְלֻלַּבּין וַהֲדַסִּין וְעַרְבִין (pri illana etrogin ve-lulabin va-hadassin ve-arvin), Fruit of the citron tree, palm branches, [myrtles and willows]” (Bahir §172).

What is this that is holy? It is the אֶתְרוֹג (etrog), citron, which is the stateliness of them all. Why is it called stately? Do not read הָדָר (hadar), stately, but הַדַר ­(ha-dar), the guest [from the root לָדוּר (la-dur), to dwell, sojourn, cf. BT Sukkah 35a]. This refers to the אֶתְרוֹג (etrog), citron, which is not bound together with the לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch. [Yet] without it the mitsvah of לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch, cannot be fulfilled. It is also bound with them all. It is with each one of them, and is unified with them all.

What does the לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch, correspond to? The spinal cord. Therefore it is written, [Fronds of palm trees,] and a branch of a leafy tree and willows of the brook (Leviticus 23:40). The branches must cover the majority [of the bunch]. If its branches do not cover its majority, it is invalid. Why? What is this like? A man has arms, and with them he protects his head. He has two arms, and his head makes three: a branch of a leafy tree. A branch is to the left, and the leaves are to the right. It then comes out that the tree is in the middle. And why is it called a tree? Because it is the main part of the Tree.

What are willows of the brook (Leviticus 23:40)? There are two [willow branches in the לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch], and these correspond to the two legs in man. Why are they called עַרְבֵי-נָחַל (arvei naḥal), willows of the brook? Because the greater of the two is inclined toward the מַעֲרֵב (ma’arev), west, and draws its power from there. The one to the north is smaller than it by a journey of five hundred years. It is on the northwest side, through which it functions. It is named after it, since they are both עֲרָבִים (aravim), mixed.

Another interpretation: עַרְבֵי נָחַל (Arvei naḥal), willows of the brook—sometimes their functions מְעָרְבִים (me’arvim), are mixed, this with that. And why are they called willows of the brook? Say because of the place in which they are steady, which is called נָחַל (naḥal), brook [or: river]. Therefore it is written All the rivers go to the sea, and the sea is not full (Ecclesiastes 1:7). What is this Sea? We say that it is the אֶתְרוֹג (etrog), citron.

How do we know that each of the seven qualities [sefirot] is called נָחַל (naḥal), river? Because it is written, And from Mattanah to Nahaliel and from Nahaliel to Bamoth (Numbers 21:19) [cf. M Avot 6:2]. Do not read נַחֲלִיאֵל (naḥaliel), Nahaliel, but נַחֲלֵי אֵל (naḥlei El),­ rivers of God. And all six then go on one way to the Sea. What is this way? It is the one that decides between them. Therefore it is written: Before Him went the pestilence, and burning fever went forth at His feet (Habakkuk 3:5). All of them go to that channel, and from that channel to the Sea. This is And from מַּתָּנָה (Mattanah) to Nahaliel—the place which is נִיתַן (niten), given, that is the brain.

To Nahaliel and from Nahaliel to Bamoth. What is בָּמוֹת (Bamoth)? As the Targum renders it: רָמָתָא (ramatha), Heights. This is the סְגוֹלְתָּא (segolta), that follows the זַרְקָא (zarqa). And from Bamoth to the valley that is in the steppes of Moab, by the top of Pisgah looking out over the wasteland (Numbers 21:19). And from בָּמוֹת (Bamoth), Heights, to the valley that is in the steppes of Moab—that which is מְזוּמָן (mezuman), ready. And what is that which was in the steppes of Moab? Do not read מוֹאָב (mo’av), Moab, but מִאָב (mi-av), from father. This is the Father of whom is written, Because Abraham has listened to My voice and has kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, [and My teachings] (Genesis 26:5).

What is הַשָּׂדֶה (ha-sadeh), the steppes [or: the field]? It is the one that is at the top of Pisgah, and which is also looking out over the wasteland. יְשִׁימֹן (Yeshimon), the wasteland, is translated as שְׁמַיָּא (shemayya), heavens. Regarding that channel, it is written, A garden spring, a garden of fresh water and streams from Lebanon (Song of Songs 4:15). What is Lebanon? We say this is Ḥokhmah. What are עַרְבֵי נָחַל (arvei naḥal), willows of the brook? We say this is that which gives נַחֲלָה (naḥalah), a heritage, to Israel. And that is two אוֹפַנִי הַמֶרְכָּבָה (ofani ha-merkavah), wheels of the Chariot.

We learned that there are ten גַלגַלִים (galgalim), spheres [or: wheels], and ten utterances. Each sphere has its utterance. Not that it is surrounded by it, but rather it surrounds it. This world is like a mustard seed in a ring. Why? Because of the breath that blows upon it, by which it is sustained. If this breath were to be interrupted the world would wither in an instant [in the mystery of You enliven them all (Nehemiah 9:6)]” (Bahir §175–§179).

Why was she called תָמָר (tamar), Date Palm, and not any other name? Because she was female. Can we then say that she was female [i.e., was this something extraordinary]? But it is because she included both male and female. For every date palm includes both male and female. How is this? The לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch, is male. The fruit is male on the outside and female on the inside. And how so? The pit of a date is cracked like a woman. Corresponding to it is the power of the moon above” (Bahir §198).

“A אַמָּה (ammah), cubit [lit., arm], is the measure of the body in four directions and up and down, making six cubits. And each arm has three joints, making eighteen joints in the six cubits, being the secret of the eighteen wavings with the lulav in six directions, three in each direction. Of them it is said: קוֹמָתֵךְ (Qomatekh), Your stature, is like a palm tree (Song of Songs 7:8). And this is the שִׁיעוּר קוֹמָה (shi’ur qomah), measure of the stature, the מִקְוֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל (Miqveh Yisra’el), Gathering of Israel (Jeremiah 14:8) in Shekhinah” (Zohar 3:228a, Ra’aya Meheimna Pineḥas).

“She [Malkhut] is raised with the four species up to Thought [Ḥokhmah], as is written: I thought: I will climb, the palm, [I will grasp its stalks] (Song of Songs 7:9). אֶעֱלֶה (E’eleh), I will climb—a sign: אֶתְרוֹג (etrog), citron, עֲרָבָה (aravah), willow, לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch, and הֲדָס (hadas), myrtle” (Zohar 3:283b, Ra’aya Meheimna Ki Tetse, cf. Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 29b).

אַל תְּבוֹאֵנִי רֶגֶל גַּאֲוָה (Al tevo’eni regel ga’avah), Let no haughty foot overtake me, nor the hand of the wicked repel me (Psalms 36:12)אֶתְרוֹג (etrog), citron” (Rabbi Ḥayyim Vital, Sefer ha-Liqqutim).

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