[augmented by Shaar Maamarei Chazal (p. 3b on Chagiga 14b), in square brackets with (SMC) at the end.]

Four entered the Orchard (Pardes). They were Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher [literally, "the Other", referring to Elisha ben Abuya], and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva warned them, "When you enter near the stone of pure marble, do not say 'water, water,' since [there is actually no water there at all, and] it is written, 'He who speaks falsehood will not be established before My eyes' (Psalms 101:7)."

Ben Azzai gazed and died. Regarding him it is written, "Precious in G‑d's eyes is the death of His pious ones" (Psalms 116:15).

Ben Zoma gazed and was stricken [with insanity; he went out of his mind]. Regarding him it is written, "You have found honey, eat moderately lest you bloat yourself and vomit it". (Proverbs 25:16)

Acher gazed and cut the plantings [i.e. he became a heretic].

Rabbi Akiva [entered in peace and] departed in peace...

(Chagiga 14b)

The ministering angels also wished to cast down Rabbi Akiva, but the Holy One said, "Leave this elder alone, for he is worthy of making use of My glory"

(Chagiga 15b)

Since Adam committed his sin, we have been eating its fruits [suffering its consequences] throughout the entire period of This World. It will not be rectified completely until the advent of the Mashiach.

Now, these four sages were some of the greatest of their generation. [They were extraordinary in wisdom and piety, as is known, for they were able to see with Ruach HaKodesh, and they mastered the discipline of Maaseh Merkava, the Work of the Chariot (SMC).] Their intention therefore was nothing less than to rectify what Adam had caused to be defective.

It is possible that they intended to rectify the entire sin. Possibly, they wanted to rectify those aspects of Adam's sin that related directly to the root of their souls in Adam.

These sages saw and understood that they would have to rectify the very thing that Adam damaged. Adam had prematurely enlarged the keter of Zeir Anpin [before Shabbat], that is, before the entry of the mochin of Abba. This is what caused all the damage mentioned above. [That is, Zeir's daat, from the side of Imma, fell and descended below between his shoulders, into the upper third of the sefira of tiferet. (SMC)] It is therefore impossible to rectify that defect and raise up Zeir Anpin's daat, without first drawing up the fallen mochin of Abba and having them enter into Zeir. Only then will it be possible to rectify Zeir's keter, and to raise Zeir's daat up above to its place. With this, all will be rectified. These four sages wanted to rectify this defect by all four of them working together…

Know, therefore, that anyone who wants to rectify this defect must draw all four mochin of Abba, namely, chochma, bina, and daat (which is made up of two aspects, namely, chasadim and gevurot). In order to do this, a very great tikun is required.

Now, understand that these four sages wanted to rectify this defect by all four of them working together. That is, each one would concentrate on drawing up one of the four mochin of Abba. [They didn't think that each of them had the ability to draw up all four mochin. (SMC)] The problem is that they erred in thinking this way. The only way they could possibly have succeeded would be if each of them drew up all four mochin. You will therefore find that even Rabbi Akiva's life was endangered when the ministering angels (alternatively: the attribute of din/judgment) wanted to cast him down.

The fact is that this is truly astonishing. Why would the angels want to cast Rabbi Akiva down? [alt: Could the attribute of din have cast him down?] We can understand wanting to cast down the others, for they sinned and were worthy of being punished. Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, did not sin, but rather entered in peace [and departed in peace]. Why would they have cast him down had the Holy One not intervened and said "Leave this elder alone, for he is worthy of making use of My glory"?

The answer is, however, that Rabbi Akiva should have tried to rectify all four mochin of Abba. It matters not that, as we shall explain, in the process of concentrating on one, he was able to draw up all four. The fact remains that he should have striven to rectify all four and then draw them all up. Not having done so, this caused the angels to want to cast him down. And again, they would have done so, had the Holy One not intervened, saying that Rabbi Akiva was worthy after succeeding in drawing up all four by means of rectifying one.

