The four Rabbi's who entered the Garden of Eden
There is a famous Jewish legend (“aggadah”) in the Babylonian TALMUD about four rabbis during the Mishnaic period (1st century) who entered the Garden of Eden– the Orchard (“Pardes”).
The Orchard is a symbolic reference to the knowledge of the mystical Works of Creation, ma’aseh bereshit. In this Garden sits the Tree of Life, a proverbial symbol of the Universe and all of its knowledge. When Simeon ben Azzai, Simeon ben Zoma, Rabbi Elisha ben Abuyah (Acher), and Rabbi Akiva “entered” the Garden they each had a life-changing experience.
The story alludes to the perils of studying the mysteries of Creation. Zoma and Azzai were not actually certified rabbi’s, as they died young, but they did earn the honorary title. They were religious teachers, or tannas, and possibly a part of the inner mystical circle among Joshua ben Hananiah’s followers.
The fate of the some of them, however, was not so bright. Three of the rabbis did not return from the viewing the Garden of Esoteric Knowledge without some kind of harm. Azzai “looked” (at the Divine Presence) and died; Zoma “looked” and went insane, and Acher destroyed the Garden.
But, Rabbi Akiba had the wisdom to enter and leave without succumbing to the Garden’s temptations. When Ben Azzai “gazed” into the Garden and saw the Divine Glory of G-d, the Shekhinah, he died. The Scriptures are quoted in regards to Azzai’s fate: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Azzai was so zealous in his studies, he lost sight of the world around him.
An explanation of his early death may have occurred because of the belief that man cannot cast his human eyes upon the face of G-d and live.” Ben Zoma, also a tanna who lived in the first third of the 2nd century, had gazed into the Garden’s delights and he went insane.
The quote from the Proverbs in the Scriptures is used regarding Zoma’s fate: “Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is sufficient for thee.” Zoma apparently indulged too much into the studies of the mysteries and suffered for his excessiveness.
According to one story, R. Hananiah was out walking and passed by his disciple, Ben Zoma, who did not notice Hananiah. Zoma later replied he was “lost in the thoughts concerning the account of Creation.” Hananiah later reportedly declared that Zoma “is outside” the allowable realm of contemplation on the subject– hence, he became mentally unstable.
R. Abuyah, a rabbi born in Jerusalem sometime before 70 CE, was said to have mutilated the plants in the Garden. His fate is summarized in Ecclesiastes: “Suffer not thy mouth to bring thy flesh into guilt.” He was accused of betraying his people and taking a heretical worldview, hence the nickname Acher (“Other One’). The Babylonian TALMUD said that Abuyah kept forbidden books hidden in his clothes.
Rabbi Akiva is the only one who entered and departed in peace. One clue to Rabbi Akiva’s survival was something he said to the others who entered into the Garden with him: “When you arrive at the “pure shaking” stones, do not say ‘water, water.’ For it is said: ‘He that speaketh falsehood shall not be established before mine eyes.’”
The overall lesson is that the study of the mystical teachings of the Kabbalah, found in the writings of the SEFER YETZIRAH, must be studied with caution. Rashi (1040-1105) says they attempted to ascend to Heaven by permutating the Divine Name through letter combinations.
Top books on Amazon about "Sefer Raziel"
This is an original Hebrew version book on the "Sefer Raziel" from Amazon. Paperback. This reprint is being made available at cost by Publish Your Sefer.com in partnership with Hebrew Books.org. 2012 edition, 98 pages. 7.8 x 0.2 x 9 inches.
This is the first English translation from ancient Hebrew of the rare and complete 1701 Amsterdam edition by Steve Savedow. Includes an explanatory text on the holy names of God, the divisions of Heaven and Hell, and the names and hierarchy of the angels and spirits. Paperback: 320 pages. Publisher: Weiser Books (December, 2000). Language: English. Although it is comprehensive and has translations of the text, there has been controversy over Savedow's translations. It is a good starting point if you can't read Hebrew.
This volume also includes a foreword which offers an overview of the Sepher Raziel manuscripts, which represent a number of independent traditions. It includes an essay on the literature of Solomonic magic in English, an introduction to the Sepher Raziel manuscript presented, an appendix on incense nomenclature as a supplement to Tractatus Thymiamatus, a list of printed notices and manuscript sources of Sepher Raziel, and a full bibliography of printed works on Solomonic magic and items of related interest. 296 pages. Publisher: Llewellyn Publications (September 8, 2010). This book is highly recommended as a reliable source of information.
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After studying the Kabalah and the occult for more than 40 years, I'm writing aseveral books on the ancient Qabalah, Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Creation), Sefer Raziel (The Book of Secrets) and dream awareness (astral projection). If you are interested in copies, they will be available on Amazon.com. Email me if you want to be informed when the books are published at [email protected]
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