There are many individuals who attempt to nurture their bodies through eating natural, nutritious food, as well as through exercise. They also attempt to protect their bodies by trying to avoid all forms of unnatural and harmful substances. Some people are not aware, however, that they also need to nurture and protect their souls.
There was a great Sephardic sage and kabbalist known as "the Ohr Ha-Chayim" (Light of Life), and he addresses this very issue in his commentary on the verse which mentions that the Creator placed the human being in the Garden of Eden "to serve it and to guard it." (Genesis 2:15)
The Ohr Ha-Chayim writes: "In truth, you must understand that the entire physical world is but an illustrative example, an analogy to the spiritual. Land requires cultivation, planting, and watering in order to bring forth human sustenance, and it also needs guarding from those things which can harm and ruin the growths. In the same manner is the Garden of Eden, which today is the land of the souls."
The Ohr Ha-Chayim is teaching us that each of our souls is a Garden of Eden! And he adds: "Today's Garden of Eden also requires cultivation and guarding on the spiritual plane." The inner Garden within each of us must be nurtured, and must also be protected from those things which can harm and ruin the spiritual growths.
As we discussed in the previous letter, certain major streams of modern western culture encourage us to focus on our body and its lusts. This focus can cause us to neglect the nurturing and protecting of our inner Garden.
What are some of the consequences of neglecting our "Garden"? What are the spiritual growths that can be weakened or damaged? The most serious consequence may be the weakening of our capacity to love others. If we forget about the soul and become preoccupied with the desires of the body, we may begin to view everyone and everything around us as objects that were created for our pleasure and gratification. Our relationships therefore become an expression of self-love, rather than an expression of love for others.
Another related consequence is that we become attached to that which is physical and temporary instead of being attached to that which is spiritual and eternal. This idea is expressed in the following teaching from the Mishna:
"Any love which depends on a physical cause, when that cause is gone, the love is gone; but if the love does not depend on a physical cause, the love will never cease. What love depended on a physical cause? The love of Amnon and Tamar. And what love did not depend on a physical cause? The love of David and Jonathan." (Pirkei Avos 5:19)
"The love of Amnon and Tamar" - Amnon, a son of King David, began to feel a passionate "love" for his half-sister, Tamar, and eventually he raped her. Once he gratified his need, he no longer felt love for her; in fact, he despised her, as the Book of Samuel II states: "Afterwards Amnon despised her with a great hatred; his hatred was even greater than his love that he had felt for her" (13:15). Once Amnon gratified his desire, he discovered that the love that he felt for his sister was really an illusion - a fantasy which grew out of his lusts. His love for her, teaches the Mishna, was based on a physical cause; thus, it serves as an example of a love that does not last.
"The love of David and Jonathan" - After David killed the giant Goliath and became a hero among the people, King Saul became afraid that David would become the next king, instead of Saul's own son, Jonathan. The Book of Samuel I records however, that when Jonathan met David after his victory over Goliath, he felt a great love for him: "Jonathan's soul became attached to David's soul, and Jonathan loved him as himself...Jonathan and David sealed a covenant, since each loved the other like himself" (18:1,3). The commentator, Malbim, explains that in a spirit of strength and holiness, the good within Jonathan's soul was drawn to the good within David's soul. Later, when Saul tried to kill David, it was Jonathan who helped David to escape, and when they parted, "each man kissed the other and they wept with one another" (Ibid 20:41). The love between Jonathan and David was a soul-love; it did not depend on a physical or material cause. It is therefore an example of a love that endures forever.
When we nurture and protect our inner Garden of Eden, our Garden gives forth fruits of love that last forever.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Some Gardening Advice:
1. We plant life-giving seeds of love in the inner Garden of Eden through the study of Torah, through prayer, and through the fulfillment of mitzvos which enable us to serve the Creator and all creation.
2. There are weeds which can prevent these life-giving seeds of love from growing. We should therefore not see, hear or do anything which will bring weeds of unholy lust, hatred, and disdain for others into our inner Garden.
A new danger that has arisen are those blogs which promote derogatory speech and slander about others. We should therefore avoid blogs and discussion groups which are not moderated according to the ethical guidelines of our Torah.
3. Seeds do not fully grow overnight, and they require much nurturing and protection. We should therefore not be discouraged if we do not see immediate results. And may we merit to personally experience the fulfillment of the following prophecy: "Those who sow in tears will reap with joyous song" (Psalm 126:5).