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In Search of Eden

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In Search of Eden

By Simon Jacobson
April 10, 2003

Writer’s note: Last week’s article discussed how the ancient Euphrates river bears witness to history and helps define the true meaning of the war in Iraq and world events. The article elicited a powerful response from many readers, coupled with some intriguing questions as to the true personality of this dual-natured river. I decided to do some more research and travel further up the Euphrates to explore where it leads us. Here are some of the results of my investigation.

As we quickly approach Passover, the time of our freedom, in the month of redemption and miracles (Nissan), let’s review the latest ‘dots’ accumulating around us. Connecting these dots is the key to understanding the true nature of today’s world-shaking events.

22 days have passed since the war began in Iraq on Shushan Purim night.

6 days remain till Passover.

It was Shushan Purim night when we consummated our triumph over Human’s genocidal decree in ancient Persia. On the same night, 2360 years later, the United States and the coalition forces launched war against Saddam’s tyranny in Iraq, in the same geographic location where Purim originally took place (the Persian empire was centered in what is today modern day Iraq), hopefully as a beginning of ushering in a world where violence will no longer exist.

4 Wednesdays later – next Wednesday night – we will be sitting at the Seder table recreating the liberation 3315 years ago from Egypt, the archetype and root of all the exiles and empires, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman and Ishmaelite.

Egypt – “Mitzraim” in Hebrew (from the root ‘meitzar,’ boundary) – represents all constraints, inhibitions, fears and limitations in our lives, both internal and external, both personal and global.

And now, during this period between the redemption of Purim and the redemption of Passover – we are experiencing the juxtaposition of these two redemptions (‘mismach geulah l’geulah’) right before our very eyes.

As each day passes its amazing the astounding unfolding events are so fittingly happening in these days of miracles and redemption. We are witnessing an unprecedented war. Never before has an army advanced so quickly through so much territory. Many have even called it miraculous that the United States and the coalition forces should have conquered so much territory, so effectively decimated enemy forces and entered Baghdad with such little resistance!

Yet, by no means is this war over. Every thinking person realizes that greater confrontations lie ahead of us – some call it a clash of civilizations. The world still needs serious work to discover global peace. The challenge created by the void left in Iraq and the difficulty of rebuilding of Iraq is just a beginning. We have yet to tackle the fundamental differences between the Muslim and Western worlds. We have yet to address the breeding ground of the seeds of rage in the Muslim world and their deep distrust of the West. Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror is at best the symptoms of much deeper, historical forces at work. In this space I have attempted to define some of these forces (see previous articles).

On the other hand, we are told that the final and complete redemption of the world will take place in this month. In Nissan we were redeemed [from Egypt], and in Nissan we will be redeemed in the future (Rosh Hashana 11b). So though the world is yet to be completely free, redemption is in the air. And the redemption of Passover, following the one of Purim, is a precursor of complete redemption to come.

But what can we do to facilitate the redemption process? For generations upon generations wars have been waged between Ishmael and Esau – between the Arab/Muslim world and the Christian/Western world – with the Jews always sandwiched in between. How much blood has been shed for control of Jerusalem?

Deeply embedded primal forces have splintered nations apart. What will it take to finally bring true peace to this ailing world? How will we ever unite such disparate cultures, overcome so many years of distrust, heal from the deep wounds inflicted on each other?

Yes, we are told that we should not fear, because today’s events in Persia are a really a sign that “the time of your redemption has arrived” (Yalkut Shemoni Isaiah, remez 499), as the Lubavitcher Rebbe (citing the Midrash) dramatically declared 12 years ago during Gulf War I.

But where do we see redemption in these events?

It’s fascinating how the battles today are taking place in the exact region and in the exact time of the year where and when these battles have been fought for thousands of years, and they so parallel the events in ancient Babylon and Persia.

All these astonishing commonalities compel us to connect the dots, which help us understand the true nature of today’s war. Namely: the war is ultimately rooted in the historical split between the sacred and the spiritual – a battle that has been raging since the beginning of time. Abraham taught his children how to balance the two, and ever since, his children and the nations they gave birth to, have been struggling to find a way to integrate – to fuse matter and spirit, the universe and G-d.

So, while it’s true that the uncanny prediction in Midrash and today’s extraordinary ‘coincidences’ expose historical patterns, the question still remains: where do we see redemption in the events of our times, and what is our role in this process?

