“And you shall be like a well-watered garden” (Isaiah 58:11)
The teachings in this letter are from “The Juggler and the King” by Rav Aharon Feldman - a noted sage of our era. This work, published by Feldheim, is an elaboration of the Vilna Gaon’s interpretations of the hidden wisdom of our sages. In this letter, we will discuss how, in the process of returning to the Garden, the human being must become a “garden”:
The word for “human being” which first appears in the Torah is “adam” (Genesis 1:26). This word is derived from “adamah” - a Hebrew term for “earth.” In the Torah, there are no verbal coincidences: the reason that the name for the human being is derived from adamah - earth - is because the human being is like the earth of which he is formed.
When a seed is planted in it, the adamah has the unique power to provide the environment through which the seed's hidden potential for life is expressed in the actuality of fruit. It is the same with adam - the human being. He is born with an innate yearning in his soul to serve the Creator, a yearning which is the seed of his spiritual life. The human being has the capacity to express this potential in the actuality of a life full of spiritual activity. In other words, the human being is meant to be the Creator's garden, His adamah, and bring forth a unique fruit. The “fruit” of his labors is a life of unselfish devotion to the service of the Creator.
Not all earth has the capacity to yield fruit. Only earth which is cultivated retains this power, whereas a fallow field soon loses most of its ability to create produce. Not much can grow in a neglected field, and what little does grow - unprotected from the ravages of animals and the elements - brings negligible benefit to people. The same is true with the uncultivated human being. A life which does not express the human being's innate spirituality, because it is directed self-servingly instead of towards serving the Creator, is compared to a fallow field - unworked, unfenced, and unproductive. This idea is expressed in the following parable from the Book of Proverbs (24:30-32):
“I passed by the field of a lazy man and by the vineyard of a person devoid of understanding, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; nettles had covered its surface; and its stone wall had broken down. This I saw and set my heart to it; I saw it and accepted the need for discipline.”
When the adam sinned, he exposed himself to selfish impulses and materialistic desires. These made it much more difficult for him to express his innate spirituality through his life. His adamah - his potential to engender spiritual living - changed from its natural state of a tilled and tended garden to a wild, fallow field.
When the adam was banished from Eden, the task of humanity throughout the ages became to restore itself to its original “fertility.” Most human beings elected to neglect this task, but eventually certain individuals appeared who took up the challenge. These were the founders of the Jewish people. They struggled to remove the wild elements which had entered the human being's nature and which had blocked his capacity to express the yearning of his soul. They were not able to complete the job themselves, but by purifying themselves to the best of their ability from the taint of Adam's sin, they invested their descendants with the potential to return humankind - at the End of Days - to the state of a “cultivated garden.”
The above insights from “The Juggler and the King” remind us that, we, the Jewish people, have a universal responsibility. We are to continue the gardening work begun by our visionary ancestors so that we can enable humankind to once again become the Creator's garden. We must first, however, begin with ourselves; we must cultivate the seed that the Creator implanted within our souls. As the Compassionate One proclaimed to us: “Till your own field” (Jeremiah 4:3). In this way, we can become a fruitful garden which can serve as a model for all the peoples of the earth. As the Prophet Isaiah envisioned:
“Days are coming when Jacob will take root, and bud and blossom as Israel; the face of the earth will be filled with fruits.” (Isaiah 27:6)
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen