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Kabbalah teaches that performing a mitzvah actually transforms a person’s soul.

In the Garden of Eden

In the Garden of Eden

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In the Garden of Eden
Kabbalah teaches that performing a mitzvah actually transforms a person’s soul.

“The G‑d L-rd [in Hebrew, ‘Havayah Elokim’] planted a garden in Eden….(Gen. 2:8)

Through the combination of all the elements that went into creating the garden, Adam became the most perfect physical creature….

Since the Torah already told us that G‑d personally fashioned Adam into a viable living creature prior to blowing into him the soul that made him into a human being, the Torah now tells us that He Himself, both the attribute of Justice [Elo-him] together with the attribute of Mercy [Havayah], planted this garden. The site was one of “eden”, meaning “extremely refined” or “sublime” in Hebrew. Through the combination of all the elements that went into creating the garden, Adam became the most perfect physical creature imaginable.

The fact that G‑d placed man into such a superior environment prior to his having performed a mitzvah to merit such bliss teaches us that serving G‑d is not like serving a human master. Service to a human master does not change one’s nature even when done quite loyally, to the best of one‘s ability. The reward one receives depends entirely on the goodwill of the master and does not become an integral part of the recipient. This is not so when one serves G‑d. Every mitzvah one performs transforms the very nature of the person performing it, his whole body becoming suffused with a degree of holiness, so that gradually the distance between him and his Creator shrinks, barriers are removed, and, eventually, his entire life-force becomes rooted in the Garden of Eden.

This is the case not only when one performs positive commandments involving positive actions but also when one merely refrains from violating G‑d’s laws. In other words, the reward of a righteous person becomes an integral part of his personality. This is also why Bereishit Rabba 9:9 states: ”If he merited it, it is the Garden of Eden, if not, it is Gehinom.” The Midrash does not say that man is given the Garden of Eden or is consigned to Gehinom, but that man’s very deeds make him part of one or the other.

[Selected with permission and adapted from the three-volume English edition of “Midrash of Rabbi Moshe Alshich on the Torah” by Eliyahu Munk]

Rabbi Moshe Alshich (1508-1600) was a rabbi and halachic authority in Safed and later in Damascus, ordained by Rabbi Yosef Caro. However, he was most famous for his eloquent sermons on the weekly Torah readings, and his works of commentary on nearly all of the 24 books of Scriptures.
Eliyahu Munk, the translator, was born in Frankfurt, and emigrated to England as a young man, later moving to Toronto. After retiring from education and moving to Israel in 1978, he began an extraordinary second career as a translator, publishing English versions of the Torah commentaries of Rabbeinu Bechayei, Akeidat Yitzchak, Shelah, Alshich and Ohr Hachaim.
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