No doubt that clues abound in the geographical region of Iraq. Ever since the Rebbe cited the Midrash about the ‘king of Persia’ wreaking destruction I always wondered what deeper significance was hidden in this parallel. After all, the Rebbe was not in the habit of just citing prophecies and he was definitely not into sensationalism. Just because today’s ‘king of Persia’ instigates a war doesn’t mean that we just find a corresponding Midrash. Persia is not just incidental. Clearly there is much more here than meets the eye. This Midrash is really a key that helps decipher and expose the patterns that connect the seemingly disparate dots.

When you begin to study the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah and other prophets you discover a pattern, that at the end of days G-d will confront Babylon, Persia and the other empires that wreaked so much havoc throughout history. Edom (Esau) and Ishmael will confront each other. The more you read the more you see how the confrontations in the end of days reflect to the tee the battles waged in the beginning of days – in the home of Abraham, and then in all the centuries to follow.

But as we continue to search for clues, where does the search lead us?

Indeed, as I was searching for clues it suddenly struck me that the search is understanding the very nature of the search itself. A unique feature of today’s wars is that the war itself is really more like a search than a war: Never before in history has a war been fought without a clear and defined enemy. Beginning with the attack on the United States on September 11th (and let us not deny that today’s war would probably not be fought had it not been for that fateful Tuesday morning), the enemy has been hidden from our eyes. Who exactly attacked us? Where are they hiding and where can they be found?

The search and hunt goes on. For close to two years now they have been searching for Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts. Then the search for terrorist cells waiting in hiding. Then came the search for the source of Anthrax found in US mail. Then inspectors were dispatched to search for chemical and biological weapons in Iraq. And now, the search for Saddam Hussein goes on. No doubt, once Saddam Hussein is found there will still much to search for.

We are dealing with an invisible enemy. But paradoxically, once we recognize that what we are looking for is invisible then that recognition in itself begins to make it visible.

So yes, today’s war in Iraq is really more like a search. Ah, but what truly lies behind this search?

Many theories have been posited and many more will surely come. Here is one thought.

As the world searches for whatever it is searching, and as battles wage along the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers, let us take a trip. Let us travel up the river and see what we discover.

Indeed, this river trip actually takes us along a journey on the river of history. Last week I wrote about the message of the Euphrates River. This week let us travel further on the river and see what we discover…

Well, as we move further up (or is it down?) the Euphrates we discover something seriously wrong. According to the Torah the Euphrates should lead us to the Garden of Eden. As we read in Genesis (2:10-14): “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden. From there it divided and became four major rivers [heads]. The name of the first is Pishon… the name of the second is river is Gichon… the name of the third river is the Tigris which flows to the east of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates.” According to the Talmud the river that ‘flowed out of Eden’ is the Euphrates, which waters ‘the garden,’ and then continues and divides into four (Bechorot 55b and in Tosfos).

But today, as we continue to travel on the Euphrates we find that at the city of Al-Qurnah (in southern Iraq) it does join the Tigris River to form the Shatt Al-‘Arab, which flows into the Persian Gulf. The other two rivers are not to be found, and neither is the Garden of Eden!

So, where did Eden disappear? We know that the first human beings, Adam and Eve, were placed in the Garden of Eden. But where exactly is the geographic location on the map of this cradle of civilization?

This precise question is posed in Chassidus. Rabbi Dov Ber (son of the Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi) asks: “The Garden of Eden is a physical place on Earth. Why then don’t we find it on the map? Scientists have wondered where is its location; as much as they searched they cannot find its geographic location”?! [1]

The explanation he offers: The Garden of Eden is an ethereal state of being, which is an intermediary between the physical and the spiritual, between matter and spirit. For example: the taste of an apple, though the taste is within the physical apple, yet it does not occupy tangible space. Before Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge their bodies were also on this ethereal state; once they ate from the tree, they became more ‘materialized’ and therefore could no longer remain in the spiritual state of the garden. The Garden of Eden therefore exists on Earth, yet we (with our material eyes) cannot see it on the map. Just like the vegetative properties in the soil cannot be seen on the map. [2]

Perhaps this can be associated with one of the theories offered by some scientists (including Dr. Juris Zarins, a professor from Southwest Missouri State University) that the location of Eden is now submerged beneath the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Using advances in satellite technology, the hypothesis is that the northern tip of the Persian Gulf (where the Tigris and Euphrates end) had once been a lush, fertile region. This area was located at the junction of four rivers: the Tigris (Chiddekel); the Euphrates; the Karun River in southwestern Iran, which according to this theory is the Biblical Gichon (see also Kesseth HaSofer); and the now-dry riverbed Rimah-Batin (also known as the Wadi Al-Batin), which is the Pishon.

