Born to a confused sixteen-year-old girl impregnated by a man she met at an English pub, virtuoso guitarist Eric Clapton didn’t have much of a wholesome family childhood. His father vanished before he was born and he was raised by his grandmother, led to believe that his mother was his sister. Young Eric was soon playing guitar on the streets of London while passers-by dropped coins in his hat.
Years later, in rehab for alcohol addiction after having become an international music star, Eric writes in his autobiography:
“…I was absolutely terrified, in complete despair. At that moment, almost of their own accord, my legs gave way, and I fell to my knees. In the privacy of my room I begged for help. I had no notion of who I thought I was talking to, I just knew I had come to the end of my tether, I had nothing left to fight with. Then I remembered what I had heard about surrender, something I thought I could never do, my pride just wouldn’t allow it but I knew that on my own I wasn’t going to make it, so I asked for help and getting down on my knees, I surrendered. Within a few days I realized that something had happened for me. An atheist would probably say it was just a change of attitude, and to a certain extent that’s true, but there was much more to it than that. I’d found a place to turn to, a place I’d always known was there but never really wanted or needed to believe in. (emphasis added) From that day until this I have never failed to pray in the morning on my knees asking for help, and at night to express gratitude for my life and most of all for my sobriety. ”
Eric survived and went on to thrive because he took his soul seriously. Treating his addiction as if it only afflicted his body wasn’t working. Like the famed twentieth century Swiss psychiatrist who played a role in the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous by recognizing that alcoholism has a spiritual dimension, Clapton involved his soul by using prayer.
Trying to overcome life’s many tribulations thinking only of the body while ignoring the soul is like failing to fuel your chainsaw and trying to fell a towering tree by laboriously scraping the chainsaw blade backwards and forwards across the tree trunk.
Scripture advises taking our souls seriously, although the first such message is lost when translated from the original Hebrew.
And the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground,
and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life…
Seven verses follow describing the Garden of Eden in detail. Then comes this verse:
And the Lord God took the man, and He placed him
in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it.
Most English translations draw the same, but unfortunately incorrect, conclusion that God put Adam in the garden to work IT and to guard IT (the garden). However, in Hebrew, the Lord’s language, nouns and pronouns depict gender. Hebrew has no ‘it’; only ‘her’ or ‘him’.
The noun, garden, GaN, is masculine. Meanwhile, the correct translation of the key words in verse 15 is “to work HER, and to guard HER”. Therefore, it is clear that Adam was not put in the garden to work and guard the garden.
Ancient Jewish wisdom informs us that Adam was put in the garden to work and guard his soul. That, after all, is what was described back in verse 7. After a seven verse diversion describing the garden, we return to discussing the soul, NeSHaMaH, which, as you have probably surmised, is feminine. Soul is the only noun that could be the object of ‘work’ and ‘guard’ in verse 15.
The Garden (Eden) in its very essence expressed the idea of a safe place for humanity, with Adam being asked to follow only one prohibition as his contribution, thus working and protecting his soul. The Hebrew makes this clear.
The word for garden is GaN.
The word for defense, as in the Israeli Defense Force, is HaGaNaH.
The word for shield is MaGeN.
You can see that they are all related words. Gardens are where we put things that we want to defend and protect. And despite Adam having failed, this is exactly how we are to best treat our souls. We must construct a garden for them to remain safe and secure so that they can play their role in helping us overcome the tribulations we all face.
20 thoughts on “Not Your Average English Country Garden”
Thank you for this insight into the garden and our souls. I find tending the garden a time for reflection and clearing of thoughts. I call it tractor therapy, but it can also be trowel therapy, depending which I’m using. I grew up on a farm, spending hours going back and forth across the fields. A friend of mine had suggested gardening as a therapy for PTSD, but the desk jockies didn’t get it. Your comments reinforce how right he was!
I think that working on the soil making anything grow, whether in a window box in a tenement in the sky or driving a tractor along furrows on a vast field, is incredibly therapeutic because you’re in close contact with how the world REALLY works. No grow-no live. Thanks for writing John
After listening and reading your thoughts from Ancient Jewish Wisdom, I almost wonder now what I knew before. Truly God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His Ways are higher than our ways, and I am forever grateful for you and Susan who are God’s faithful stewards. I gained so much insight from your understanding about Eric Clapton’s experience as I had a similar experience. I was alive in body and my soul was operating in processing all but none of God. One day, a man came to tell me that God loves me in which my reply was stern and angry. Then the man came to me the next day and told me that God loves me and I would surely put a stop to it because he would catch me off guard and leave me to think about it. But the third time he came, my reaction was a change of mind (soul) and I begin to cultivate the idea. It felt as though the soil of my heart (garden) had begin to soften because after many years of being hard, I began to cry. I told God I was sorry and that I wanted Him in my life. Those words the man breathed were life (spirit, water). And my garden began to grow. I begin to see God’s purpose and the beauty of why I am here. Could the KJV Genesis 2:7 be a good translation, as it shows that man has 3 parts like God (made in His image)? The number of the verse is 7 meaning completion. I have some basic telecom engineering experience, so I liken the creation of man to computers made of hardware (body), CPU (processing or soul), and software (words, spirit). I could be getting ahead of myself. When I get a little knowledge, I yearn understanding. Another possible correlation is when Adam sewn fig leaves to dress themselves. It was never God’s intention for us (Adam) to dress ourselves, that’s His job; but rather to mind (tend) to relationships (the hearts of man) and keep (manage) those by encouraging (spirit) or building them up. Later in Genesis 6:3, it mentions that God’s spirit will not always strive with man…does this mean that His Spirit would be taken away (our lack of Godly desire) and man must choose life in God in order to know God (Spirit)?
