“In the name of the Lord, the God of Israel: On my right Michael, on my left Gabriel, before me Uriel, behind me Raphael. Above my head the Presence of God.”
– from the traditional prayer before retiring in the evening.
My beloved firstborn son, Avraham David, was one of eight innocent youths cruelly murdered on the eve of Rosh Chodesh Adar Bet three years ago at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav by an Arab terrorist.
One of the many rabbis who visited me while I was sitting shivah asked me if I had a copy of the Zohar, the basic text of Jewish mysticism, in my library. I retrieved it for him. He opened the volume and marked a place. “Look here when you have a chance, yes, here,” was all he said. Weeks later I remembered his visit and began to read the Aramaic text.
“R. Aba began his homily: It is written, ‘The Heavens are the Heavens of God, but the Earth He gave to Man’ (Psalms 115). This is a verse worth inspecting. It should have read, ‘The Heavens are God’s, but the Earth He gave to Man.’ Why repeat ‘heavens?’ Rather, we need to see that there is a heaven and there is a heaven. A lower heaven, beneath which lies an earth. An upper heaven, beneath which lies an earth. And all of the contents, upper and lower, all are similar, these just like these.”
The text goes on to explain in great detail how the Ten Divine Spheres are aligned – upper mirrored by lower, the lower receiving their powers from the emanations of the upper. It tells of letters that travel up and down along rivers of light that ascend and descend between the two heavens, the two Gardens of Eden. They shine and flicker in the light, moving back and forth, entering and exiting the two parallel worlds, one above and one below.
I slowly made my way through the Aramaic, wondering why this rabbi had sent me here. Then the text began to describe something else.
“When the soul of a righteous man rises up to the Garden of Eden these two letters leave the light and descend upon that soul.”
But these are not letters – rather they are chariots, one the glowing chariot of the angel Michael, the other that of Raphael.
“They approach the soul and say, ‘Come in peace, come in peace, come in peace.’ “
Next, two more glowing chariots approach. They belong to the angels Gabriel and Denoriel.
“They take the soul and enter the secret hall of the Garden – called Divinity. There, twelve species of spices are hidden and there are all the souls’ garments, an appropriate one for every individual soul to wear, each tailor-made. And woven into these garments are the good deeds that each soul did in this world. Every one is part of the garment. They proclaim, ‘this is the garment of so-and-so’ and they take that garment and dress that righteous soul in the Garden with his proper clothing, just as one would in this world .
“Once dressed, the soul is directed to its proper place. Then the chariots depart. In this heaven are twenty-two letters – each dripping dew. With this dew the souls are bathed and are healed . And they in turn pour this dew upon those who learn Torah in our world with no expectation of reward . and the souls in turn are nourished with this dew.”
Then the text describes how the souls ascend from this heaven to the next where they glow and bask in the divine light of the upper heaven.
“How wonderful the portion of those souls who are dressed in their garments, the garments worn by the righteous in the Garden of Eden. These garments made of the good deeds done by men in this world in accord with the commandments of the Torah. This is how the souls exist in the lower Garden, in these fine clothes.
“But when a soul ascends to the upper heavens, it is granted garments even finer than these. These are woven out of the individual’s will and his heart’s intent during study and prayer . Yes, even though these lower garments depend upon actions, these upper garments depend upon nothing but the soul’s desire, all so that it [the soul] may stand among the angels, the holy spirits. This is the truth of the matter. So R. Shimon bar Yochai, the Holy Light, learned from Elijah: the lower garments of the earthly garden are made from deeds; the upper garments from will and the heart’s intention.”