In a Godly Image
Midrashic and Kabbalistic tradition state that when prophecy existed, God's existence was much more evident than it is nowadays.
God spoke in man's heart, heaven was on earth, spirit permeated matter. The truth is that this is still true. Man is still connected to God,
earth is still connected to heaven, and matter is still permeated by spirit or energy. Today it is even known that matter is undoubtedly just another form of energy. Still, this phenomenon is deeply hidden, and mankind is searching desperately for a way to reconnect to God.
What connects God and man, heaven and earth, spirit and matter? Is there a bridge to God? Is there a ladder we can climb to heaven and bring its light back down into our lives?
There is a bridge and a ladder. It is called Torah.
What is Torah?
Torah is the written document received and transmitted by Moses at Sinai a little over 3,300 years ago. It is also the oral tradition that accompanied that document, including instructions on how to understand the basic meaning of the Torah (for it is an extremely terse text that says much more than meets the eye) and fulfill its commandments.
The Oral Torah dovetails with the written Torah in four primary ways encoded in the Hebrew word Pardes. Pardes is the source for the English word Paradise, which refers to the Garden of Eden. PaRDeS is also an acronym for four different levels of understanding the Torah: P'shat (simple meaning), Remez (allusion), Drush (homiletical meaning), and Sod (Kabbalah; secret meaning). All together these four levels are the keys needed to enter the Paradise of the Torah.
With these four keys, the Torah opens up and reveals not only its own secrets, but the secrets of the universe, the secrets of matter (space), history (time) and man (soul and consciousness). If we wish to go behind the scenes, and probe the mysteries of creation and human existence, the Torah is the address. The reason for this is that the Torah preceded creation. In truth, the Torah is nothing less than
an illumination of what we call God's Mind. It is the conceptual link between Him and His world, between Him and us.
Torah and Anatomy
This is the Torah, man...
It is well known that the Torah contains 613 mitzvot (commandments; plural of mitzvah) (Makkot 23b) The root meaning of the verb leTZaVot (to command) is to bind. When we perform a miTZVah we bind ourselves and the world around us to God.
The 613 mitzvot divide into 248 positive commandments and 365 prohibitions. These commandments encompass every aspect of our relationship with God, with our fellow human beings, and with all existence. Through
these commandments, God provided every necessary tool with which man could connect to God and bring all of creation to its ultimate perfection.
The human form also has 248 limbs, corresponding to the 248 positive commandments of the Torah, and 365 connecting tissues, veins or sinews, corresponding to the 365 prohibitions of the Torah (Zohar I, 170b). Thus, man was fashioned in the pattern of the Torah. Not only his soul, but the very body that seemingly prevents him from rising above the physical limitations of this world, is itself a Torah. Through this connection, he can utilize all that is contained
in the world to recognize and serve God with his body. With his soul he can ascend beyond the material world and enter the realm of the
spirit. With his body he can channel the spiritual down into the material, creating the perfection that human life on earth was meant to be.
The Torah is the link that allows man to do this. Reb Noson writes about the link between the Torah and man's body:
INDENT In order to effect a remedy, a physician must have complete knowledge of the human anatomy. He must know all the parts
of the body the limbs, arteries, veins, etc. He must know how each and every organ is interconnected and interdependent with the
others. He must be aware of how each organ can be affected by every other. Then, and only then, can a physician understand the nature
of the illness he seeks to cure. In the same vein the Torah is a body of law with each individual mitzvah representing an organ of that body. To be able to fathom the true value of the Torah, a person must know its anatomy its laws and ideals how each mitzvah is interconnected with the others, as an individual, integral part of an entire Torah (Likutey Halakhot, Rosh Chodesh 5:6).
Reb Noson continues his discourse explaining the parallels between the Torah's anatomy and the human anatomy. This is a major theme found in the Kabbalah, which describes the connection between certain parts of the body and certain mitzvot. Reb Noson writes elsewhere that one who understands the writings of the Zohar and the ARI will realize that all the mysteries of the Kabbalah speak about this (Likutey Halakhot, Minchah 7:22). Two works mentioned in this book, Sha'arey Kedushah and Sefer Charedim, have this idea
as a major theme (see also Appendices BC).
