Sunday, November 11, 2012

Gates of Eden

Gates of Eden
Likutey Moharan I, 286
Translation and (Tentative) Commentary by Dovid Sears

Reb Noson prefaces this short teaching with the disclaimer:

Awhile ago, I heard in the Rebbe’s name—that is, he did not hear it directly, but from a fellow disciple—what he said about the Torah reading “Shoftim vi-Shotrim (judges and enforcement agents [of the Beis Din]…)” (Deuteronomy, chap. 16-21), but most of it was forgotten. The following is the gist of the lesson, that which we still remember.

Rebbe Nachman taught:

There is a Garden of Eden. These are two paradigms: “Garden” and “Eden.” They correspond to Chokhmah Ila’ah, the “Upper Wisdom,” and Chokhmah Tata’ah, the “Lower Wisdom.”

In this context, “chokhmah” does not mean intellectual wisdom in the ordinary sense, but the direct perception of the wondrous way in which God creates, animates and sustains each level in the order of the worlds (seder hishtalshelus). Chokhmah Ila’ah denotes the sefirah, or Divine power, which animates and governs the entire structure of all “Four Worlds” as a unitary whole; Chokhmah Ta’atah is another term for the sefirah of Malkhus, which vitalizes all things in their specificity and uniqueness.

The Rebbe expounds on Chokhmah Ila’ah and Chokhmah Tata’ah in a more human sense in Likutey Moharan II, 91, comparing the higher Chokhmah to the mind and the lower Chokhmah to the heart, the higher Chokhmah to the intellect of the teacher and the lower Chokhmah to that of the student. He also describes the awesome nature of Chokhmah Ila’ah in Likutey Moharan I, 61, sec. 6, as synonymous with the “sekhel ha-kollel,” the divine intellect that governs the entire universe and which orchestrates the providential occurrences in the lives of every person and every speck of existence. (The Tzemach Tzedek points out that it is beyond the mortal mind to fathom the essential nature of Chokhmah Ila’ah, but only its description; see Derekh Mitzvosekha [“Ma’amorey Tzemach Tzedek”], Pesach u-Matzah, 4. However, in the present lesson from Likutey Moharan, we see that this awesome state of consciousness will be granted to those who are worthy of entering the Garden of Eden, which is a great wonder.)

For the essential delight of the Garden of Eden is the apprehension of Divine Wisdom, i.e., Chokhmah Ila’ah and Chokhmah Tata’ah, which are an aspect of “Garden” [and] “Eden.”
The very name “Garden of Eden” thus corresponds to the fullness of divine perception, two levels in one.

However, one cannot attain this except through the “gates.” For there are gates, namely the “Gates of the Garden of Eden.”

That is, one must find the right means to access these two levels of perception. This quest has its difficulties, to say the least.

Genesis 3:24 mentions that God stationed two angels with “revolving swords of fire” to the east  of the Garden of Eden to guard the Tree of Life; thus, the unworthy may not enter.  Reb Noson interprets this symbolism to denote mental confusions that obstruct divine perception (Likutey Halakhos, Netilas Yadayim Shacharis 4:12; ibid. Birkhas HaShachar 3:2; cf. Tzava’as HaRiVaSH 58, which might have a corrolation here, although the Baal Shem Tov seems to be using the paradigm of the “revolving swords of flame” in a broader sense). The “Tree of Life” in the “center of the Garden” (Genesis 2:9) represents the unitary essence of existence (Tiferes).

The Gemara in Eiruvin (19a) refers to the gates of the Garden of Eden, although it uses the term “pesach,” meaning “opening” or “entry way,” rather than “sha’ar,” meaning “gate.” However, the Maharsha (ad loc.) references the tractate Shabbos, which uses the term “sha’arey Gan Eden” (a “tip of the hat” to Rabbi Dovid Shapiro for pointing this out to me). The Zohar frequently speaks of the gates of the Garden of Eden using the term “sha’ar.” For example, the Zohar (I, 65b) describes how Adam sits at the gate of the Garden of Eden to gaze upon all souls of the righteous who heeded the laws of the Torah during their lives in earth.

As an aside, one of the popular kabbalistic works of the day, which Rebbe Nachman is cited as discussing (although critically) in Chayei Moharan, was “Sha’arey Gan Eden” by Rabbi Yaakov Koppel. The latter also compiled a version of the Siddur Ari (“Kol Yaakov”) with the kavannos (meditations) that was widely-used used by initiates. The Rav of Tcherin mentions the Siddur Kol Yaakov by name in Parpara’os leChokhmah, his commentary on Likutey Moharan, although I have forgotten where. Reb Noson (also critically) mentions the Introduction to the Siddur Kol Yaakov in Likutey Halakhos, Birkhas ha-Shachar 3:4 (another tip of the hat to Rabbi Shapiro for this reference).

However, these gates are hidden and concealed in the earth, as in “Her gates are sunken into the earth” (Lamentations 2:9).

The verse Rebbe Nachman quotes is from Jeremiah’s lament over the destruction of the first Holy Temple in Jerusalem. But as Nevuchadnezzar’s armies approached the Holy Temple, her gates miraculously sank into the ground (Rashi, ad loc.).

