Her mother once gave her a bag of nails and told her that every time she lost her temper or insulted somebody she must hammer a nail into large tree in the back of their house.
The first day the girl hit 14 nails into the tree. Over the next few weeks, as she learned to control her anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled. She discovered it was easier to hold her temper than to drive those nails into the tree.
Finally the day came when the girl didn’t lose her temper at all. She told her mother about it and the mother suggested that the girl now pull out one nail for each day that she was able to hold her temper. The days passed. Finally, she told her mother that all the nails were gone.
The mother took her daughter by the hand and led her to the tree. She said, “You have done well, my daughter, but look at all the holes in the tree. This tree will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like these.
“You can put a knife in a person and draw it out. It does not matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there. A verbal wound is almost as bad as a physical one.”
“How can I fix the tree?” asked the girl. “Will it have to remain damaged forever?”
“Yes and no” said the mother. “Our Rabbis say that if the tree is a special tree called a tree of life, and she responds to the way you have changed, she too can change and heal herself. If the tree is not a tree of life, and is dead to the possibility of your repentance, it will carry its scars onward.
The tree will never be as it was before, but she doesn’t have to become like new to be a good tree of life. If you do your part and change, and the tree of life does her part in response, God will do something wonderful.
God will promote a healing that will make you and the tree of life better. This process is called repentance and atonement. It means that the changes that come about from repentance and forgiveness lead people to higher levels of relationship than was the case before the wound took place.”
“What happens if the tree doesn’t respond?” asked the girl. “Can I ever make it whole?”
“Our rabbis say you should try on three different occasions,” said the mother, “but if the tree remains dead even after you have changed, YOU can’t force it to become whole. In that case you should fix another tree somewhere else. There are always lots of other trees that need fixing, and most of them are trees of life.
Whenever you fix a tree of life God will make something wonderful happen. That is the miracle of repentance and atonement. God always responds to our attempts to change for the good, by helping us change; and then always responds to our change for the good, by giving us new and wonderful opportunities for repentance and atonement.
This is why we have a Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) ten days after the beginning of every New Year; so the New Year will be a better one than the last one.”
Yom Kippur is September 23 in 2015 and everyone is invited to fix things up with the trees of life in your life.
Proverbs 3:18 tells us that by making a strong commitment to following God’s teachings we will live a life of goodness and love. “She (Torah/wisdom) is a Tree of Life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her tight will be happy.” The rabbis took the feminine words wisdom and Torah (Jewish teachings) as interchangeable.
To understand the nature of Torah wisdom, we have to read the preceding verses of chapter 3:
1 My child, do not forget my Torah, keep my Mitsvot (commandments) in your heart,
2 for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity.
3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man…
13 Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, 14 for she (Torah wisdom) is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. 15 She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. 16 Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. 18 She is a Tree of Life to those who take hold of her; all who hold her tight will be happy.