So, what is the Etz Hayyim?


We had a great conversation with Kavanna BaShanah yesterday evening! In keeping with our Kayitz 2014 theme of Etz Hayyim (Tree of Life), we went back to the original source, the Torah, to try to understand what the Etz Hayyim might have actually been. Our enthusiastic participants wondered if maybe the tree was there to protect nature, the center around which all life revolved, or perhaps even the same tree as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil from which Adam and Eve eventually ate.

After sharing our own ideas, we turned to a midrash, a rabbinic interpretation of the text that had a very interesting take on what the Etz Hayyim might look like. (See text below) After our brave reader initially read “500 years” as “500 yards,” we discussed what it might mean to measure the size of something in time rather than distance. This sparked a great conversation about family trees and the generations of our families, how big something might be to have to measure it in time, and what it might mean to have roots that float in water rather than are anchored in the earth.

After our conversation, Tzevet member and parent Melanie Dankowicz sent us a picture of the mangrove tree, which floats in water much as the Etz Hayyim was described in our midrash. Check it out!

As always, if you have any questions about Kavanna BaShanah, please be in touch with either Rami ( or Ariella (

To have this conversation at home, check out the texts we looked at and questions below!

Read the text from Breisheet (Genesis) and ask:

  • What is the Etz Hayyim? What does it do?
  • What clues are you finding in the text or your own memories to back up your answer?

Read the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah) paragraph and ask:

  • What is strange or interesting about this text? Why?
  • How is this description of the Etz Hayyim similar to or different from the tree that you imagined in your head?
  • What does it mean that the tree’s size is measured in a distance of 500 years? What are some other things that we measure in time?
  • What are this tree’s roots? How does having or not having roots change what this tree does?
  • BONUS (if you’d like a challenge): Imagine that you had an Etz Hayyim that spanned your entire life- how would you know it was there? What would it contribute to your life?

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