Nitzavim 5768 - The Desert Rose

By Rebbetzin Malkah

As we are coming to end of the season of Elul, we struggle with our own existence, the nature of our desires, and seek to find ourselves in a place that will be deemed righteous on Rosh Hashanah.  Thoughts of repentance surround our days and actions.  But where does all of this take us as we stand on Rosh Hashanah with the Book of Life opened on the very day when man was created in the Garden of Eden?  What does it mean to be alive with our Creator?

Out of Sight But Never Out of Mind

For this commandment which I command you today is not hidden from you, nor is it distant. It is not in Heaven, so that it would be said, "Who will go up to Heaven and take if for us, so that we should hear it and do it? It is not beyond the sea, so that it should be said, "Who will cross the sea and take it for us so that we should hear it and do it?  Rather the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may do it.                                   Devarim 30:11-14

In Genesis we read of a river of great significance:

"A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden. From there it divided and became four major rivers [heads]. The name of the first is Pishon... the name of the second is river is Gichon... the name of the third river is the Tigris which flows to the east of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates."  Bereishis (2:10-14)

According to the Talmud, the river that ‘flowed out of Eden is the Euphrates, which waters ‘the garden,' and then continues and divides into four rivers (Bechorot 55b). If we look today, the Euphrates does indeed join the Tigris River to form the Shatt Al-'Arab, which flows into the Persian Gulf. However, we do not find the other two rivers or the Garden of Eden.

If the geographical details are mapped out in the Torah regarding Gan Eden, why can't we find it?  Why do we trek through life, a desert at times, with the tease and the memory of a place nowhere to be found?  Our Sages have intimated that perhaps the Garden of Eden is an ethereal state of being.  Maybe it is somewhere between the perceived existence of matter and spirit. Maybe the Garden of Eden still exists on Earth; however, due to our fallen state, we cannot perceive it.  But what of another theory that has been offered by some scientists -  that the location of Eden is now hidden beneath the mouth of the Persian Gulf?  Must we go below the waters to fetch Eden - this hidden, sublime world lost?

Returning to our quote from Devarim, must we ascend into the heavens in order to find this wonderful existence? Or do we need to go scuba diving in the Persian Gulf to return this feeling of walking in the Garden in harmony?  This is part of the quest during Elul - to return to our Creator and make right what went wrong in the Garden.   This season provokes us to ask the ultimate question:  where are we going, what drives us and why?

Recalling what the beginning verse is actually alluding to might be helpful.  For this commandment, which I command you today, is not hidden from you, nor is it distant. Verse eleven actually alludes to the commandment of returning or shuvah. We are capable of doing this without the aid of a prophet or a professional diver.  It is not beyond us, nor is it impossible for us to draw close to our Creator through the mitzvah of repentance.  But yet it seems difficult at best trying to truly return and remain in a state of closeness with Hashem.  It is as if we draw ever closer to Gan Eden and then retreat as many steps on a daily basis.   What to do?

The Rose Above and The Rose Below

"As the rose is among the thorns, so is my love among the maidens."  (Song of Songs 2:2)

Who is the rose - it is Knesset Israel, the community of Yisrael, which is Malchut (a kingdom).

For there is a rose above and a rose below.  What of the rose among the thorns? It has red and white, just as Knesset Yisrael has justice and mercy.  Just as a rose has thirteen petals, so Knesset Yisrael has thirteen attributes of compassion enveloping it on all sides.

And there are five strong petals on which the rose is set and they were called salvations and now they are known as five gates.  And this rose is called the cup of blessing, of which it is said, "I will take up the cup of salvation..."  (Tehillim 116:13)

Opening lines of the Zohar

Our preparations during Elul are focused on our longing for forgiveness.  Like a man dying of thirst in the desert, we are desperate for an oasis.  We squint to see meaning in our lives and seek to fulfill our passions and desires.   Like the man lost in the desert, we search to find paradise in a world that has lost its Garden.  To happen upon a haven of true closeness and harmony seems a feat impossible - no such place has existed since the Garden of Eden.

If we were to reach this spiritual pinnacle on earth, not only would our love for Hashem be rekindled, but our hearts would be filled with divine passion.  Until we reach that destination, however, we have a rose in the desert of our lives to attract us with sweetness to this place of refuge: a rose none other than Mashiach Yeshua.  He will assume the role of the Thirteen-Petalled Rose in our realm that will draw us, awaken our souls and bring us to Gan Eden.   But this can only be possible if we are haunted by the gaping hole in our lives, the collective memory of Gan Eden, and the distance that separates us from our Creator. Only when we are craving the sweet fragrance of repentance and salvation will the ethereal and submerged Gan Eden be restored for Knesset Yisrael.  We won't have to rise to the heavens, or sink into the abyss:  we merely need to be stirred by the scent of repentance and the yearning for salvation.  Only then, will we truly find ourselves in the Book of Life.

