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I Have Come to My Garden

I Have Come to My Garden

Exploring the chassidic discourse that defines our generation

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The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, standing alongside his predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, in 1949.
The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, standing alongside his predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, in 1949.

The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, arrived on the shores of America in March 1940, after a miraculous escape from Nazi-occupied Poland. Arriving in New York, he set for himself the task of building a Jewish infrastructure to replace the one going up in flames in Eastern Europe. In fact, he established his first yeshivah in the Western Hemisphere on the very night that he arrived. In the decade that followed, many more Torah schools and other religious institutions were founded by his devoted emissaries across the United States and Canada.

Though the rebbe’s spirit and resolve were indomitable, his body was battered and broken due to beatings and abuse at the hands of the KGB, as well as multiple health issues, including debilitating multiple sclerosis. The rebbe’s speech was also impacted; after a few years, only those in his closest circle, such as his family and secretariat, were able to comprehend his slurred words. As a result, the rebbe stopped orally delivering chassidic discourses in honor of special dates on the Jewish and chassidic calendar, as was his custom. Instead, in advance of these propitious dates, he would submit written discourses for publication, to be studied by his chassidim when that day arrived.

The In advance of propitious dates, the rebbe would submit written discourses, to be studied when that day arrivedtenth of Shevat was the yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing) of the rebbe’s grandmother, Rebbetzin Rivkah. In the year 5710 (1950), the tenth of Shevat would fall on Shabbat (January 28). In honor of the occasion, the rebbe submitted for publication a discourse entitled Basi LeGani (“I have come to My garden”).

On that Shabbat morning, the rebbe passed away at the age of 69.

The year that followed was one of apprehension for Chabad-Lubavitch chassidim. Many immediately recognized that the rebbe’s son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was eminently suited to succeed his father-in-law, due to his outstanding scholarship and piety. But Rabbi Menachem Mendel humbly refused to accept the mantle of leadership.

After a full year of pleading and cajoling on the part of chassidim, Rabbi Menachem Mendel relented. On the first anniversary of his predecessor’s passing, Rabbi Menachem Mendel accepted upon himself the leadership of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. In traditional Chabad chassidic form, he did so by delivering a chassidic discourse during a farbrengen (chassidic gathering) on that historic day.

The new rebbe’s discourse was also entitled Basi LeGani. In fact, it was based upon the very discourse that his father-in-law had submitted a year earlier. He started off where his predecessor left off . . .

In the decades that followed, every year on the 10th of Shevat, the Rebbe would host a grand farbrengen, in keeping with chassidic tradition that designates the yahrtzeit of a righteous person as a highly auspicious day. For the chassidim, the day had additional import—it was the anniversary of the date when the Rebbe assumed leadership.

And every year at the 10 Shevat farbrengen, the Rebbe would say a chassidic discourse that started with the words Basi LeGani, always based on a different chapter of the original discourse penned by his predecessor. It became increasingly clear that the themes addressed in this discourse defined the Rebbe’s leadership.

What does this special discourse discuss? Which garden? Who’s coming to the garden? And why is this arrival in the garden such an important message for our generation?

The following is an abbreviated adaptation of the major themes discussed by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak. (Click here for the full text of the discourse.)1


The Garden

The words basi legani are taken from Solomon’s Song of Songs.

The The garden is our world. Announcing His arrival here in this garden is G‑d Himselfgarden is our world. Announcing His arrival here in this garden is G‑d Himself—who refers to it not as “a garden,” but as “My garden.” All that He created belongs to Him, but of all the myriad spiritual emanations and worlds, there is only one to which He refers as “My,” because it is only here—the very lowest realm—that He wants to call home. The divine light shines ever brightly in the supernal worlds, but only in this physical world does G‑d wish to manifest His very essence.

His shechinah (presence) was here when He created this world. But it was driven away by a series of sins, starting with Adam and Eve’s eating the fruit of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. Subsequent sinful generations drove the shechinah further away, as it ascended from one heaven to the next.

This was no glitch in the plan; it was anything but.

Just as G‑d created the world with the vision that it would serve as His domicile, He also had a clear vision as to how this domicile would be created. He envisioned a world characterized by frightful spiritual blackness, wherein creations—possessors of free choice, capable of embracing the darkness or rejecting it—would repress the darkness, and ultimately transform it into light.

There must be a world which (on the surface) is inhospitable to its Creator. And through the difficult work of banishing and transforming the darkness, it becomes a beautiful “garden.” A place that G‑d is delighted to inhabit.

The Precious Seventh

Abraham began to reverse the tide. He started the process of bringing the shechinah back down here. The next generations continued the process, which was completed by Moses, the seventh generation from Abraham—for, as the Midrash tells us, “All sevenths are precious.”

At the giving of the Torah, G‑d returned in full grandeur: “And G‑d descended upon Mt. Sinai” (Exodus 19:20). Though this revelation was temporary, a few months later G‑d’s presence graced the newly constructed Tabernacle. This time the shechinah was here to stay.

And G‑d exclaimed, “I have come to My garden.”

