Sad, Mad, Bad, and Glad

Just how far can we unfold the mystery of the four great men who entered the Pardes?

Talmud Bavli, Hagiga 14b:


תנו רבנן:
ארבעה נכנסו בפרדס, ואלו הן:
בן עזאי ובן זומא
אחר ורבי עקיבא

Our Rabbis taught:
Four entered the Pardes, namely:
Ben Azai and Ben Zoma,
Aher and Rabi Akiva

אמר להם רבי עקיבא:
כשאתם מגיעין אצל אבני שיש טהור
אל תאמרו
מים מים

Rabi Akiva said to them:
When you come against stones of pure marble
do not say
“Water, water”

משום שנאמר (תהלים ק”א)
דובר שקרים לא יכון לנגד עיני.

for it is stated (Psalms 101; 7)
“The speaker of lies will not be able to stand firm before my eyes”.

בן עזאי
הציץ ומת

Ben Azai:
Gazed and died

עליו הכתוב אומר (תהלים קט”ז)
יקר בעיני ה’ המותה לחסידיו.

it is of him that scripture says (Psalms 115;16)
“Precious is God’s eyes is the death of his saints”.

בן זומא
הציץ ונפגע

Ben Zoma:
Gazed and was stricken

ועליו הכתוב אומר (משלי כ”ה)
דבש מצאת אכל דיך פן תשבענו והקאתו

and it is of him that scripture says (Proverbs 25;16)
“Have you found honey? Eat a sufficiency, lest you become surfeited with it and vomit it”.

קיצץ בנטיעות

Slashed about and grew thorns in what was planted.

רבי עקיבא
יצא בשלום

Rabi Akiva:
Went out in peace.

Some questions, some opinions, and some facts…

10 What is Pardes? As you can see on the internet, many people think it (Pardes, not the internet) is connected to the Persian word for ‘Paradise’.
11 What is the connection between marble and water?


Marble and water are two Hebrew words, each constructed of identical letters around the letter Yud.

Applying set theory, we can determine that the union of these two words is the letter Yud, while the letters left out (Shin and Mem) amount to the Hebrew word Shem.


Shem means ‘name’.

12 Of the four great men, only one has a name. Ben Azai and Ben Zoma are merely the descendants of someone (or something) else.Aher is given a nickname, but it is not a very complimentary one (Aher means ‘the other’, or ‘the one on the outside’).

Rabi Akiva is really the only one with a name. He entered the Pardes as the spiritual descendant (ascendant?) of Moshe


and he went out in peace


13 How did they get to the Pardes? According to Rashi, they got there by means of a name:

נכנסו לפרדס – עלו לרקיע על ידי שם

But whose name, what name, was that?

14 What did they find there? According to Rabeinu Hananel, souls.


15 What did Rabi Akiva do there? We are not told.
16 What did Aher do there? We are not told.
17 Ben Azai and Ben Zoma ‘gazed’


is a Hebrew word, constructed of identical letters around the letter Yud.

It refers to the gold plate of the High Priest, worn on the forehead and between the eyes.

This is also (more or less) the place of the Tfilin.

You see that we don’t really see with our eyes;
we see with a third eye
that is above and between them.

18 Ben Azai gazed and died. Maybe he was enticed by the ease of passage – of souls from this world going back to the Pardes.Even though the distance between them is so vast.
19 Ben Zoma gazed and was stricken. Maybe he was struck by complexity of passage – of souls from the Pardes entering this world.Even though the distance between them is only three fingers wide.
20 So what is the connection between the marble and the water? I have been working quite hard at this, but I still have no idea.

[Work in progress…]

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False and True Humility and Pride

 – proudly and humbly abstracted from the writings of Rav Kuk.

Both Humility [anava] and Pride [gaava], in both their hues, come from the same place. Holiness [kdusha] heightens the awareness of the Soul [neshama] of the reality external to it, the Infinite Light – which engenders, simultaneously, inner smallness and greatness in the Soul.

Because the descent into materialism dulls the Faculty for Holiness [kodesh], thought cannot approach the heights where the light can be seen: the light which is the source of all that is good, including a profound and established sense of self.

Because through Pride, the source of greatness becomes hidden – everything shrinks, and degradation sets it. A shrunken sense of the universe leads to an exaggerated sense of self, which leads to a false sense of the moral worth of some of your actions. You delude yourself that all your actions are worthy, whereas really they are not. And even though some good actions may result – their benefit is lost in the substantive damage of the rotted spiritual complex that comes from the terrible darkness of Forgetting God.

Polluted pride comes from the source of the double lie: basic unawareness of Infinite Greatness; and consequent unawareness of the true worth of the individual.

If pride presages the fall, so does lowliness presage elevation of the spirit.

The essence of Pride is foreign and hateful to my soul. But sometimes, I have to take on the borrowed characteristic of Pride, for purposes of social interaction.

True Humility [anava] is comprised of two things: Pride in Standing Proudly for the Truth [gaavat emet], and Humility in Vindication [anvat zedek].

Lust and Anger are rooted in Pride [gaava]. Because a sense of the true value and pleasure of life is lost through Pride – there is no room for ideal aspiration. Which, through desperation, leads to lust. Humility [anava], on the other hand, implies harmony with the universe, and a consequent benign and beneficial take on everything.

The inner connection to God, revealed at the core of everything that is separate from God, is the two-way highway to greatness. Man is great, and God is great, through this connection.

A great man must go to extraordinary lengths in order to fulfill his destiny. He should not be frightened of the sin of pride – but rather of the sin of false modesty, which is much worse. And by fulfilling himself, he causes great good in the world.

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