Such a gift. . . – Part 2

Sid and I are continuing our trip this week with an amazing tour of Portugal. I am so impressed with the history of this small country. What a story of magnificence centuries ago with its early maritime and scientific advances before Spain gained supremacy. Portugal’s far reaching influence is evidenced over thousands of miles and centuries in ways that were unknown to me previously. I found it fascinating that the Japanese word for “thank you, “arigato”, comes from the Portuguese, “obrigado”, from the early Portuguese landings in Japan hundreds of years ago. Since then, it has had such a struggle for existence and personal freedoms, not unlike the story of our Jewish ancestors.

When the Inquisition finally reached Portugal, it, too, drove out those not part of the Catholic Church, including the Jews, as the tour guide laments what followed as being yet another dark age for Portugal when it lost the richness of its society by the loss of diverse faiths and cultures. The consequences of divisiveness shape history negatively just as collaboration builds healthy societies. When differences rule, times are dark. When living cooperatively with the other guides choices, when people with differences can live well together side by side, we flourish.

Trees. Trees. Everywhere here in Portugal. Once you get outside of Lisbon and tour the country, the variety and magnitude of trees is beyond imagination. As a result of the temperate climate and in most regions very little cold weather, you see palm trees next to pine trees. Wine vineyards, olive trees, evergreens all sharing adjacent spaces. A multitude of varieties of trees are here and often located in close proximity to each other. Picturing as far as the eye can see, trees, all connected through history and current existence, spanning all generations, all living in unity with each other. I may have become not only a tree hugger overnight, but also a person reminded of how we are intended to live together.

As I watched, listened, and learned, I gained a new appreciation for the Tree of Life. I have to ignorantly say that before now, I did not realize how universal this symbol was in so many cultures dating back multiple thousands of years. I was only familiar with its Biblical references and as a central part of our Jewish liturgy. The tree as a symbol of life has been the basis of so many cultures and religions. There is actually evidence in Brazil (discovered by the Portuguese) on cave walls of the tree as central to humans dating as far back as 25,000 years ago. These early associations became a precursor to an even deeper understanding that has gradually evolved over millennia as the Tree of Life has become a symbol to so many diverse groups.

When I first saw so many Tree of Life emblems in Ireland as a meaningful symbol, my curiosity was piqued. Then in Portugal, as I purchased adorable Tree of Life earrings, I had to search further, so where else? I went to Wikipedia. The discussion of philosophies, cultures, societies, religions, and civilizations that have found this symbol meaningful is worth the read. As a Jew who previously had thought the Tree of Life so unique to my religion, this symbol’s universality made me viscerally appreciate the interconnectedness of us all.n

As evidenced by its universality, and brought to us each day by gazing out our windows, what could be a more perfect universal symbol of unity than a tree, the message poignantly displayed here in Portugal through co-existence of so many diverse types of trees growing in close proximity. To go one step further, how amazing to think that perhaps the symbol of the Tree of Life, as it has actually come to be known by centuries of mankind has been divinely orchestrated by our Abba to bring us together in a way that many of us perhaps never fully realized. As we see the commonality of the diverse groups all drawn to observance of the Tree of Life, we see our unity with each other, and further, in Him.

How I am in awe that He brings into being, sees, and knows the big picture, and as this trip has grown and shown me, gives us a peek at His grandeur – revealed to His children slowly over millennia – a blink of an eye to Him, slowly to His children, as we become ready to more fully understand and appreciate the deeper knowledge of our common ground. Bob Marley really did sum it up in his classic “One Love/People Get Ready”:

“One Love! One Heart!
Let’s get together and feel all right
Hear the children cryin’ (One Love!)
Hear the children cryin’ (One Heart!)
Sayin’:give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right
Sayin’: let’s get together and feel all right.”

Shabbat shalom.

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