Gan Eden Essentials

parashas Bereishis 5782

“The L-RD G-d took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.” – Genesis 2:15, JPS 1985 Tanach

Adam was given the responsibility to avdah (work) and shomer (guard) the garden of Eden. Yet, not until after Adam and Chava were expelled from Gan Eden, was he commanded to till the earth outside of the garden. The question may be asked, what was the essential difference between his responsibilities in regard to Gan Eden, and what comprised his role, once expelled?

A union with G-d (yichud, in Hebrew) constituted the existential nature of life in Gan Eden. Yet, that perfect relationship of oneness with G-d was broken by disobedience, having partaken from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When both Adam and Chava had partaken of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, they became self-aware, because the unity with G-d was interrupted.

As a result, existentially outside of Paradise, even before being officially expelled, their existence was disrupted by their own sin. In other words, they no longer were within the domain of perfect correspondence with the various components of Gan Eden. Sin, shame, and rebellion had entered into the picture, thereby disrupting peace and contentment.

Thus, within the garden, prior to the aveirah (sin), a G-d centered focus permeated every act, in regard to their endeavors. As explained elsewhere, that avdah refers to perfection of the soul, as per man being described as a nefesh chaya (literally, living soul; Ibn Ezra). Thereby, the refining of one’s personality is tantamount to the service that is concomitant with gan eden, when doing so under the guidance of H’Shem.

Yet, having been expelled, their lives subsequently encompassed, a self focused reality, wherein one attempts to improve himself, according to his own design, irrespective of the original blueprint. Having already given in to temptation, and partaken of the forbidden fruit, mankind was now subject to the challenges of dealing with his own unruly nature that had been unleashed.

The only way back to the garden is through acknowledgment of our own misguided attempts to continue on the path of independence from G-d; then to realize over time that these attempts are vain, and return to the original blueprint for our lives. This blueprint is known as the Torah, meaning “instruction.” All of kitvei kodesh (holy scripture) is of benefit for this endeavor, as well as listening to our conscience; for, G-d has given us an inner guidance system, with a homing beacon, called the soul.

Response-ability

“Every situation requires a response.”

I believe that every situation requires a response. In reflecting upon, my own indecision, as well as my failure at times to respond at all, whether verbally to what someone else relates to me, or a situation that really requires my attention, I feel the need to articulate a stance. Towards the end of parashas Balak, the zealous Pinchas responds to a dire situation, whereof the Children of Israel were in the midst of being judged for idolatry and immorality; the plague was moving quickly amongst the people. Yet, Pinchas acted without haste, to protect G-d’s honor when a Prince of Israel and a Princess of Moab were flouting the moral integrity and directive of G-d’s divine commandments. In doing so, the plague was stopped, and Pinchas was given “a covenant of peace,” as delineated in parashas Pinchas.

Every situation requires an appropriate response. The Talmud emphasizes the commandment not to stand idly by, while others are in harm’s way. While on the one hand, it is not appropriate to act with zealousness in the manner that Pinchas did; on the other hand, it is necessary to assess every situation in order to reflect on the proper response. Keep in mind the following adage: “All that is required for evil to flourish is for good men [and women] to do nothing” (Elie Wiesel). Above all, discernment is necessary so that the best response may be made, after thoroughly thinking through the consequences of one’s own actions. If nothing else, prayer is paramount, as so many examples from scripture portray.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

B”H

“And he took the Book of the Covenant and read it within the hearing of the people, and they said, “All that the Lord spoke we will do and we will hear.”

– Exodus 24:7, Tanach, chabad.org

The crux of avodah (service) is built on faith, as is mentioned elsewhere, “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4, JPS). When the children of Israel received the commandments at Sinai, they responded, na’aseh v’nishmah – we will do and we will hear. In other words, we will first agree to perform the commandments; then, we will hear from you of what they consist.

Nishmah also translates as “to understand;” therefore, “we will do, and we will understand.” Rather than having to scrutinize the commandments, to get an idea of what was being received, they inferred that over time they will progressively understand the significance of the commandments. Thus, rather than blind faith, in accepting the commandments, they knew that understanding is secondary, to performing the commandments.

These concepts are oft fallen upon deaf ears, so to speak, because of how we are conditioned to think. Today, everything is subjected to the ego of the individual, because we feel compelled to decide for ourselves, whether a teaching, belief, or idea, is in accordance with our way of understanding, before incorporating any aspect thereof, into our overall framework of belief, ideology, or lifestyle. Thus, everything is relative in a postmodern world, where each person is compelled to see him or herself, as the ultimate arbiter of truth, thus relegating truth to being relative, and therefore a moot issue.

Amongst many who consider themselves to be spiritual, one key precept seems to be “mix and match,” in order to create a personally tailored practice, in agreement with the soul’s desires as to what feels right. The result being akin to the nature of the Israelites when they were without a king: “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” A certain amount of objectivity, as well as agreement to the consensual realities of what creates a harmonious society is necessary. No man is an island unto himself, unless he deserts his fellow human beings, choosing a subjective reality, while remaining isolated in his own personal kingdom. This is not the way prescribed for us by H’Shem (the L-RD), the ultimate arbiter of truth, values, and justice.

parashas Mishpatim 5781

Existential Encounter

parashas Vayishlach 5781

“And Jacob was left alone.”

