The objective of all man’s toil in this world is to reach higher than his own mind, higher than mind at all. Not to a place where the mind is ignored, but rather, to its essence, to the inner sense of beauty and wonder that guides it.
“A river went out from Eden to water the garden.” The garden is Mind, where all worlds begin. Eden is a place of delight beyond the garden, far beyond. Yet its river nurtures all that grows there. Adam is placed in the garden to discover the Eden flowing within.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The River From Eden”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
And the Lord God said, “Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and bad, what if he should stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever!” So the Lord God banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the soil from which he was taken. He drove the man out, and stationed east of the garden of Eden the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the tree of life. -Genesis 3:22-24 (JPS Tanakh)
Ever since the expulsion from Eden, man has been trying to get back to paradise and to God. We haven’t been doing a very good job along the journey and we’ve taken many detours. The idea of “paradise” means many different things to many different people. I think there’s something inside of us that “remembers” the freedom we had to explore and to master our world, and we mistakenly try to recapture that freedom along a lot of poorly chosen routes. Some of those back alleys and rough streets lead to drugs, sex, booze, money, and other activities we somehow think will give us what we once had and then lost. The irony is that we try to recover paradise by the very acts that caused us to lose Eden and to lose our intimacy with God in the first place. We try to find God by making service to self as paradise and sin as our “god.” Notice the shape the world is in. We haven’t been doing a very good job along the journey.
But with a lot of wrong decisions, we’ve also made a few right choices, or at least choices that point us in the right direction. Sometimes we do so only by stumbling along, half perceiving the light along the path that God has provided to show us the way. Most of the time, even when we see the light, we don’t really know what to do with it and how to follow where it leads. And yet, God said the answer is there.
I do not turn aside from your teachings,
for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path. -Psalm 119:102-105
The way back to Eden is along the path that God has illuminated for us with the power of His Word. His Word is what we have in the Bible but He also caused His Word to “become flesh and live among us” (John 1:14) in a manner we cannot fully understand. God has provided many different ways we can become aware of Him and to come to know Him. As we become aware of God, we join with Him and put our “thumbprint” on His plan for us, in our own humanly imperfect way, declaring that we are involved with Him and with the ways of Heaven. Those of us who love God and who seek Eden have many and varied methods of revealing ourselves to the world. In walking along our different paths, we somethings encounter each other. When we do, we don’t always recognize that we are connected or if we do, we don’t always agree with how someone else is walking their own path.
Ever hear of Women of the Wall? I hadn’t either until just a few days ago. In their own words, they are…
a group of Jewish women from around the world who strive to achieve the right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem, Israel. The Western Wall is Judaism’s most sacred holy site and the principal symbol of Jewish people-hood and sovereignty and Women of the Wall works to make it a holy site where women can pray freely.
They started as seventy Jewish women who gathered at the Kotel on December 1, 1988 to pray aloud with each other, which is the first time in history this has ever happened. Later, they gathered again to read from a sefer Torah at the Kotel.
However, it’s illegal for women to pray together at the Kotel in such a manner, and Anat Hoffman, the leader of Women of the Wall, was even arrested in July 2010, according to a Haaretz.com news story.
Anat Hoffman, the women’s prayer group leader, was arrested and taken in for questioning after she was caught holding a Torah scroll in violation of a High Court ruling prohibiting women from reading the Torah at the Western Wall.
While the desire of Jewish women to pray at the Kotel wearing talitot and tefillin runs counter to the Orthodox authorities, is it really wrong for them to do so? From the point of view of the Orthodox, it may be, but in this case, I must question whether or not the intent of these women really runs counter to the desires of God. They are walking their own path, created by their awareness of God, and the path is defined by their devotion to God as Jewish women. This isn’t the first time I’ve been critical of something regarding Jewish practice, such as in the treatment of converts wishing to make aliyah to Israel or some of the barriers synagogues place in front of Jews who wish to worship on the High Holy Days.
I want to honor the right of Judaism to define itself in terms of God as well as in terms of culture, custom, and lifestyle, but I am also aware that halacha doesn’t necessarily reflect the will of God with perfect clarity (and sometimes that can be an understatement). Paul said that we see “in a mirror dimly” but someday, it will be face to face (1 Corinthians 13). Whether you think it’s right or wrong for women to pray at the Kotel, they are seeking what we are all seeking; a way to walk along the path that leads back to a “paradise lost” and to return to the “lover of our souls.” According to the vision of John, one day we will arrive at our goal.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. -Revelation 22:1-5 (ESV)
Until that day, we search the free mountain trails and rough back alleys of our lives and our world for that one slender thread of light amid the darkness that guides us to an illumination beyond human expression. Day by day, we follow the thread, that lamp for our feet, and we walk the steps, which are different for each and every one of us, enduring hardships and being misunderstood. We will continue to travel until that one day when we will look up into his face, and he will wipe away our tears, and “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4 ESV).
Amen and amen.