Look at a map and you’ll see that the Karun River joins the Shatt Al-‘Arab at… Basra (yes, Basra, Who is this coming from Edom, with soiled garments from Basra), and they empty into the Persian Gulf altogether.

According to Chassidic thought waters of the sea reflect the ‘hidden worlds,’ and are a more sublime state of being than land. Perhaps one can say that after the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, the Garden of Eden became submerged under the waters of the Persian Gulf – a fitting place for the ethereal Garden of Eden. Eden is like a piece of heaven on earth.

For the record there are other theories. Josephus for instance identifies the Gichon and the Pishon as the Nile and the Gangus. There is also a theory that the Garden of Eden is in the mountains of eastern Turkey. [3]

It should also be noted that the Talmud clearly states that the Euphrates could have been altered by man (Berochot 59b. Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 228:2). Additionally, one can argue that the flow of the rivers was altered, even drastically, by the Great Flood.

The only thing that is certain is that we do not know the location of Eden and that the search for Eden goes on.

Yet, it is quite fascinating that the Torah finds it necessary to define in detail the geographical location of the Garden of Eden. And that two of the four rivers flowing out of the Garden Eden are obvious today in the Euphrates and the Tigris. Indeed, the Euphrates is the main river flowing out of Eden to water the garden, and the Euphrates is here with us today.

Why leave us a reminder of the Garden of Eden and remind us of our inadequacies? Either hide it completely or let us have it?

Eden represents the ultimate pleasure of the Divine – the deepest dimensions one can reach, the Essence. As the Talmud tells us (Berochos 34b) that Eden is the level which ‘no eye has ever seen’ and reserved for those that ‘wait’ for G-d  (Isaiah 64:3). Even Adam and Eve were not in Eden; they were in the Garden of Eden, which was watered by the river flowing from Eden. Eden itself is a level that no eye has ever seen.

Yet, we have a river – the Euphrates – that flows from Eden, a relatively narrow river that only gives us a glimpse into Eden, yet a glimpse it is into the Essence of existence (see Hemshech 5666 pp. 10).

This is the true nature of our search in life: We are looking for our essence, we are searching for the essence of existence – we are in search of Eden.

Some people give up hope. They resign themselves to a life of (Thoreau’s) ‘quiet desperation.’ The Euphrates reminds us that there is an Eden somewhere – though we cannot see Eden itself, we can see the river flowing from Eden, bringing us a taste of another reality.

This is the dance of life – a true dance, with all its strange paradoxes. At the same time that we sense a presence from beyond it also eludes us. Just as we try to control it, it disappears.

On one hand we clearly can see the Euphrates and the Tigris. But the other two rivers elude us. The Talmud (Berochos cited above) even says that we must make a blessing when we see these rivers – rivers that are here with us since the beginning of creation. But only the sections of the rivers that were not altered by man. As soon as man touches and alters their flow, they no longer retain the power of Eden. [4]

Perhaps that is why the Talmud and Tosfos (Berochos 54a) mention by name only the two rivers, Euphrates and Tigris, being that these are the only definite rivers today. We are not clear about the location of the other two rivers.

So on one hand, some of the rivers of Gan Eden disappeared, but on the other hand we still have the other two rivers, and primarily the Euphrates – the main river flowing into and watering the garden (from which the other three stem) – is with here us today, as a reminder of our mission to reconnect with Eden.

What is the point of telling us about the Eden and then its loss? The point is to tell us that we have the ability, the power and the responsibility to reconnect with Eden and allow it to resurface into our lives.

But what is our role today – how do we return to Paradise? The Torah tells us this as well, following the description of the rivers flowing from the garden:

When Adam (which includes man and woman) was placed into the Garden of Eden he was also told his mission: “To serve and protect” the garden. “Vayitzav Hashem Elokim al ha’Adam lamoir, me’kol etz ha’gan ochol tochail.” G-d commanded Adam, “you may definitely eat from every tree of the garden. The Talmud explains that these seven phrases are the root of the seven Noachide laws – the universal laws of civilization (Sanhedrin 56a).

War in Iraq today brings our attention to that region in the world. It compels us to realize that the entire human experience began in that area, and that above all, the actual geography of Iraq tells us the story of our own lives, and of the history of nations.

And when you take into account that the current events in Iraq are taking place in this month of Nissan (month of Redemption) the message takes on even more import. Because the events in the Garden of Eden took shape – on one dimension – on the first day of Nissan. [5] Which means that the banishment from the Garden of Eden took place in the early days of this month.

