The vision or dream of the Prophet Lehi is one of much speculation in the circles of Mormonism. That being said the substance and symbolism in the dream is distinctly Israelite and draws upon many ancient teachings passed down in the prophetic tradition and teachings of the House of Israel. Examining his vision from this paradigm reveals a great teaching regarding ascension and the Tree of Life.
LEHI'S MAP - THE HEAVENLY EDEN
In order to understand the symbolic picture of Lehi's dream we must first understand the setting of the dream-vision. We learn from the Prophet Nephi that Lehi's Tree represents the Tree of life:
"And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God." (1 Nephi 11:25)
"And it came to pass that they did speak unto me again, saying: What meaneth this thing which our father saw in a dream? What meaneth the tree which he saw?
And I said unto them: It was a representation of the tree of life." (1 Nephi 15:21-22)
With this information from Nephi, the Israelite mind is directed to the creation epic and the imagery of the Garden of Eden Found in Genesis:
"And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil." (Genesis 2:8-9)
As such, Lehi's vision is taking place in what is termed the spiritual or heavenly Garden of Eden.
“And it came to pass that we had gathered together all manner of seeds of every kind, both of grain of every kind, and also of the seeds of fruit of every kind.”
The first prophetic marker is in the usage of the phrase “And it came to pass” which serves not only as a marker for future or subsequent events but is also a Hebraic permutation on the Name of God YHVH (Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey) wherein the word signifies the power or force behind the event or teaching being recorded. In other words, it is a signal word that the hand of God is behind or involved in the event or teaching being recorded. It was also considered a power word by which the revelations, power, and gifts of God were made manifest in the world. It is also a marker denoting knowledge or teaching regarding God's protective power.
The recording of the gathering of seeds of every kind -both grain and fruit- is much more than account of preparing a food storage plan. In describing the gathering of specifically grain and fruit the Prophet Lehi is actually drawing upon prophetic teachings regarding the journey from chaos to correction or this world into the presence of God. The symbolism of grain and fruits draws upon imagery from the Garden of Eden in Genesis and ancient Israelite ideas regarding chaos and order. The two seeds being representative of something which goes from chaos to order or from seed being planted from soil to grow into a grain or fruit bear plant or tree. The idea is connected with Genesis 1:2:
“And the earth was without form (tohu), and void (vohu); and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2)
Here the words without form (Tohu) describe a condition of chaos where the earth commences its progression from chaos through the varying stages of creation to garden and fruit bearing trees. The seeds of grain and fruit representing those people in a stage of development who through cultivation will also become bearers of fruit and seed. In addition, the mention of the two grains stands as a prophetic marker denoting two types of fields that exist in the Torah-the revealed and the concealed. In other words we are about to take a journey of ascension from our condition of chaos back into a condition of balance and order signified by the presence of God.
“And it came to pass that while my father tarried in the wilderness he spake unto us, saying: Behold, I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision. And behold, because of the thing which I have seen, I have reason to rejoice in the Lord because of Nephi and also of Sam; for I have reason to suppose that they, and also many of their seed, will be saved. But behold, Laman and Lemuel, I fear exceedingly because of you; for behold, methought I saw in my dream, a dark and dreary wilderness.”
The prophetic discipline of “dream visions” was a common teaching found in the prophetic schools of Israel. The idea of the dark and dreary wilderness draws upon the phrase “and darkness was upon the face of the deep” in Genesis. It represents this world and a potential for organization/creation which is a condition or place of correction. In other words, Lehi is commencing his journey of ascension in this world (Malkhut). The darkness also represents the barrier or veil (klipot).
In the science of Israel, the wilderness is a method for the purification from the ego or carnal man. Journeying in the wilderness leads to the gradual attainment of the Land of Promise meaning the personal embodiment of the desires and characteristics of God; i.e. we are created or recreated in the image of God. This image is the vessel of pure love (tzedekah or charity) that comes from God and that is bestowed upon others. The wilderness itself is a symbol of profound humility and dependence upon God.
What is the significance of the wilderness in our life? The wilderness is the place of the klipot, the barrier, or the veil. It represents a state that is not abundant in the material resources or of the natural life force, but is the place where God gave the Torah and his light. The wilderness represents humility. It represents the opposite the place of the spiritual man as opposed to the carnal man or the ego. It is a place of emptiness where the vessel is made clean to receive all the gifts that God wants to bestow. In like manner it represents our personal wilderness where we become empty and not consumed with ourselves and the things of this world. If we want to be able to feel the image of the light of God in ourselves, the only condition where this occurs is that of being in a spiritual wilderness. Our ego or the carnal man is that which separates us from God.
“And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me. And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him. And it came to pass that as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste. And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies.”
The symbolism of a man dressed in a white robe comes from what is called the Angel of the Klipot/Veil. The white robe demonstrates that the man in the robe is an angelic being from the upper world of Beriah. The white robe itself represents the light of wisdom and understanding. His purpose is to guide the traveler into the darkness of the veil to a point where the person through their own choice of submission either passes through the veil or retreats. In order to pass through the veil, Lehi, who had been left in the darkness of the veil, then called upon YHVH at which point the darkness or veil disperses. The calling upon the name of the Lord being connected to the phrase in Genesis, “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”.
“And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field.”
The revelation of a large and spacious field indicates an ascension from one world to another. It is also representative of the world of spiritual creation and is connected to Genesis:
“These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, and every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.” (Genesis 2:4)
“And now, behold, I say unto you, that these are the generations of the heaven and of the earth, when they were created, in the day that I, the Lord God, made the heaven and the earth, And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew. For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. For I, the Lord God, had not caused it to rain upon the face of the earth. And I, the Lord God, had created all the children of men; and not yet a man to till the ground; for in heaven created I them; and there was not yet flesh upon the earth, neither in the water, neither in the air…”
The world of formation or creation that is being referred to here is that state or world where spiritual creation takes place. It is the place where our spirit or true consciousness connect, learn, and create. The prophetic marker for this form of creation was anciently taught in the account of Isaac and Rebekah:
“And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming.” (Genesis 24:63)
The symbol of the field is also connected to the idea of meditative practice. This meditative practice is called Hitbodedut (meditative isolation or separation) wherein the disciple begins to cleanse the mind by separating from the distracting thoughts and distractions going on around us or in our heads (sometimes called mental clutter or the monkey mind). It is when the mind becomes separated from this sensory clutter that we will begin to hear the voice of God that pierces the hearts of man. When the prophets came before God in prayer they detached from the sensations and sensory clutter of the world and their bodies and mind became quiet and still. Once they reached this quietness of soul, they begin to reach a condition of spiritual balance wherein the rhythm of the opposing polar thoughts and forces are neutralized and the path of spiritual connection is open. The idea of asking, seeking, and knocking does not mean that we repetitively hound God until we get what we want but that we first find the place of quietness, then ask with our desire or intention. It is then that the prophet descended into the klipot/the veil/the internal barrier into the darkness wherein they reached a point of almost total consumption by the darkness wherein they called upon the Name of YHVH (knocking) whereon they were then brought into the light.
“And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.”
Lehi’s journey is a journey that connects the souls back to the Throne of God from where we came. To make this climb and to embrace the hidden mysteries of the Fathers contained in the Book of Mormon requires that we understand one of the oldest and most sacred of symbols to the House of Israel-The Tree of Life (Etz Chaim). The Tree of Life is both a key and a road map that leads us to the Throne Room of God. Understanding this symbol will unlock much of the knowledge of the Fathers that Nephi is transmitting to his readers.
In using the symbol of a tree with roots, trunk, and branches God gave the House of Israel a physical symbol with its own language that when understood unlocks great knowledge. As we inhabit a physical body our minds more easily grasp the physical to understand the great and non-physical things of God. As we grow in our understanding of the physical symbol, we are able to grasp and process the realm of the spirit. The knowledge and understanding of this symbol has been preserved by various disciplines and schools of thought among Jews to this day. The origins of this symbol are attributed to the Fathers such as Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. While they symbol represents the physical form of a tree, the mysteries hidden in the Tree of Life contain the keys to the first language, biology, physics, mathematics, arts, chemistry, architectural science, martial disciplines, and spiritual disciplines that were taught by the Fathers. The symbol is multi-dimensional in its applications and yet so simple that a young child can be taught great truths using it.