Long before our existence, Hashem built into the world a means of salvation. Within the first passages of Genesis, we see the story of creation unfold.  The prose of the Zohar takes the image to a greater level and intimates that Hashem's Thirteen Attributes (Thirteen Attributes of Compassion or Mercy) existed at that time when the heavens were separated- one set above and one below.  This is seen by the use of the name Elohim, the name of G-d associated with Creation. This is symbolized by the Thirteen-Petalled Rose that protects Yisrael and is the secret to her return.   Hashem is seen as being above as the Rose Above in the heavens, and the Spirit of Elohim, Mashiach Yeshua, hovering over the waters as the Rose Below as shown in this verse:

Thus, between the first mention of the name Elohim, WHICH APPEARS IN THE PASSAGE, "IN THE BEGINNING ELOHIM CREATED" (BERESHEET 1:1) TO THE SECOND MENTION OF ELOHIM, THERE ARE THIRTEEN WORDS IN THE VERSE, WHICH TRANSLATE AS "THE, HEAVEN, AND THE, EARTH, AND THE EARTH, WAS, WITHOUT FORM, AND VOID, AND DARKNESS, WAS UPON, THE FACE, OF THE DEEP, AND THE SPIRIT" (IBID. 2). These words surround and guard the Community of Yisrael.    Zohar, Vol. 1, Prologue, 1

In the beginning G-d created the heaven and the earth. Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep and the Spirit of G-d was hovering over the face of the water. Bereishis  1 : 1-2

The interesting connection between this passage in Bereishis and the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion (found in Shemot 34:6-7) and the Thirteen Petalled Rose is this:  there are thirteen words in Hebrew between the first reference of the word Elohim and the second reference of Elohim. Here we can see that this mechanism of return was created at the very inception of creation. The Thirteen Attributes, the key to fixing our brokenness, and the Mashiach were created before Gan Eden and all mankind as the way to return.  This Rose, this salvation cry, was predestined for us whenever we needed to find our way back to Hashem.

This plays itself out as the prescription for salvation throughout history in the phrase, "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."   We find this passage in Joel 2:32, in Acts 2:21 and in Romans 10:13.  Surely it wasn't just some shout of Hashem's name but the calling out of the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion.

Finding Our Way Home

While we have no garden to run to, we still have the river Euphrates as a reminder in our quest.  The Torah elucidates that the Euphrates comes from Eden itself and waters the Garden of Eden.  Perhaps we need to follow the river back to our place of origin.  In this same vein, if we draw a parallel between Mashiach Yeshua and the Euphrates , then we realize that in him we have the hope that will bring us to the ultimate:  not the Garden of Eden, but Eden within from which the true living water flows.

Now on the last day of the festival, [Sukkot] Yeshua stood and cried out, "If anyone is thirsty, let him keep coming to me and drinking! 38 Whoever puts his trust in me, as the Scripture says, rivers of living water will flow from his inmost being!"         Yochanan 7:37-38 [Jewish New Testament]

At Passover Yeshua blessed the third cup and connected it with his destiny.  That cup represents the cup of salvation through which G-d pours out His ultimate source of blessing.  Through the flowing water of Messiah Yeshua, we have closeness with the Holy One.  This is the true nature of our longing in life: we are looking for the source, we are yearning for the essence of our existence - we are seeking Eden and the Creator.

But in order to receive that closeness with Hashem, it has to be more than desire that propels us.  We have to drink of the water which Mashiach Yeshua pours out to us:  waters filled with redemption and forgiveness.  And for that, we must repent.  We must stand before the Rose Below that is Mashiach Yeshua and call out to the Rose Above, Hashem, with the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion.  This key to repentance, coined at the moment of creation, is the secret to fixing all that is broken within us.  It is the mechanism by which we are realigned and provoked to true shuvah and a holy desire to be one with the Divine.

Carrying the Rose

As we walk these next few days into Rosh Hashanah, may we do so carrying the Rose of Mashiach within us.  May we realize that the source of the Rose's power is beyond our comprehension, but not beyond our lips and our hearts.  In our Selichot prayers, like a beacon, the Thirteen Petalled Rose will turn us towards Hashem and right our path.  It  promises to provide protection, redemption and life if only we will open up the petals of our hearts like a rose.  As each layer slowly opens and reveals that which is hidden, may we find ourselves deep in the sweet fragrance of forgiveness and the waters that the Divine has for the Garden in our soul.

Shabbat Shalom....

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