– Genesis 32:25, JPS 1917 Tanach

Jacob, who had recently acquired a family, as well as a secure livelihood, after twenty years of working for his Uncle Laban, was finally returning home. Yet, he would have to face the consequences of unfinished business with his brother Esau, who may have still been harboring a grudge against him after all of the years. More significantly, Jacob will find that he first needs to face himself, in acknowledgment of his own character. Was he the deceiver, who reappropriated the blessing of the first born that should have gone to his brother Esau? Or was he the right man to have obtained the blessing, because he truly represented the values that were destined to be passed on to his descendants?

If the blessing had gone to Esau, then the Abrahamic legacy may have been squandered, made less substantial by a lack of spiritual vision on the part of the recipient. For, Esau was primarily focused on Olam HaZeh (This World), where instant gratification, hedonism, and the base desires of the animal soul (nefesh habehamit) prevail over the godly soul (nefesh ha’elokit), unless reined in under the guiding principles of higher values, such as those found in the lives of the patriarchs and matriarchs, as well as those inculcated by the commandments, and all throughout kitvei kodesh (holy scripture).

Although Jacob upheld those higher values, he had to know within himself, whether or not he was truly worthy of having received the blessing. His deference towards Esau exemplifies a change in his character. Jacob sent generous gifts ahead of him, in order to appease the anger of Esau; later, he will bow seven times as he approaches Esau. Yet, before that meeting, he was left alone at night with himself, his conscience, and the prospect of losing everything he had obtained in life the next day. One can only imagine what thoughts were occupying his mind at this pivotal moment in his life; for, the burdens of his past must have weighed heavily upon him.

The Torah records that “there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:35, JPS). This man was really an angel, sent to detain Jacob until the morning, when he would have to face Esau; as the Rashbam explains, Jacob had considered fleeing, to avoid the confrontation with Esau. Yet, during the wrestling match that ensued, Jacob prevailed, thus showing that he indeed realized his weight in gold, not the gold found in the earth, rather the gold of spiritual value, in the eyes of G-d. As confirmation of his integrity, the angel informed him, that he would no longer be called Jacob (heel, deceit); he was given the name, Israel (uprightness, integrity).

Individuation

“Now the L-RD said unto Abram: ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will show thee.”

– Genesis 12:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

Abraham was called out from his environmental mileu, in order to start a new life, free from the shackles of the past that had chained him to a world of idolatry. In modern psychological terms, he broke free of the conditioning that kept him from pursuing his own identity. Specifically, the term, “individuation” seems apropos in more ways than one.

First of all, Abraham is described as an “ivri,” meaning that he was from ” the other side” of the Euphrates River. The English transliteration would be “Hebrew.” The word also connotes that he was on one side of the moral sphere, while those from Ur Chasdim, whom he left behind were on another.

Today, while many remain entrenched in their familiar environs, others decide to move on to another place, both geographically, as well as spiritually. Part of individuation includes “separating out” what is right for ourselves as individials, from what can no longer be maintained within the framework of our personal worldview.

Additionally, Abraham was called for a specific mission in life: “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). Chassidus, a mystical component of Judaism, teaches that every individual has a mission in life. Abraham was given a good idea of his mission in life. However, for those of us living in this modern world, we are challenged, perplexed and sometimes flummoxed at the thought of finding our mission in life.

Our journey to the destination that G-d may ultimately have in mind for us, is often beset by many trials and errors, as well as false starts and wrong paths. Yet, at some point we may be able to reflect upon our past, and be able to see how everything actually led to exactly where we stand today. As the saying goes, “hindsight is golden.”

Cleansing the Soul

“And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.” – Genesis 7:12

“And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high mountains that were under the whole heaven were covered.” – Genesis 7:19

A predetermined time was given for the floodwaters to cover the earth.

No one escaped the devastation that G-d sent upon the earth, except for eight people intended to repopulate the earth, and an array of animals meant to rebuild the animal kingdom. Even the seeds of many different types of herbs, plants, and other vegetation were preserved on the Ark built by Noah. In order for the renewal of G-d’s creation to take place, every effort was taken to preserve the necessary elements of life that would provide a second chance for humanity.

In our own lives, we are also given second chances: G-d designed the means for our own renewal to take place, even under the most dire of circumstances. When the flood waters in our own personal lives seem to prevail, inundating all that we know, and are familiar with, we may turn to Him with all of heart, soul, and might, seeking Him as our place of Refuge.

“Save me, O G-d; for the waters are come in even unto the soul” (Psalms 69:2, JPS). The churning, chaotic waters of our lives that threaten to engulf us, if we are not wearing a life preserver, so to speak, are those that enter our mind, manifest as cares and worries. Yet, we can guard the gates to our most precious treasure – the soul – thereby preventing negativity to seep in to our “inner sanctum.”

Also, noteworthy to mention is that, concerning the door to the Ark, as the waters began to build up around ark, G-d Himself closed the door (see Genesis 7:16). Concomittantly, once we make our own best efforts, if we fully place our trust in Him, our soul will be sealed. This is necessary in order to block out the tumult of the world, for our place of secret refuge within will provide comfort and safety, throughout the storms of life. Instead of getting drenched, the soul will be cleansed. Figuratively speaking, our boat will not capsize; nor, will we ever fear drowning in a sea of chaos and confusion.

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