River Revival

Hannah is a full-time mom working strenuously, with her husband’s partnership, to raise five delightful (but rambunctious) children.  Sometimes, the daily pressures threaten to overwhelm her, and she finds herself snapping shrewishly at her family.

Jake recently launched his own small business. He is hoping soon to marry his girlfriend, whose family is equally enthusiastic about the pending union.  However, Jake sabotages his success by procrastination and by allowing unimportant distractions to derail him.

Henry, a middle-aged, senior-level executive suspects he is losing the respect of his professional associates and is increasingly estranged from his wife.  He often ends his day feeling depressed and miserable.

Hannah, Jake, and Henry all suffer from exactly the same problem and Scripture provides the prescription.

A river flows out from Eden to water the Garden,
and from there it is divided and becomes four headwaters.

Genesis 2:10

Unfortunately, maps prove that no such arrangement of waterways ever existed. Another problem: If the purpose of the river is to “water the Garden,” it ought to flow into Eden rather than out from Eden. 

Clearly there must be more to this story than improbable geography.  Ancient Jewish wisdom helps by showing how the main river represents the human yearning to achieve our best life.  The river flowing from Eden makes it possible for us to swim back upstream to our own personal Eden. 

This ‘waterway to wonderful results’ comprises four basic rivers representing our four basic drives.  Each needs to be developed and focused if we are to head towards Eden.

Why four basic drives?  We possess both physical and spiritual needs and the world can provide us with both physical and spiritual commodities. Combined, that makes four drives.  Here they are with examples of how each drive is fulfilled.

  • What I need physically and the world supplies physically: food, water, shelter
  • What I need physically and the world supplies spiritually: friendship, connection, love, and esteem of others
  • What I need spiritually and the world supplies physically: a sense of security, beauty and culture
  • What I need spiritually and the world supplies spiritually: a connection with God, gaining of wisdom

In other words, the four Biblical rivers that lead us to the main canal of contentment represent four categories of human need.  Our desires and motivations come from our being both physical and spiritual creatures operating in a world that supplies both physical and spiritual commodities. 

Someone who ignores category 1 leaving himself and his family hungry and cold while vigorously advancing himself in category 4 would be viewed as foolish and perhaps even evil.  Similarly,  single-mindedly increasing one’s bank account while ignoring human relationships is sheer folly. 

Ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizes that as complex beings, people need to experience growth and progress in each of these four categories if they are to live purposeful, successful, and fulfilling lives. 

We all know that we need food, water and shelter.  However, categories 2, 3, and 4 are less blatantly obvious and more easily ignored.  In the same way that balance is important in diet, exercise and investment portfolios, balance is equally important in healthily developing our life blueprint.

This Biblical model brings into our lives the ability to balance our existence.  This balance is critical.  For instance, my very capacity to earn money or relate to my spouse and children will be diminished if I do not also work at gaining wisdom and spiritual connection at the same time.  Think of it as a balanced diet. 

Hannah, Jake, and Henry need to study the rivers of Genesis. They should work on identifying the categories they are neglecting.  Their unhappiness will start to dispel once they begin repair work. 


4 thoughts on “River Revival”

  1. Thank You Rabbi Lapin,
    So God made the world physical and spiritual then He made us also physical and spiritual. Very interesting. The food, water and shelter seems to come first for sure. Folks in my life our very concerned about eating and I am the chief cook. It is a responsibility that takes quite a bit of my time, but my family eats healthy (mostly) home cooked meals and I get to feel good about that.
    The 2nd drive is the one where I am very much lacking and if I don’t do something about it soon, I just think I may go crazy! I hope next year to find a women’s group of some sort or start one of my own.
    Thank you once again for your words of wisdom. Btw, do you plan to come to what is called the Greater Cincinnati Area ever? I live across the river from Cincinnati in Northern Kentucky.
    God Bless,
    Terry Sterling

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Terry–
      Please don’t think there’s nothing spiritual about food and about feeding God’s children as you do so devotedly. Nonetheless, you will enjoy linking up with a faith family. I can guarantee you that within driving distance of where you live in Northern Kentucky, there absolutely is a church waiting at which you will feel very much at home and where you’ll find spiritual nourishment.

  2. Great post; but how do you get someone to read this and act on it? I have a very unhappy middle aged child with a Type A personality (like I had when younger)… If I could only get this child to read this and start considering parts 2 – 4! I let the child emote when discussing problems, and if an “opening” occurs I try to slip in a little wisdom; however, I can also receive scathing blow back and a lecture on being of “old school”. Does everyone have to be desperately depressed or at an extreme low point in life before one can listen? Again, I did when I was younger, but after about mid 30’s I listened much better… mostly because I was miserable. Maybe I can forward this Thought Tool! Thanks!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Good luck Arthur–
      One of life’s painful milestones is recognizing that you can no longer kiss the bruise and make the pain go away for our children. I am sure that you have become adept at allowing the scathing blow back to flow off you like water off a duck’s back. For the most part, we can only respond to requests for advice or opinion; any unsolicited offering is usually unwelcome and there is little point in harming a relationship in that way.
      I hope you do have other more successful offspring from whom you derive pride and pleasure

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