Though corporeal, the human form corresponds to the Torah and reflects the highest levels of spirituality. Each part of the body corresponds to a different spiritual concept, a different mitzvah. Each organ and every vein contains its own spiritual power. When harnessed, these powers can elevate man above the material form that houses his soul. Moses is the paradigm for this elevation. He purified his physical body to such an extent that his corporeality was transformed into
spirituality. The Torah bears witness to this when it relates that Moses ascended to heaven and remained there forty days and forty nights
without eating or drinking (Deuteronomy 9:9). Another verse states, This is the blessing with which Moses, the man of God, blessed the people of Israel (ibid. 33:1) Moses is called a man of God because he succeeded in transforming his physical body into a Godly temple for his spirit (Devarim Rabbah 11:4).
It is thus written (Exodus 34:30), When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two Tablets of the Testimony in his hand... he did not realize that the skin of his face had become luminous because of [God's] having spoken with him. When Aaron and all the children of Israel saw that the skin of Moses' face shone with a brilliant light, they were afraid to come near him.
In the Garden of Eden
FIRSTPARA One of the first steps we can take towards attaining true spirituality is to become more aware of the spiritual significance of the human anatomy. In order to do this, we must first recognize the greatness of the soul and learn how it relates to the body.In the Zohar (III, 105a, 281a; Tikkuney Zohar #26, p.72a),
the soul is said to tower so high above the body, that the body is called a shoe relative to the soul. Only the lowest extremity of the soul fits into the body. Through our desire to come close to God, through our thoughts, emotions, speech and actions, we can bring down greater and greater illuminations of our own souls. In this manner, anyone has the ability to make his physical body a chariot or a temple for the highest parts of the soul, as did Moses.
The human body was not always what we know it to be. Adam's body was a body of light. He radiated Godliness (Bereishit Rabbah 20:12). He was so awesome that the angels erred and contemplated worshiping him (ibid. 8:10). Even after he sinned, he remained a spiritual being clothed in a physical body and radiating
spirituality. Still, relative to his level before the sin, and certainly relative to the level he was intended to have attained, his actions caused an occlusion of God's Light. His body of light (kotnot or, where or is spelled aleph-vav-resh, rut),
which revealed the soul, congealed into a body of skin and hide (kotnot or, where or is spelled ayin-vav-resh, rug) which hid the soul (ibid. 20:12).
Light (or with an aleph) and skin (or with an
ayin) correspond to the two specific trees in the Garden of Eden. In the Torah it is written (Genesis 2:89), God planted a garden in Eden to the east. There He placed the man that He had formed. God made grow out of the ground every tree that is pleasant to look at and good to eat, [including] the Tree of Life in the middle of the garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Shortly after this is written God's warning (ibid. 2:17), But from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil do not eat, for on the day you eat from it, you will surely die.
The Torah explicitly states that Adam was commanded not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. According to the Kabbalah, the prohibition included the Tree of Life, but only until sundown, the advent of the first Sabbath (cf. Sefer HaLikutim #3, pp.2527).
At that point eating from the Tree of Life would have become a mitzvah. And once Adam had eaten from the Tree of Life, he would have been
allowed to eat of the Tree of Knowledge as well, for he would have had the ability to elevate the Tree of Knowledge back into its source in the Tree of Life (for the greater level always includes the lower level).
Thus, it was only in order to give Adam the opportunity to attain the highest spirituality that God placed him in the Garden with these two trees. Both of these trees were made by God, but, as with everything in creation, God fashioned them to represent potentially opposing or potentially complementary energies depending on man's use of them. The Tree of Life corresponded to the soul, to spirituality.