This having been said, we will now begin to clarify the particular tikun that each of these sages intended to do:

Each of the Four Sages tried to raise up one of the Four Mochin of Abba:

Ben Azzai tried to raise up chochma of Abba
Ben Zoma tried to raise up bina of Abba
R' Akiva tried to raise up Crown of chesed [of daat]
Acher tried to raise up Crown of gevura [of daat]

Ben Azzai began by attempting to draw the chochma of Abba into Zeir Anpin. His assumption was that, if he could rectify the [fallen] chochma of Abba and draw it into Zeir Anpin, it [chochma of Abba] would then rise up and draw up the [fallen] chochma of Imma with it as well. Being on the right side [of Imma], which is the source of the chasadim [of daat], chochma of Imma would then draw up the fallen crown of chesed that had descended below (as mentioned above...) and raise it up to [its proper] position in daat. The chasadim of daat would then draw and raise up the [fallen] gevurot as well, being that the nature of chesed and gevura is always to join together. Similar to a man and wife, their sole desire is to unite, for in this sense they are like two mochin, like chochma and bina [which are called "two friends who never part"]. These two mochin-crowns…sought a more expansive place so that they could dwell at ease…

All this is true despite the fact that we explained above (...) that, when the chasadim and gevurot fell "between the shoulders," they became separated from each other, with the chasadim remaining on the right shoulder, and the gevurot remaining on the left shoulder. The reason this does not contradict what we said is because [ultimately] when these two mochin-crowns descended there, they found it to be a very constricted place. They therefore sought a more expansive place so that they could dwell at ease.

However [Ben Azzai reasoned], when the crown of chesed rises up, there is no question that the desire of the crown of gevura [to be one with its mate] will impel it to rise up together with it. In this way [he thought], daat would return to its place and all four mochin would surely be rectified.

And [again, according to Ben Azzai's plan] it was not necessary to draw the bina of Imma up together with chochma of Imma [although, in truth, that too had fallen], and to therefore draw up bina of Abba as well. This would be totally unnecessary for the simple reason that the entire purpose of drawing up and then bringing down the chochma and bina of Abba below, is to raise up the daat that had fallen below. Therefore, when the daat would rise up, the bina of Imma would rise up of its own accord. In truth, only daat descended…

However, Ben Azzai erred in his thoughts. For although we have explained elsewhere that both chochma and bina of Imma descended, this is not to be taken literally. In truth, only daat descended, for the reason that we mentioned above in connection with Adam's sin. The chochma and bina of Imma themselves, however, did not descend. Only their illumination [i.e. their NHY, that is, netzach-hod-yesod; otherwise called their "achorayim", their back side], the reason being that they had to stay close enough to keep daat alive [even] in its fallen state below. For daat is, after all, their offspring [i.e. of chochma and bina]. For daat is the chasadim and gevurot that came forth from chochma and bina of Imma, as is known.

In sum, the chochma and bina of Imma remain above, quite a distance from daat which descended below. When Ben Azzai then raised up the chochma of Imma by means of the chochma of Abba, the chochma of Imma did not have the power to raise up with her the fallen crown of chesed, because of its distance. Not only was chochma of Imma incapable to raising up the crown of chesed, however, but in addition, another defect occurred.

At first, [the illumination of] chochma of Imma was in fairly close proximity to both the chasadim and the gevurot, such that it was able to illuminate them and sweeten them. Now, however, when it rose up, it separated completely from the gevurot and became distant from them. As a result, they turned into extremely severe dinim [judgments] with no sweetening. Ben Azzai…died because he separated and cut chochma off from the gevurot

For bringing about such a situation, death was decreed upon Ben Azzai. He died because he separated and cut chochma off from the gevurot. He caused a cleavage and "cut the plantings", and in doing so, greatly amplified the power of the dinim [judgments]. He therefore died, in the mystery of the verse, "They shall die without wisdom" (Job 4:21). That is, "They shall die because chochma has departed from them."

Be that as it may, since Ben Azzai's tikun was with chochma, and his desire was to raise up the chochma of Imma and the chasadim, both of which are on the right side, it is therefore said concerning him, "Precious in G‑d's eyes is the death of His pious ones [in Hebrew, "chasidav", from the root word "chesed"]" (Psalms 116:15). [Chesed is in the right column, immediately beneath chochma.] That is, he was considered precious and a chasid in the [partial] tikun that he was successful in doing.

To continue with this explication of the fates of the Four Sages, click here

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim and Likutei Torah; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard." available at Kabbala Online Shop]

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.