Thursday, July 5 – A River Flows from Eden

Melila Hellner-Eshed. Remember this name. If you ever have the opportunity to learn from this teacher of deep Torah, you should drop what you are doing and run to the school, lecture hall or Beit Midrash.

This morning’s study session was phenomenal – not good, not great, but truly among the greatest lessons I have been privileged to receive.

I speak in superlatives about the material that was taught and the manner in which it was presented.

Genesis 2:10 – And a river went forth from Eden to water the garden.

Melila presented this verse as the key to the Zohar’s understanding of this world and God’s relationship to it. The Zohar understands this verse as speaking in code as follows:

Eden = the Source, the Eternal, Divinity

River = Energy, Flow, Motion, Masculine Flow

Garden = World, Human Consciousness, Female Womb.

So this verse describes succinctly and poetically what the Sefirotic Structure tries to explains – the world beyond, this world and the connection.

So God, represented by Eden, the place of perfection, has the ability (desire?) to send nurturance (the river) to the world (Garden) in order to support it (water it) and give it life. This is the connection between the two worlds.

What is amazing in the Zohar, is that Eden and garden are not the same place, and the garden actually is responsible for receiving the flow. The river flows from Eden, but the garden must prepare and present itself in the proper way in order to receive the river and to be watered.

It is an incredible teaching in its depth. We looked at a couple of Zohar passages dealing with Tikkun Olam – the repair of this world – and how their understanding of Tikkun is linked to creation and the connection between these two worlds.

Melila specific interest is studying the mystical tradition to identify an authentic vocabulary of environmentalism. She wants to see if there are images or metaphors within the mystical tradition that reflect an environmental consciousness that could help inform our eco-consciousness today – not by changing the meaning of this vocabulary or reading these stories, but by continuing to read them as they have always been read.

There is much more from this morning, but it will have to wait for additional teaching moments.

The amazing thing about my days at the Hartman Institute is that, as is the norm here, the day started brilliantly and the rest of the day did not disappoint.

After lunch, we continued with our reading of the Kuzari, I will comment more on this at the end of this cycle of lectures, and then had our first Rabbinic Leadership Institute III (RLI III) Roundtable. The Roundtables are the opportunities when as a group separate from the rest of the programs of the Hartman Institute process and reflect together.

This was the first of what will be a series of Roundtables during which each of the 25 members of my cohort takes a turn to do an in-depth introduction of her/himself for the group.

This is an amazing group! The people in this group have served as rabbis in a variety of different places, in a variety of different communities, but their Curricula Vitae is stunning. People have functioned in leadership capacities for a wide range of Jewish institutions in their own communities, on a national level and on an international level. They represent the diversity of the American Rabbinate – all flavors of rabbis are here together.

As brilliant as the teaching is, the community of learners is equally as excited.

So today was a short day, we only studied from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM. Squeezing in as much as possible into those nine hours, and it went quickly and felt way too short!

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