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil corresponded to the body, specifically to the body's potential either to reveal the soul and radiate its holiness, or to conceal and smother the soul. Adam's mission was to transform the Tree of Knowledge into the Tree of Life, to irradiate the body with the or (light) of the soul. Instead he caused the soul to be obscured by the or (skin) of the body (see Likutey Halakhot, Orlah 4:2).
Adam was created with the ability to discern between good and evil. Why, then, was he so tempted by evil? He yearned for his spiritual
source. He wanted to know God and discern His presence in and through everything in the world, even through evil.
But man was brash. He was tly conceited. He wanted to be like God, to create worlds. So he was lured into thinking it was God's will that he transgress. Then he would appreciate God! Or so he thought...
If only he had endured the pain of temptation. If only he had perceived the experience of temptation as an opportunity to cling to God, to
yearn and cry out to be saved from temptation... If only he had seen God hiding in the pain of that temptation, seen the Tree of Life hidden inside the Tree of Knowledge...
But no, the God consciousness that had been awaiting actualization was now actively constricted. Adam lost his exalted level of prophecy. Cut off from the higher levels of his soul, he experienced the sensation of death for on the day you eat from it, you will surely die. Ever since that moment, man's mission has been to seek the spiritual and return to his original level (see The
Breslov Haggadah, p.12).
Man's essence is his soul. Had Adam not sinned, man would have been able to live a purely spiritual life a full life of happiness, contentment and purity. He was to have lived forever death was decreed only after he sinned. But Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and thereby tainted his pure soul. Having succumbed
to his physical desires, he fell from his level, was banished from the Garden of Eden and prevented from returning to it by the Revolving
Sword (Genesis 3:24). We, his descendants, must pay the price for his actions, that price being the ever-present conflict between the body's needs and wants and the soul's yearnings.
The conflict between body and soul is beautifully illustrated in one of Rebbe Nachman's classic stories, The Exchanged Children,
in which it is told that a queen and her maidservant gave birth at the same time. The midwife switched the children so that the servant's son grew up as a prince while the prince was raised in the servant's house. Rumors spread that the children had been switched at birth, and so the true prince was banished from his kingdom by the pretender.
He roamed the world, indulging his heart's desires, but eventually began to ponder his situation and to question his lifestyle. If I am not the prince, should I have been banished from my kingdom?
And if I truly am a prince, does it behoove me tolive such a life?
The prince began searching for himself for his true identity and eventually became king over a kingdom greater than that which had been his previously. In an interesting twist, the servant,
who had been raised as the prince, became his royal servant. (The story in its entirety appears in Appendix A.)
Reb Noson comments that the Revolving Sword which kept Adam from reentering the Garden of Eden corresponds to the Heikhaley HaTemurot, the Chambers of Exchanges. While in these Chambers, one is continually faced with conflicts between good and evil, between
light and darkness, between sweet and bitter (cf. Isaiah 5:20),
because each presents itself as the correct choice. In short, these Chambers are represented by our conflicts over life itself should we choose a material life or a spiritual life? Evil seems to be good, what is truly dark appears light and proper and what tastes bitter
can become sweet and wonderful. Is the material evil or can the physical be good? Is the spiritual too bitter for the palate or can the spiritual experience be sweet?
Reb Noson explains that the obscurity of right and wrong found in these Chambers symbolizes the exchange of the prince for the servant. It is this obscurity that led to the conflicts between Isaac and Ishmael, between Jacob and Esau, between Joseph and his brothers, between the Jews and the Nations; and this is the source of the ongoing battle between body and soul.
Adam, by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, descended into these Chambers and exchanged what was truly good a life
of eternal spiritual delight for the temporal material life upon which our existence now depends. It is man's mission to seek spirituality, to discern between good and evil, so that he can end his personal exile and reenter the Garden. This is the ongoing struggle of each and every soul, in each and every generation.
More often than not, the soul which is so elevated at its source assumes the identity of its material surroundings. It surrenders and becomes captive, as did the prince in the story, to the materialistic drives that are in power at the time. The soul completely forgets its royal origins, becoming entrapped in physicality and deluding itself about the truth of its existence.
But is this the way it has to be?