17 Sivan 5779 / Thursday, June 20, 2019 | Torah Reading: Shelach Lecho
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Image of Eden

The Creator eventually chose the Jewish people to recreate the state of Eden and thus eventually elevate all mankind. To accomplish this He gave them the Torah...


I recently came across a fascinating perspective on the story of the Garden of Eden that can uplift us at any time of the year. I found the ideas which I’ll share with you now, so deeply moving that I plan to write an emuna-based imagery technique to help all of us feel re-connected to our once perfected state of Eden.


The source for the technique and the ideas presented here are mainly from a small book by Aryeh Kaplan called The Waters of Eden. The Torah tells of how G-d created man and then placed him in a pleasant and beautiful garden in which he could live forever in a perfected state. Man was given only one commandment, to not eat from the Tree of Knowledge in the middle of the garden. At the end of the story, the snake tempts Adam and Eve, they both eat the forbidden fruit and are expelled from the perfected and immortal life that they were leading. Banished to the outside world, the first man and woman now became filled with conflict, frustration, mental anguish and the loss of their immortality.


There is one part of the story of Eden that is very puzzling. Right in the middle of the story, the Torah suddenly describes in detail a river that went out of the Garden and split into four tributaries, interrupting the story for no apparent reason.  Even more puzzling is that when the story of Adam and Eve resumes, the river is never mentioned again.


What is the meaning of that mysterious river that went out of the Garden of Eden and split into four rivers? Why is the narrative interrupted specifically with the description of a river which consists of water? And finally, what is the lesson that the Creator wants us to learn and internalize about this river so as to help us to improve the quality of our lives?


The moment that man ate from the forbidden fruit, evil, which was previously outside of man and localized in the snake, became an intrinsic part of his psyche and his being. He now had an Evil Urge that was more difficult to escape than a snake, which he could have ignored and walked away from. Just like the Tree was a mixture of good and evil, now man himself had good and evil within him which followed him everywhere and which he had to fight with in order distinguish one from the other.


The Talmud says that man is not able to overcome his Evil Urge without the help of the Creator. Our Sages teach us that the Creator said, “I have created the Evil Urge, but I have created the Torah as its remedy.”


The Creator eventually chose the Jewish people to recreate the state of Eden and thus eventually elevate all mankind.  To accomplish this He gave them the Torah and told the Jewish people to build a Sanctuary where He would dwell among them. The question arises as to why it necessary to have a special sanctuary (and eventually a Holy Temple)? We know that “The whole earth is filled with His glory.” The reason was that because of Adam’s sin, the entire world, with the exception of the seas, had become intermingled with evil. The sanctuary would become a miniature Garden of Eden, where evil would not enter.


How do we purify ourselves and remove ourselves from our state of uncleanness? How do we re-connect ourselves with Eden? One primary way is through water. Water is the primary connection we have with the Garden of Eden. The Talmud tells us that all the water in the world ultimately has it spiritual root in the river that emerged from Eden.


There is also a Torah teaching which tell us that after Adam was driven from Eden, he repented by sitting in this river. Although he was permanently barred from the Garden itself, he maintained a link to it through this river.


Thus, when we immerse in a ritual bath or any natural body of water we are also re-establishing our link with our once perfected state, since Adam’s soul was a composite of all of our souls.


Now let’s go back to Rabbi Kaplan’s original question. Why was the story of Eden interrupted with a description of the “River that flowed out of the Garden of Eden?” By now the reason for the river is clear. The Torah tells us that the Creator planted a Garden, and in it, He placed the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The possibility was created that man would sin, and be evicted from Eden. Thus, even before the Creator placed man in Eden, He established a link between the Garden and the world outside, namely the river which emerged from Eden. This link remains for us until today through ritual immersion in a mikvah, and the teachings of the Torah which is compared to water.


I will hopefully be publishing an emuna-based imagery technique for re-establishing our connection to Eden in the coming days.



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