Thank you for such an interesting letter. I have long, in speeches, podcast ( https://soundcloud.com/rabbi-daniel-lapin-show ) and writing used computer hardware and software as a useful analog for our bodies and our souls. I was happy to see you make the same connection.
Ditto, all the above. Please keep both your and Susan’s Insights and teachings coming for as long as God gives you the ability to do so.
God bless you both.
Thank you Brian–
Your blessing is so much appreciated by us both.
Thank you, Rabbi Lapin and Susan! As Gail mentioned first, finding a readable English version of the Bible is difficult (I struggled with it as well.) while realizing that all translations will have some theological “bend”.
Therefore, I see my responsibility to “work and guard my soul” by finding good teachers (like Rabbi and Susan and our local rabbis or pastors) and do all I can to learn Hebrew and study the most familiar key words, phrases, and ideas, and common patterns throughout the Scriptures.
I know my own physical Butterfly/Bee flower garden takes great effort to maintain. And I can’t leave it unattended before weeds or bugs try to overtake it. How much more my spirit, my relationships, or my family?
Thank you for writing a letter with such beautiful metaphors. We have often spoken and written (mostly in the podcast https://soundcloud.com/rabbi-daniel-lapin-show ) of how the natural universe’s law of entropy attempts to smother and strangle all our efforts to push ahead, whether in a literal garden or whether tending one’s soul. Have you read The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton Porter? I recommend it!
Thank you for your Thought Tools and all the other resources you provide. Can you give more information on the soul or point me to teachings that you already have? What I mean is, we commonly use the word in a way that might be synonymous with spirit, and sometimes we use it in conjunction with spirit (body, soul, & spirit), but in the King James version of Genesis 2:7, it sounds like it might the entire being. Bless you for your contribution to our knowledge of God’s word.
I talk about the soul-body connection a lot on my podcast shows available free here: https://soundcloud.com/rabbi-daniel-lapin-show and also in my book, Business Secrets From The Bible. Click up at the top of this page on STORE and look for it there. Soul is the spiritual part of our beings which endure eternally even after the material part, the body, departs. One of the biggest mistakes so many make is not realizing that the soul has its needs every bit as urgently as the body. But being spiritual we don’t automatically sense it as we do the physical needs and cravings.
Once again Rabbi, you have beautifully illuminated God’s word. I am awestruck how we are “lost in translation” but am forever grateful for you. I am sending this on to a young man who is unfortunately imitating Eric Clapton’s life pre surrender. Praying over your words.
I join you in prayer that it should be instrumental in turning a life around, Kathy,
Given that young men may be more likely to listen to audio than to read words, you could point him to my current podcast (Here: https://soundcloud.com/rabbi-daniel-lapin-show ) entitled “When will power is not enough” and in which I go into the entire Eric Clapton story and the lesson in greater depth than in this short Thought Tool. (I also play some Clapton music)
Thank you for this story, Rabbi. No matter how bad things seems, there’s always someone who has had things far worse.
I also appreciate your Hebrew tutorials, both here and on your TV show (with thanks to Susan, too).
Thank you Susan–
So happy to hear that you also get a chance to see our TV show (always available here: http://www.tct.tv/watch-tct/on-demand-ajw ) That someone has things worse than we do, is scarce consolation. However, what does help is knowing how quickly and unexpectedly salvation and transformation can come. The sun will rise.
Rabbi Lapin. I would like to know your insight in Deuteronomy 6:4. Jesus referred to this as the greatest commandment. Will you break down the meaning of Love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. Thank you and I greatly appreciate you and Susan’s wisdom and service. Shalom Brent Holland
We have written on this in our Thought Tools publications (See Store button above) several times. I wish my schedule allowed me to do so again here and now but unfortunately that is not an option for me. You are right that the commandment to which you allude is worthy of deeper understanding.
More than just Food For Thought.
This was a delicious FEAST!
Thank you for such encouraging words expressed so eloquently. Susan and I both appreciate it.
This message reminds me how important translation of the Bible can be. I know I will never get the complete meaning in English versions, (which is why you are my Rabbi), but what translation of the Bible would you recommend that I buy? Which ones more accurately reflect the original meaning of the text? Thank you for considering my question. Gail
Very tough question, Gail,
I like the Jerusalem Bible by Koren publishers but again I do stress that not only is there no authoritatively reliable English translation but there could not be one. The Torah is so densely packed with data that the normal publishing requirement that the English page keeps track with its Hebrew partner cannot work. Even the beginning of an attempt at translation would require at least a seven to one ratio of space. Seven English pages for each Hebrew one. That is the problem.
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