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A River Flows Forth from Eden

I am currently enjoying teaching a series of classes at Temple Israel in Albany, NY titled “Demystifying Jewish Mysticism”. Here are some thoughts from this week’s class.

A river flows forth from Eden to water the garden… (Genesis 2:10)

Adam and Eve are living in undifferentiated bliss in the Garden of Eden. Eden in Hebrew means “pleasure” or “delight” – Adam and Eve are at one in the Garden of Delight.

Then they eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and are inevitably plunged into the necessity of our everyday world of duality: right and wrong, shame and pride, self and other, life and death. After eating from that tree, we are forever required to live in this world of continuous and difficult choices.

Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden, and their re-entry is barred. Henceforth they will have to make their living by the sweat of their brow. But they remember – we remember – a stream that flowed forth from that place of delight, and that stream spread into four rivers that water every corner of our world. It is the Stream of Delight, the living waters that when we drink them, we remember that all is one, that the stream is always flowing, that even though we can’t go back to the garden, we can still at any moment taste its sweet waters.

Behind the you-and-me, us-and-them duality of our lives, there is a unitary source that sustains us all. The memory dances around at the back of our crowded consciousness. But I can taste it, I can drink from the stream right now, as I write these words.

I have a favorite James Taylor song, called “Look Up from Your Life”. Here are the lyrics that remind me of the river that flows forth from Eden:

There’s a river running under your feet

Under this house

Under this street

Straight from the heart

Ancient and sweet

On its way back home


Even in the middle of your sadness

The everyday madness

The ongoing game

Even when you can’t find a reason

Still there is a reason

You don’t need to name it


Look up from your life!


Only for a minute

To find yourself in it

To wait by the stream

To drop out of your dream

Look on up

Look up from your life!


Or as King David, another of my favorite songwriters, put it:

v’nachal adanecha tashkem – Give drink to us from Your Edenic stream (Psalm 36:9)


As you read these words, I invite you to pause, look up from your life, and sip on the goodness that is always flowing. Our problems do not disappear as a result, but perhaps a smile will play across our lips, perhaps our breath will grow and soften for a moment, perhaps we will remember to look at each other with love, as we drink from that good stream.

In our tradition, Shabbat comes for this very reason. That is why our tradition refers to Shabbat as “me-eyn olam haba” – “a taste of the World-to-Come”, also know as the Garden of Eden.

I hope you will take advantage of the gift of Shabbat even for a moment, and drink deeply of the river that is always issuing forth from Eden, running right under our feet.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jonathan