This week there is a double Torah portion. The title of the first parasha is Behar, which means “on the mountain.” The portion begins as God is speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, instructing him what to say to the Israelites.
The importance of Mount Sinai is easy to understand. Moses communes with God on this mountaintop, receiving the Teaching to impart to the people. It is at this mountain in the Sinai desert where the Jewish people accept Torah.
The relationship between the mountain and the people is one of verticality and distance. God is above and the Israelites are down below. In theological terminology, the mountain is suggestive of God’s transcendence.
Yet there is another metaphor besides a mountaintop which also symbolizes our relationship to God. It is a tree. A tree shelters us, nourishes us, and provides beauty and splendor.
A tree is a metaphor for God’s immanence. As God’s revealed word, we embrace Torah proclaiming “It is a tree of life to all who hold fast to it and all its supporters are happy.”
God is both transcendent and immanent. We relate to God above and God among us.
Given these two primary modalities for our relationship to God, it striking that in our synagogue, a tree is far more primary than a mountain. The symbol of a tree permeates our sanctuary. In our sacred space, we invite God’s presence to dwell among us so that we may be nurtured and inspired by God’s beauty and wisdom.