The human race as a whole and each individual in particular is in search of Paradise. Each of us translates that search in our own way. Our search is sometimes healthy and sometimes not so healthy. What we are all searching for is: the Garden of Eden, and more specifically, Eden, the essence itself.

Gan Eden disappeared because we were no longer sublime enough. Perhaps it sunk beneath the water – waiting to emerge. Yet, it did not disappear entirely.

After the sin of the Tree of Knowledge and the banishment from Eden a split took place – a schism between the matter and spirit, between the mundane and the sacred. The door closed between Eden, Gan Eden and our lives – between our higher calling and our daily routines. Yet, the door did not close entirely.

We have a river in our lives that waters our garden and reminds us of truths that come from a greater place. Sometimes we are awake and aware, sometimes not so much. But the river is always there to remind us. Within each of us lies a ‘garden of Eden’ – watered by the river of consciousness – that squanders the boundary between matter and spirit. We also have rivers that flow out of the garden into the mundane aspects of our lives.

Our mission is to use these rivers as channels – to connect us, our material lives, with our Divine calling. We do this by following the universal Divine laws that G-d gave the human race, the entire human race. Every aspect of our lives has to be permeated – via the river channel – with Eden.

By doing so we have the power to reach a place that is even greater than Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They only connected to the river flowing from Eden. We, however, through our efforts and hard work in these difficult times, have the power to reach Eden itself, to see that ‘which no eye has ever seen.’

What we await for now is that in this month of Nissan the Euphrates will split – and allow us to reach into Eden itself. And we can help facilitate the process through our behavior and actions.

So as the search continues in the war in Iraq during these early days of Nissan, the lesson to us is crystal clear.

There are many angles to understand the war in Iraq. But the true war today is driven by the angst of man in search of Eden.

Footnotes:
[1] Shaarei Teshuva 69b. Maamorei Admur HoEmtzoee Vayikra vol. 2 p. 703, and in sources cited in the footnote there. See Ohr HaTorah Bereishis vol. 7, 1163a.

[2] See also Etz Chaim (Arizal) Shaar Tziur HaOlamos ch. 3. Likkutei Torah Shemini Atzeret 84c. Sefer HaMaamorim 5565 vol. 2 p. 560. See Zohar II 150a and in Ohr HaChama. Ramban Shaar HaGomul pp. 295.

[3] The Ramban in Shaar HaGomul (ibid) writes in the name of ‘surveyors’ that the location of Gan Eden is ‘below the equator’ (which has not changed over time), 32 degrees south of Jerusalem (Maamorie Admur HoEmtzoee in note 1). See also Etz Chaim, Shaarei Teshuva and some of the other citations in note 1 and 2. Likkutei Torah Tazria 20a. The reason for this is because Gan Eden is the ‘navel’, the ‘center of the earth’ (Israel is at the center of populated earth) – Etz Chaim ibid. Shaar Haaoras HaMochin ch. 5.  See also Mikdash Melech on Zohar II 184b.In Etz Chaim (ibid ch. 1 and 3) Gan Eden is to the southeast, like the right arm, of Israel.

Interesting note: The Ramban also cites medical books form the early Greeks (and also from a book by Asaf the Jewish doctor) who relate a story that Aspalkinus, a Macedonian thinker, together with 40 men, traveled to a place beyond India, east of Eden, in search of the Tree of Life, which they felt could provide major medical benefits. They wanted to become famous. Instead, they were all killed by the ‘revolving flaming sword’ that stands East of Eden. The Ramban writes that this a ‘true story known and publicized even today.’ And that many people from the land in the East can see the ‘revolving flame’ from afar. This needs to be reconciled with Shaarei Teshuva which states that you can not see the ‘sword’ today.

[4] Halachically speaking, see Eliyahu Rabba and Olat Tomid Orach Chaim 228:2 (cited in Kaf HaChaim), that one shouldn’t recite a blessing if in doubt.

[5] See Rosh Hashana 10b. Sichat Shabbat Parshat Shemini 5736.

