There is a wonderful story told in the Talmud and also taken up in Zoharic literature, about four rabbis who enter Pardes, the Orchard. It seems they set out to perform tikkune for the sin of Adam as a team effort, for they were all respected sages of their time. Here is part of the account of their adventure from the Talmud:
The Rabbis taught: Four entered the Pardes. They were Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva said to them, "When you come to the place of pure marble stones, do not say, 'Water! Water!' for it is said, 'He who speaks untruths shall not stand before My eyes' (Psalms 101:7)". Ben Azzai gazed and died. Regarding him the verse states, 'Precious in the eyes of G-d is the death of His pious ones' (Psalms 116:15). Ben Zoma gazed and was harmed. Regarding him the verse states, 'Did you find honey? Eat as only much as you need, lest you be overfilled and vomit it' (Proverbs 25:16). Acher cut down the plantings. Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and left in peace.
In the Tikunei Zohar the story is extended:
The ancient Saba (an old man) stood up and said (to Shimon bar Yochai), "Rabbi, Rabbi! What is the meaning of what Rabbi Akiva said to his students, “When you come to the place of pure marble stones, do not say 'Water! Water!' lest you place yourselves in danger, for it is said, 'He who speaks untruths shall not stand before My eyes.'” But it is written, 'There shall be a firmament between the waters and it shall separate between water (above the firmament) and water (below the firmament)' (Genesis 1:6). Since the Torah describes the division of the waters into upper and lower, why should it be problematic to mention this division? Furthermore, since there are upper and lower waters why did Rabbi Akiva warn them, “do not say, 'Water! Water!'”"
The Holy Lamp (a title for Shimon bar Yochai) replied, "Saba, it is proper that you reveal this secret that the chevraya (Rabbi Shimon's circle of disciples) have not grasped clearly."
The ancient Saba answered, "Rabbi, Rabbi, Holy Lamp. Surely the pure marble stones are the letter yud - one the upper yud of the letter aleph, and one the lower yud of the letter aleph. Here there is no spiritual impurity, only pure marble stones, so there is no separation between one water and the other; they form a single unity from the aspect of the Tree of Life, which is the vav in the midst of the letter aleph. In this regard it states, 'and if he take of the Tree of Life (and eat and live forever)' (Genesis 3:22)..."
Things did not turn out well for three of these adventurers. It seems that Ben Azai, who “gazed and died,” desired union with God so much that he refused to stay in the world of apparent duality, thus, he left his body and physical reality for the world of Spirit, unable to anchor the Light for others, not willing to wait for God’s will to be revealed in and through material creation over time.
Ben Zoma relied very heavily on his own mental prowess, so when he tried to reconcile the paradox of what he was seeing in vision, he went insane. Acher, (the Other), Elisha Ben Avuya, also relied on his own mental understanding. It is recounted that he saw the angel, Metatron, seated in God’s Presence. Acher decided that there must be “two authorities in Heaven” and therefore, became a heretic, “cutting the plantings” in the Orchard by cutting apart that which was not meant to be separate, deserting the truth of God’s oneness.
Rabbi Akiva was the only sage that entered and departed the Orchard in peace. He was the only one who did not demand to understand the mysteries he witnessed, who did not rely on his own mental powers to try to understand the Divine. He walked in faith, believing in the inseparability of God and Creation despite appearances. He had the humility to wait upon the Spirit of Adonai for continuing illumination all according to God’s will, according to what God had for him in that incarnation. As the psalmist states in Psalm 131:
1 O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
This story brings many intriguing contemplations to mind but what stands out at this time for me is the idea that these four rabbis, all devoted to God, seem to represent stages in the path of spiritual evolution. Some may recognize the stage of the mystic who just wants to stay in the “spiritual” realms, enjoying those lovely blissful encounters that can become obstructions to one who grasps at them. Without integrating these experiences and anchoring the Light and Truth of our experiences, these can degrade into nothing more than spiritual entertainments, inflating the ego but doing little to grow toward illumination. There are many saints described in Christian orthodox tradition who desired God so much that they found the world distasteful, not recognizing that we are meant to walk in the world embodying the Christ Spirit for others.
Attempting to understand the Mysteries of God with the finite mind could certainly lead to madness. It is not uncommon for spiritual aspirants to go only so far as their mind can take them, not realizing that there are much greater realizations available through grace, unable to move beyond mental being and constructs of the human mind. Demanding explanations of the Mysteries only keeps one in self-grasping, spinning strange projections of truth, even bizarre doctrines, in a vain effort to resolve apparent contradictions.
Rabbi Akiva demonstrates both spiritual humility and spiritual pride. He walks in faith, and in pure devotion to the Holy One of Being as a Light Bearer, yet makes no demand of the Most High, El Elyon. This sage is one who is ready and willing to evolve in realization of higher and higher gradations of illumination, serving as teacher and guide along the way.
Perhaps all of these stages are necessary for the evolution of the Holy Soul of Light, and may even be experienced in one incarnation to some extent. This is our sacred journey of tikkune, tikkune of our soul and the tikkune of the soul of all the world. One message I also find in this story is that the tikkune of the sin of Adam is something that must be accomplished as a whole in each of us, not performed piecemeal as the rabbis intended, (according to Rabbi Yitzchak Luria’s teachings), at the outset of their journey. Yet the idea of each of us accomplishing our portion of the tikkune in community also comes to mind, and this would likely require a body of one heart and one mind, abiding in the Sanctuary of Grace, not the divided hearts and minds of the three unsuccessful rabbis in the story. So, there are many messages and many layers of wisdom to be drawn out in this story, and I look forward to the teachings Mother may have for us here, for Christian Gnostics who are called as Light Bearers in the Messiah.
May we be blessed with wisdom, understanding and knowledge of the mysteries, abiding and rejoicing in our portion given us by the Holy One of Being!