Vayak'hel: Chapter 24

The firmaments over the Garden of Eden


Rabbi Shimon tells us of the firmament that stands upon the earthly Garden of Eden. When God made it, he brought fire and water from the Throne of Glory (the World of Binah) and put them together to form our firmament. He added to this other fire and water from the holy high heaven, which then made the firmament expand. We are told of that expansion, and the movement of the letters that illuminate, and of the Chariots. We read of the garments that the souls are worthy of wearing; in these garments the good deeds are recorded, and the angels clothe the souls of the righteous with them in the Garden. We are told however that in those days immediately following death, the soul is punished before it enters the Garden of Eden. We hear that the 22 letters are engraved upon the firmament; they distill dew on all those who study the Torah. Rabbi Shimon says that the lower garments of the earthly Garden of Eden are connected with deeds and the higher garments are connected with the intention and the will of the spirit in the heart. Now he tells us that we cannot know the source of the river that flows out of Eden because if this place were disclosed and revealed down below, then that place of the higher holy Eden would have to be disclosed and known also. Therefore this Eden is not revealed even to the souls in the Garden of Eden. Rabbi Shimon explains the meaning of the name Elohim, and then he says that when the soul leaves the darkness of this world it longs to see the light of the upper world, like one thirsting for water. In the river that flows out of Eden sit all the souls clad in their precious garments, without which they would not be able to bear the lights; now they slake their thirst in the brightness. The souls of the righteous ascend by way of the pillar in the middle of the Garden through the door of the firmament of the Garden of Eden. The souls go out and listen to the sweet voice that comes of the firmament's revolving. Later they receive the illumination of Chochmah; from the joy and gladness caused by what they see, they go up and down, come near and retreat. Rabbi Shimon turns to, "And over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of a firmament, like the color of the terrible ice, stretched out over their heads above." He speaks about the firmament above and the firmament below. When souls ascend they bathe in the river of fire and are washed in it, not consumed but purified. We learn of Behinom, that place of purification in Gehenom. We learn that God brings out the sun after the purification and heals the broken soul: this is the meaning of, "But to you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in its wings." Rabbi Shimon tells us that at every new moon and Shabbat the souls in the lower Garden of Eden hover about the world and see the bodies of the wicked being punished, and they watch the sick and suffering. Then they go back to the Garden of Eden and tell these things to Messiah, who cries for the wicked. Messiah enters the temple of the sick that exists in the Garden of Eden and calls upon him all the diseases, pains and agonies of Yisrael. But for him, no man would ever have been able to bear the sufferings of Yisrael for the punishments of the Torah. Rabbi Shimon says that Rabbi Elazar also used to take sufferings upon himself for the sake of Yisrael. For now, Messiah detains the illnesses and agonies until a man passes away from the world and receives punishment. Finally, Rabbi Shimon says those who observe the precepts of the Torah are happy, because when the point down below wants to be delighted in the Garden of Eden by the souls of the righteous, it is like a mother, happy and delighted with her sons.