HISTORICAL EVENTS THAT HAVE OCCURRED IN THE TIGRIS-EUPHRATES VALLEY REGION – MODERN DAY IRAQ

  • The human race begins in the Garden of Eden, which is in the area of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers (Genesis 2:10-14), where Adam and Eve were placed.
  • After the Flood, the region was first ruled and developed by Nimrod, “the mighty hunter before The Lord” (Genesis 10:8-12). Among the numerous cities of his kingdom were Nineveh and Babylon, two names that would be prominent in the history of Israel.
  • The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) was constructed in the region – Babel takes its name from Babylon.
  • Abraham was born and lived much of his life in Ur Of The Chaldees (Genesis 11:28), which was located near the Euphrates River approximately 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of the Iraq’s modern capital city of Baghdad.
  • Nineveh, located on the Tigris River, was the capital of the Assyrian empire (see Ancient Empires – Assyria). The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, and transported the “Lost Ten Tribes” into exile, never to return (2 Kings 17:21-23).
  • Babylon, located on the Euphrates River, was the capital of the Babylonian empire. The Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom of Judah, destroyed the original Temple at Jerusalem, and carried the people of Judah away into the Babylonian exile (2 Chronicles 36:15-20). They remained there until the Babylonian empire fell to the Persians, who allowed the Jewish people to return to the land of Israel (ibid:20-23)
  • Babylonian Talmud – which encompasses the entire body of Torah law – was compiled in Babylon over a period of seven generations.

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HISTORICAL EVENTS THAT HAVE OCCURRED IN THE PURIM-PASSOVER
TIME PERIOD

YEAR 357 BCE

~ Adar 13 (this year March 17): Persian King Achashverosh decrees that this day be transformed from a day of genocide to a day of war against all the enemies of the Jewish people who plotted to kill them. Human’s sons are killed together with many other enemies
~ Purim – Adar 14 (March 18): The battles ends and the Achashverosh decrees that this day be transformed to a day of liberation. Haman’s sons are hung together with thousands of others who plotted the genocide
~ Shushan Purim – Adar 15 (March 19) – the war ends and celebration is held in Shushan, capital of Persia

A YEAR EARLIER, 356 BCE

~ Nissan: Haman throws lots which fall on Adar 13 as the day of the genocide of the entire Jewish nation
~ 13 Nissan (this year April 15): Writing the decree and sending them out to the entire Persian Empire
~ 14-16 Nissan (April 16-18): At Esther’s suggestion all the Jews gather to pray and fast for three days to abolish the tragic decree
~ 15 Nissan at night: King Achashverosh has insomnia, he hears the story about Mordechai rescuing his life and decides to reward him. This becomes the beginning of the Purim redemption
~ 15-16 Nissan (2nd day of Passover): Esther invites Haman and Achashverosh to a party and then to a second party, with the intention to ruin Human’s plans
~ 16 Nissan: Haman is hung on the tree which he built to hang Mordechai
~ 23 Sivan (June 23): The decree is abolished, and transformed

YEAR 1312 BCE

~ 1 Nissan (April 3): G-d designates the month of Nissan as the first month of the year, and tells Moses that the Exodus would take place in two weeks. Commands him about the details of Passover
~ 10 Nissan (April 12): Preparing the Pascal lamb for Passover. The Egyptian first born wage war against Egypt
~ 14 Nissan (April 16): Plague of the first born
~ 15 Nissan (April 17): The Jewish people leave Egypt after 430 years of exile
~  21 Nissan (April 23): The Red Sea parts and allows the Jewish people to walk through while drowning the pursuing Egyptians. The Jews sing praise

OTHER YEARS

~ 1 Nissan: Creation of Adam and Eve and their placement in the Garden of Eden (according to Rabbi Yehoshua – Rosh Hashana 11a. See Tosfos ibid 27a)
~  14 Nissan:
>>> Abraham wins his battles with the kings
>>> Birth of Isaac
>>> Jacob ‘steals’ his brother Esau’s blessings
>>> Jacobs crosses the river and wrestles with and prevails over Esau’s angel
>>> The victory of Devorah and Barak over Sisra (Judges 4)
>>>The fall of Assyrian King Sancheriv and his army through the prayers of Chezkiyahu (Kings II 19:35)
>>>Daniel interprets the dream of Nevuchadnezzar, King of Babylon (Daniel 6:23) as predicting the fall of the great empires to come, Babylon, Persia, Greek, Roman and/or Ishmael
>>>The death of Babylonian King Baltshatzar, grandson of Nevuchadnezzar, the night of his party where he displays the vessels of the Holy Temple (Daniel 4:30)
>>>Daniel is saved from the Lions’ den (Daniel 6:23)
>>>n the future – vengeance against Edom (Piyut for Shabbas HaGodol and 2nd day of Passover)
>>>In the future – Esau and Amalek will be destroyed, followed by the construction of the Third Temple (see Sukka 41a. Pesachim 5a. Zohar III 249a. Citations in Shaarei Zohar on Sukka ibid)

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