The Hebrew word for leaf is ‘aleh , which uses the same consonants as the verb ‘alah , “to go up, to ascend,” and ‘olah , “ascension offering.” Surly Hebrew children didn’t say, “Make like a tree and leave” but “Make like a tree and ascend” – Make like an ‘aleh and ‘alah .
A leaf is what “ascends” or “springs up” from a tree. As a tree grows to maturity, it gains an increasingly rich crown of leaves. We might turn that around: The altar is a “tree,” a ladder to heaven, and it is crowned with a cloud of leafy smoke. Sacrifices ascend from the trunk of the altar, through a pillar of smoke, to the topmost branches that poke into the sky. Horizontally, priests “climb” through the trunk of the wood-lined temple toward the crown, the Most Holy Place, where God sits enthroned surrounded by foliage of cherubim.
And then we can say that a righteous man is a tree, with a crown of green leaves. To say man is a tree is to say that he “goes up” from earth to heaven. And then we can say too that the universe is a tree, rooted on the earth and with an ascent of shiny leaves like stars, which is why the shaking of the heavens brings down the stars like leaves, like overripe figs (Isaiah 34:4).