In the Tabernacle of Israel this tree was represented by the seven branched lamp called the Menorah that is positioned in the Holy Place before the Ark of the Covenant or Throne of God:
The tree was later depicted by a multi-dimensional figure with the spheres of the tree representing the mysteries or the sweet fruit of God. The whole fruits of the tree representing emanations of God or the Love of God.
In Israelite thought the trunk of the tree represents of the wisdom of God and his instructions. The branches represent the servant(s) of God through whom mercy or loving kindness flows. The fruit representing the works and actions produced by the servant. The entire tree symbolizing the connection point between Heaven and Earth.
“And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.”
The white color of the fruit in Israelite symbolism is connected with the attributes of wisdom and loving kindness all of which could be summed as the love of God. The fruit of the Tree of life represents various conditions or state of spiritual consciousness. The idea of partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life is connected with a teaching known as “The Mystery of the Son” or Zeir Anpin (the small face) of God.
“And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.”
The whole purpose of the Tree of Life is Joy. Understanding that white fruit represents the mysteries of godliness or the mystery of joy, expands our understanding of the Israelite background to the images revealed in Lehi’s vision. One of the first principles preserved by the Book of Mormon in regard to The Science Revealed to the Fathers is the essential principle of the purpose of man. The Prophet Lehi relates to his son, "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy (simchah)." (2 Nephi 2: 25). Many readers of the Book of Mormon read over this statement never understanding the true Israelite meaning behind this statement. To understand the meaning of this statement is to understand the purpose of the Science God revealed to Adam and what the science is designed to create.
In the mind of an Israelite joy is connected with the presence of God (YHVH). As the Psalmist records, "Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." (Psalm 16:11)
In other words Joy is the presence of God. To be in the presence of God one must be "ONE" with God or in a state of oneness with YHVH. This is what is meant by the expression of "Be ye therefor Holy" or "Be ye therefore perfect"- Holy (Kadosh) or perfect being a state of wholeness which man cannot experience without being in a state of oneness with God.
If we were to restate this principle being communicated by the Prophet Lehi in our modern language it could read:
"Adam fell so that men might exist-the purpose of man and his existence is to be in a condition of Oneness with God."
This essential and foundation principle of the Science of the Fathers (even Adam) is the purpose for God revealing and transmitting this Science. We are to experience oneness with God. As both a creature of mortality and the spiritual, man exists as the connecting link between Heaven and Earth. The connection of these two dimensions or spheres is the purpose of this science with Mankind being the principle instrument through which this can be accomplished. MAN EXISTS TO BE ONE WITH GOD.
“And as I cast my eyes round about, that perhaps I might discover my family also, I beheld a river of water; and it ran along, and it was near the tree of which I was partaking the fruit.”
The image of the river connects us with the river in Eden:
“And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.” (Genesis 2:10)
The river of water is connected to the concept of the place where God dwells. All things being an eternal “present” or “now”. in Israelite thought the term Ain Soph (boundless, infinity, worlds without end) is the source of that river of water through which pure revelation, grace, and life proceeds like a river through the four worlds of the Tree of Life. It is also connected to the four cups of wine at Passover (Pesach) in Exodus 6:6-7 teaching the functions of the life giving water or spirit that comes from the presence of God:
1. I will bring you out- The Cup of Sanctification
2. I will deliver- The Cup of Deliverance
3. I will redeem- The Cup of Redemption
4. I will take- The Cup of Hope
In addition to seeing a literal tree, the symbolism of Trees is also connected with a person or people.
“And I looked to behold from whence it came; and I saw the head thereof a little way off; and at the head thereof I beheld your mother Sariah, and Sam, and Nephi; and they stood as if they knew not whither they should go. And it came to pass that I beckoned unto them; and I also did say unto them with a loud voice that they should come unto me, and partake of the fruit, which was desirable above all other fruit. And it came to pass that they did come unto me and partake of the fruit also. And it came to pass that I was desirous that Laman and Lemuel should come and partake of the fruit also; wherefore, I cast mine eyes towards the head of the river, that perhaps I might see them. And it came to pass that I saw them, but they would not come unto me and partake of the fruit.”
