Create and Maintain Your Own Garden of Eden by Sarah Lehrfield
There is a famous prayer many say at the beginning of the morning service that begins with the words Mah Tovu Ohaleicha Yaakov (How beautiful are your tents and dwelling places Jewish People)!”
These words are found in this week’s fascinating Torah portion, Parshat Balak. The Jews are approaching the end of their 40 years wandering in the desert. As they make their way to the Land of Israel, they arrive at the plains of Moab. Balak, king of Moab, is afraid of the Jews and comes up with a strategy to protect himself and his land: hire Bilaam, a prophet and diviner, to curse the Israelites.
Through a series of unusual events, Bilaam makes his way with Balak to a spot above the encampment of the Jewish people so he can curse them. Yet each time he tries, only blessings come out of his mouth. One of the most magnificent blessings he proclaims is the very verse we mentioned: “How beautiful are your tents and dwelling places Jewish People!”
Is Bilaam complimenting the physical beauty of the tents? Is he acknowledging the Israelites’ fine taste in decor and design?
Rashi, the classic, 12th-century commentator on the Torah, explains that Bilaam gave vivid testimony to the way the Jewish tents and homes were situated when they encamped; the entrance of each tent was not aligned one opposite the other. Rather they created a sense of privacy and ensured the sanctity of each personal home and domain. There was no way to peek into each other’s lives. Bilaam was so moved by what he saw that he blessed the Jewish people and their modesty instead of cursing them.
Bilaam’s pronouncement shares the same underlying message we give a bride and groom at their wedding. One of the blessings they receive under the chuppah is “Be very happy beloved friends, like the happiness of G-d’s creations in the Garden of Eden.”
What was unique about the first couple in the Garden of Eden? It was only them! The reality they were in gave them absolute and total clarity: This person was created for me. There was no question about anyone else and therefore no possibility of making a mistake. To the bride and groom we say, Once you choose who you are with and you make that commitment, live with the clarity Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden! This person is the one you are supposed to be with, with all of attendant the challenges and the blessings (obviously barring any abusive relationships or situations). That is the happiness we want for the couple, the happiness that comes from absolute clarity.
Yet living with this clarity is difficult for one main reason: Our Garden of Eden does not contain me, my spouse and our children alone. It is not just us.
We have inadvertently allowed many others to enter our personal world and we have entered the domain of others. We compare our marriages, our children, our wealth, our successes, our vacations (or lack thereof) to everyone else in our “world,” whether through social media or casual conversation. We have shared (maybe even flaunted) positive details of our lives with others, unintentionally causing them to compare their lives to ours and feel jealous of us. We have listened as others over-share personal information, whether at Starbucks, the gym, a party or when chatting with friends at synagogue or a school function. Often we leave these conversations or social media outlets feeling bad about ourselves or unhappy with our own lives.
So how do we maintain Adam-and-Eve clarity? How do we create and sustain our Garden of Eden? Don't let others in and don't enter the Garden of Eden of those around you. Before we casually share information or post on Facebook, we should pause and ask ourselves two things:
1. Is this something I need to share with others? Will it detract from my own personal Garden of Eden? Sometimes the true sweetness of success or accomplishment is felt when it remains personal and exclusive. Keeping a special milestone or experience only between yourself and your spouse beautifies your Garden.
2. Is this something that will make others feel jealous and compare themselves to me? Maybe we should tell our spouses how much we love and appreciate them rather than posting that message publicly. Show our mothers or mothers-in-law the gifts our spouses gave us. Share our work accomplishments with our nuclear families.
Our tents are not set up as they should – as they could – be. Society has crept its way into the values and morals of the Jewish people and the entrances to our tents are now facing each other, wide open.
We all want to feel grateful every day. We all want the clarity of that first couple in the Garden of Eden. So do it! Create it! Maintain and sustain it! Harness the blessing of Bilaam and create the same reality as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Create your own Garden of Eden just as our ancestors did in the desert.
Sarah Lehrfield is a JWRP City Leader and the daughter of a City Leader. She is passioniate about running, reading classics, being a listening ear for others and bringing the wisdom and relevancy of Judaism to all Jews. She teaches classes and runs women's programming for the Jewish Outreach Initiative (JOI). She lives in the burbs of Denver, Colorado with her husband, 3 kids, and plenty of snow gear.