The verse goes on to say “her kings and princes are [exiled] among the nations, without Torah; her prophets, too, receive no vision from God.”  According to Rashi, this means that the nation lacks Torah authorities who can clarify the halakhah. This is why “her gates are sunken in the earth.” However, as Rebbe Nachman explains in this lesson, when there are Torah authorities who clarify the halakhah and their works are studied, “her gates,” which are the gates of the Garden of Eden, are unearthed.

This requires that there be one who is a “master of the house” (baal ha-bayis) over the earth, some one who rules over the earth, who is able to bring forth, erect and establish the gates that were sunken in the earth.

That is, the person qualified to unearth the gates of the Garden of Eden must have overcome his own “earthiness,” namely his physical desires. Then he become a “master of the house over the earth.”

And know that by studying the Poskim (authorities in Torah law) one becomes worthy of being a regent and ruler over the earth.

These works include the RaMBaM’s Mishneh Torah; the Tur and Shulchan Arukh along with their commentaries, such as Turei Zahav and Sifsei Kohen; and later halakhic compendia such as Chayei Adam and Chokhmas Adam, Shulchan Arukh HaRav, Arukh HaShulchan, Kaf HaChaim, Ben Ish Chai: Halakhos, Mishnah Berurah, etc., as well as the huge responsa literature. All are part of the awesome process of working out the detailed practical implications of the Torah’s laws according to the rulings and guidelines of the sages of the Gemara.

Then one can erect and establish the gates that had sunk into the earth. This is the paradigm of “Through justice, a king establishes the earth” (Proverbs 29:4). “Through justice,” specifically. That is, by means of justice (mishpat), which denotes the judgments (mishpatim) and laws of the Torah—i.e., by studying the Poskim, which clarifies the judgments and laws of the Torah—one becomes a regent and ruler. And through this one becomes capable of establishing the earth. Then one erects, establishes and reveals the gates that were sunken in the earth, through which one is worthy of [entering] the Garden of Eden, as mentioned above.

With this, I think that Rebbe Nachman is telling us that nigleh, the revealed, legalistic parts of the Torah, and nistar, the mystical, inner dimension of the Torah, are actually “two sides of the same coin.” (My teacher, Rabbi Elazar Kenig, has often said that what “pnimiyus ha-Torah” really gets down to is “hasagas Elokus,” the perception of Divinity.) And one cannot enter the inner dimension, which is the “Garden of Eden,” Chokhmah Ila’ah and Chokhmah Tata’ah, without overcoming one’s physical nature. This entails studying the Poskim and living according to the Torah’s laws, most of which concern the physical world and its tikkun, or perfection.

This requirement was not always the case; Adam and Chava originally were created in the Garden of Eden and were privy to unimaginably lofty levels of divine wisdom. Only after the sin of eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and their subsequent exile did the problem of finding and entering the “gates” arise. This primal exile was echoed centuries later with the destruction of the Holy Temple, which spiritually was a miniature Garden of Eden, and the exile of the Jewish people from our homeland. 

The way back is through our engagement in the nitty-gritty of studying the Torah’s complex laws, clarifying them and living by them. With this, we can unearth the gates to the most elusive divine wisdom represented by the terms “Garden” and “Eden.”

And this is [the meaning of] “Judges and enforcement agents [of the Beis Din] you shall appoint for yourself in all your gates … for shevatekha (your tribes)” (Deuteronomy 16:18). “Shevet” (“tribe”) is an acronym of “Tav’u ba-aretz she’areha (Her gates are sunken in the earth” (loc. cit.) (that is, the gates that are submerged in the earth).

With this homiletical device of reading part of one verse into a word from another verse, Rebbe Nachman links justice/study of Poskim and the hidden gates to the Garden of Eden.

Reb Noson concludes his redaction of this lesson by recapitulating its main points:

This is [the meaning of] “judges and enforcement agents you shall appoint for yourself…”—for “judges and enforcement agents” represent the paradigm of leaders and rulers of the earth. This is [why the Torah uses the term] “shoftim (judges),” specifically—because this is primarily accomplished by the judgments of the Torah, which are [clarified by] the Poskim, as in “With justice, a king establishes the earth” (op. cit.).

Without the Poskim, we wouldn’t know how to perform the mitzvos correctly and in all their details, and thus gain the ability to unearth and enter the gates to the Garden of Eden.

Through this, the gates that sank into the earth are revealed. And this is the explanation of “appoint for yourself in all of your gates … for your tribes.” Because the “judges and enforcement agents” erect the gates that were sunken in the earth. This is [indicated by] “in all your gates, for your tribes (shevatekha)”; for they erect and reveal the gates that were hidden, in an aspect of “Tav’u ba-aretz she’arehah” [the initials of which spell “shevet/tribe”]. They erect them through their justice, namely through study of the Poskim, the aspect of “Through justice, a king establishes the earth,” as stated above.

Thus, in the Jewish conception, especially according to Rebbe Nachman, the spiritual path does not entail simply side-stepping the physical, nor does it conceive worldly life to be futile, unworkable, or a distraction from a higher, enlightened plane of existence. Rather, by virtue of the Torah and mitzvos—and by “ruling over the earth,” namely one’s physical nature—the mundane will be transformed to a gate and entry-way to the “Garden of Eden.” Which is the communion with God and the attainment of Chokhmah Ila’ah and Chokhmah Tata’ah, here and now. As our Sages were wont to bless one another, “May you experience your ‘World to Come’ in your lifetime” (Berakhos 17a), amen.

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