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Garden of Eden Here on Earth

What is the pinnacle of human experience? In the east, they aspire to reach a state of nirvana – an illumination that affords a person happy tranquility. Western philosophy, as articulated by Kant, describes the pinnacle as the experience of the sublime – a state of exhilaration bereft of personal interest, as it tastes the ‘purposeless purpose’ found in the glorious order and beauty in reality. These descriptions,, which do not necessarily include the consciousness of God, are the ‘hind part’ of King David’s request: “One thing I ask of God, that which I request, that I may sit in the house of God all the days of my life, to behold the pleasantness of God…”[1] The exhilaration that takes pleasure in revealed Godliness is certainly lofty and worthy, but is the pinnacle of our aspirations a sort of ‘Jewish nirvana?’

The experience of “the pleasantness of God” is a taste of the Garden of Eden. We can say that a person who regularly merits that revelation has entered the Garden of Eden while still alive. The sages enumerate nine men and women throughout the entire history of humanity who entered the Garden of Eden while still alive. Surprisingly, the absolute majority of the people in this fascinating category are not very well known. They are not the Forefathers, Moses, Aaron, King David, the prophets whose prophecies were written for all generations, or the sages of the Talmud. It is a list of less famous people, who entered the Garden of Eden in the merit of a good and important deed – known or unknown – in which they participated. They attained a state of beholding the pleasantness of God and remained illuminated for eternity. (We can also learn from this that Judaism’s true greats had a destiny loftier than entering the Garden of Eden while still alive).

In chasidic terminology, the wondrous pleasure of “the pleasantness of God” is in the inner dimension of the keter (crown), a deep level in the super-conscious. Nonetheless, it is still only in the second head of the keter. This level has its parallel in the impure husks and hence it can appear on the side of the ‘hind part’ as the eastern nirvana or the philosophic sublime. In holiness, however, there is an even higher, unparalleled level. This is the level of the highest head of the keter, faith – the source of Jewish self-sacrifice to sanctify God’s Name. Thus, Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi, a fascinating and brilliant Torah scholar, entered the Garden of Eden alive – while Rabbi Akiva, the greatest of the Talmudic sages, the pillar of the Oral Law, desired the opportunity to worship God “with all his soul” and merited his place at the head of the Ten Martyrs.

To bring the redemption, it is not enough to bask in the eternal illumination of tranquility and serenity. We have to achieve absolute victory over death and a complete rectification of the reality of the lower world, as well. Among those who entered the Garden of Eden while alive is the Mashiach. As we get closer to the redemption, we need to exchange the self-sacrifice of the previous generations, which required a life of sorrow and hardship, suffering and death – with self-sacrifice from a place of well-being and wealth, both physical and spiritual. We need to experience the Divine pleasure, to be exhilarated with the beauty and wonder of reality, and feel the “pleasantness of God.” Together with all the exhilaration, we must spread the light in the entire world – with our appeal for redemption – in the most blatant of ways. Instead of entering the Garden of Eden in our lifetimes, we have to transform this entire world into the Garden of Eden, God’s “dwelling place in the lower realms,” where He is revealed to all living beings.

Image by Marco Roosink from Pixabay

[1] Psalms 27:4.

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