Etz Hayim – The Tree of Life and Blessings by Rav Natan Freller

I believe that living a Jewish life is to draw from our ancient and modern wisdom to find meaningful ways to face the challenges we encounter in life. Being Jewish is more about the journey than the destination. The way we approach challenges has to be Jewish so the outcome will be Jewish too.

Arriving at Etz Hayim over the summer during a pandemic with so many uncertainties called me to look into our Jewish wisdom to find meaningful ways to face the challenges ahead.

Once it became clear, rooted in pikuach nefesh – the principle that preservation of human life overrides virtually any other religious rule – that the right decision was to hold the High Holidays services exclusively online, we faced what I understand to be the most important challenge of this year: “how can we still create community while being physically apart from each other?”

Sharing our lives with each other is the fundamental principle that sustains us as a Congregation. If not to share challenges and blessings with each other, offering support and rejoicing together, I cannot grasp any other possible raison d’être for a Jewish Congregation.

Honoring those who have sustained and led our community over the past year is a way to create community, showing that they are our role models of engagement and participation, each one with their uniqueness and special talents and passions, giving time and resources to make this enterprise a reality to all of us.

Being Jewish, we draw from our ancient and modern wisdom to find meaningful ways to face the challenges we encounter in life.

“Our ancestors believed themselves chosen to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6) with obligations and duties which flowed from their willingness to accept this status. Far from being a license for special privilege, it entailed additional responsibilities not only toward God but to their fellow human beings. As expressed in the blessings at the reading of the Torah, our people always have felt it a privilege to have been selected for such a purpose.” (Emet Ve’Emunah – Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism, Page 28)

After learning so much about the ethos of this Congregation, we suggested a new way to share blessings over the holidays. We wanted to honor members of this Congregation with the opportunity to offer blessings to all of us for the upcoming year, just as we do every time we are called for an aliyah. And so we did. Before each aliyah of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and some of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, we invited members to share a one-word-blessing as a kavanah – an intention or direction of the heart.

This is what I want to share again with you today, our Etz Hayim, the Tree of Life and Blessings. We created this art based on the one-word-blessings that our members shared during this High Holidays season.

May we enjoy the blessings we create, and may we keep generating blessings as a community while we face old and new challenges together.

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