“And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood. And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world.”
Mormon tradition views the rod of iron similar to a handrail that runs along a path. This idea certainly communicates the message of one holding to the handrail of God’s word as he makes his way up a path. However, in Israelite thought the rod is a branch or offshoot that extends from the tree. That it is described as a rod or branch of iron corresponding to the attribute of God known as Gevurah or power. In other words, those who walk the path of the disciple are able to grab onto the iron branch of the tree of life that represents his power which then leads them to the body of the Tree of Life. The iron branch or rod also being a symbol for the word of power or the Word of God.
The idea of the strait path is connected with the idea of the navigated or disciplined path which a disciple must choose to make. It involves holding to the instructions (Torah) of God as we walk the strict path of the center pillar of the Tree of Life-even hope, faith, and charity- back into the presence of the throne of God. (Kether). The idea of the iron rod is connected with the Torah or Instructions that come from God and extends to this earth.
“And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood. And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree. And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost. And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.”
Here Lehi's describes a "mist of darkness" that arose causing people to lose their way. The imagery here draws upon another mist in the account of Genesis:
"But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground." (Genesis 2:6)
The idea of a mist/vapor/fog in the creation epic constitutes a veiling and nourishing of the earth with God's spirit and divine mercy. In Lehi's dream the mist/vapor/fog is a mist of darkness. The mist of darkness is a veil of fear or chaos. In Hebraic thought the idea of following others instead of God and his word is considered the Path of Darkness. Those who follow themselves or others are lead away from the Instructions of God and the Disciplined path. In Israelite thought this constitutes a person abandoning God. Those who wander from the path get lost. When one walks the path of the Torah (God’s Instructions) he embraces the iron rod (branch or power of God) and walks back into the presence of God.
“And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed. And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth. And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit. And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.”
Here the people who had partaken of the fruit of the tree looked around and were ashamed. This imagery of being ashamed is connected to Adam and Eve in the Garden, "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed."
The idea of being ashamed that is connected with the Tree of Life is connected to the idea of receiving from God; an expression which later came to be known as "Bread of Shame". The idea behind "Bread of Shame" is that a person receives freely from God. As men and women receive freely from God they also are endowed with his life, character, and attributes to represent him to others. This free gift (in Lehi's case the fruit of the tree) is like receiving free‘bread’. As it is free it carries the feeling of ‘shame’ i.e. something we did not earn. In order to remove this "shame" of receiving the free bread/fruit we are to freely bestow upon others as God has bestowed upon us. In Mormon thought, Bread of Shame and its removal is best expressed by the God as follows:
"I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness. For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace." (D&C 93:19-20)
In Lehi's dream those who partook of the free fruit felt the shame and then because of the ridicule of others the shame led them to depart. In doing so they walked away from "removal of shame" wherein men and women receive the free gift to then bestow upon others. In doing so the shame falls away and is replaced by a fulness of joy. Instead of earning the light to covet we receive the light to bless God and others.
The image of a great and spacious building connects the reader to the first structure built by a civilization mentioned in Genesis-i.e. The Tower of Babel. In Israelite thought the tower was not only a literal tower but also an symbol representing an entire civilization. In the case of the Tower of Babel it would be the civilization built by Nimrod. The symbol is also connected with a state of confusion and a scattering. In the case of Lehi’s great and spacious building, the occupants of the building were of The House of Israel (as later revealed by Nephi). In other words, The House of Israel were those who were doing the mocking and pointing their fingers.
"And now I, Nephi, do not speak all the words of my father. But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod (branch or offshoot) of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree. And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building. And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads. And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not. These are the words of my father: For as many as heeded them, had fallen away."
The idea of strange roads and a strange building is an idea of any path that deviates from the disciplined path, the strict path, the straight and narrow path, the path of God's instructions, Torah. These false paths are those that lead away from God and to ultimate destruction and becoming an enemy to God.