Protecting Our Inner Garden

“Only guard yourself and greatly guard your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:9) – Protect your body, and greatly protect your soul (Commentary of Klei Yakar)


Dear Friends,


There are some individuals who are attempting to follow a holistic path - one which is beneficial to both body and soul. They nurture their bodies through eating natural, nutritious food, as well as through exercise, and they protect their bodies by trying to avoid all forms of unnatural and harmful substances. They nurture their souls through the study of sacred texts, prayer, and meditation, as well as through the performance of good and loving deeds. Some of them, however, however, do not attempt to "protect" their souls. They feel that they can see or hear anything which is contrary to the sacred and life-giving Divine teachings, and that their souls will never be harmed in any way. For example, they expose themselves to violence, pornography, and other forms of unholy behavior, or they allow harmful thoughts and ideas to take root in their minds.


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 following verse regarding the Garden of Eden:


"The Compassionate and Just One took the human being and placed him 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 soul 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 therefore be protected, as well as nurtured, for it needs guarding from those things which can harm and ruin the spiritual growths.


During the spring and summer months, we become more conscious of our bodies and our physical desires. In addition, modern western culture encourages people to "advertise" their bodies. There is therefore a danger at this time of year that we may become preoccupied with our physical desires and neglect to nurture and protect our inner Garden.


What are some of the consequences of neglecting our Garden? What are the spiritual growths that can be weakened or damaged?  A serious consequence may be the weakening of our capacity to truly love others. If we forget about the soul and becomes preoccupied with the desires of the body, we may begin to view those 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 Talmud:


"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, the 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 Mishnah, was only 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).


As the Malbim and other commentators explain, the good and the holy within Jonathan's soul was drawn to the good and the holy within David's soul, and vice versa.  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.


A true and lasting love is the most beautiful fruit of our inner Garden.


Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See Below)


Related Teachings:


1. As the Talmud teaches in Brochos 12b, there is a mitzvah which calls upon us to protect our souls by not straying after harmful ideas and lusts, as the Compassionate One proclaimed: “You shall not stray after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you prostitute yourselves” (Numbers 15: 19).  The classical commentator, the Sforno, explains that the Compassionate is warning us of the following consequences when we allow ourselves to be led astray by our hearts and our eyes: “You turn your intelligent soul away from the ways of eternal life, to the ways of death and destruction.”

Maimonides, in his classical work, “Mishneh Torah,” explains that this mitzvah is a reminder that our hearts should not be tempted to adopt ideas which lead us away from the Unifying One and the Torah – the Teaching of the Unifying One. We are therefore to avoid ideas which lead to idolatry – the deification of any object, force, creature, or human being. In addition, we should be guided by the Infinite Divine wisdom; thus, we should not make an idol out of our finite minds. (Madah, the Laws Concerning Idolatry 2:3)

Maimonides is recognized as one of the great minds of human history; yet, his wisdom and humility enabled him to understand that although the marvelous human mind can lead to God, it is not God.

2. What do we do when negative ideas and thoughts enter our minds? An answer can be found in the following excerpt from an article by Rebbitzen Feige Twerski, a contemporary Torah educator:

“Behaviors begin with thoughts, endless streams of thoughts that come and go and vie for our attention. The ones we choose to indulge will shape our behavior. Each individual alone has the power to determine which thought they will bypass and which one they will focus on…A Chinese wise man observed that there were two dogs inside of him, constantly fighting and vying for his attention. One was evil and one was good. When asked which one ultimately won, he responded that it was the one that he fed the most.” 

Her article deals with the importance of not indulging in thoughts which lead to unhealthy eating, and it appears at:

3. The human body was created to serve the soul. For example, a person who eats in order to have strength to serve the life-affirming purpose of the Creator is also serving the needs of the soul. When the body serves the soul, it becomes an extension of the soul. Since the soul is a "Garden of Eden," the body thereby becomes an extension of this Garden.

Hazon - Our Universal Vision