But The grand plan calls for the entire world, every inch of it, to be a a garden of pleasure for its CreatorMoses’ incredible achievement merely got the ball rolling. G‑d’s desire to establish a terrestrial home was yet to be fully reached. It is not enough that the shechinah is manifest within the confines of the Tabernacle (and, subsequently, the Temple in Jerusalem). Ultimately the grand plan calls for the entire world, every inch of it, to be a welcoming home, a garden of pleasure, for its Creator.

Setting Ablaze the Inner Animal

The Tabernacle constructed by Moses serves as the template for an identical sanctuary that each and every one of us is expected to create for G‑d in our own hearts. In fact, the wording of the verse wherein G‑d charges the Israelites to erect a sanctuary alludes to this idea: “They shall make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in them” (Exodus 25:8). Our sages explain that the plural form, “I will dwell in them,” teaches us that G‑d desires to dwell within the heart of every Jew.

So we turn to the Tabernacle, the prototype of a divine dwelling place, for a better understanding of how to accomplish our mission—of repressing and transforming the darkness, and thereby creating a personal human sanctuary for the shechinah.

The primary service in the Tabernacle was the offering of sacrifices. Practically, this entailed taking an animal, slaughtering it, and then offering it (or parts of it) on the altar, where a heavenly fire would descend and consume it.

The spiritual equivalent (and accompaniment) of this service involves the animal within, the selfish “animalistic” urges and desires that are the lot of every person. Yet each one of us also possesses a G‑dly soul, which is ablaze with a “heavenly fire,” a passionate and inextinguishable love for G‑d. Through contemplating and meditating upon G‑d’s greatness, we can consume our inner animal with this fire. Yes, the inner animal is selfish, but it can be made to understand that a relationship with G‑d is in its most selfish interest too. There’s nothing as sweet, wondrous and fulfilling as a relationship with the Creator.

The Hebrew word for sacrifice is korban, which literally means “to come close.” How does one come close to G‑d? By transforming one’s inner darkness into light—a light that then shines forth and illuminates the entire world.

The Virtue of Folly

The material used to create the Tabernacle’s walls, acacia wood, takes the concept of the transformation of darkness to a more profound level.

In G‑d tells us that He wants us to create a sanctuary for Him out of these folliesHebrew, the word for acacia wood is shittim—which is related to the word sh’tut, “folly.” Both these words share the same etymological root, the Hebrew word that means “straying.”

Folly is one form of straying. There’s a proper and straight path, one dictated by rationale and logic, and one who acts foolishly has wandered off this path of reason.

According to the Talmud, all sins are caused by a “spirit of folly” that pervades an individual. For no Jew in his right mind would willingly sever his or her relationship with G‑d—even temporarily—in order to indulge a fleeting desire or whim. And then there are more global follies; assorted universal conventions that are de facto law, regardless of whether they are indeed wise (in a given situation) or not.

And G‑d tells us that He wants us to create a sanctuary for Him out of these follies. He wants us to take our capacity to act irrationally and dedicate it to His service. He wants us to stray from the path of rationality—but in the opposite direction.

For is it possible to apprehend the unapprehendable? The problem with endeavoring to relate to G‑d through logic and intellect lies not in the fact that we are not sufficiently wise to grasp Him, but in the fact that He transcends intellect (which is merely a creation of His).

Ultimately, we relate to G‑d through the abnegation of our selves—including our mental capacities—and “foolishly” submitting ourselves to His will.

We must transform the folly of this world into holy folly.2

And thus Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak concludes the discourse:

“And then he shall see the realization of the verse, ‘And I will dwell in them’; G‑dliness will shine in his soul. And this is [what it says in the Zohar], ‘When the other side [unholiness] is suppressed’—through a person succeeding in transforming the folly of the animal soul and worldly passions into holiness, for the purpose of studying Torah and observing the mitzvot—‘the transcendent glory of G‑d is revealed in all the worlds.’ The very highest levels of divinity are revealed and shine brightly.”


Over the years, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, elaborated on the many concepts discussed above. In this article, we will suffice with citing a few ideas from the Rebbe’s inaugural discourse in 1951, wherein he explains the special relevance of these ideas to our generation. (Click here for the full text of the discourse; and here for an audio recording of excerpts of this historic talk [along with English subtitles].)

The Seventh Generation

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s discourse clearly identifies the reason why Moses was privileged to bring the shechinah down into this physical world: it was because he was the seventh.

We Moses, the seventh generation, first drew down the shechinah to this world; we, also the seventh generation, will complete the jobtoo are the sevenths, the Rebbe explained, the seventh generation since the inception of Chabad Chassidism. Moses, the seventh generation, first drew down the shechinah to this world; we, also the seventh generation, will complete the job, and usher in the final redemption.

“The spiritual task of the seventh generation,” the Rebbe asserts, “is to draw down the shechinah truly below: transforming the folly of the animal soul—which every man knows only too well that he possesses—and the passions, if not worse, of his animal soul, converting and transforming them into the folly of holiness.”

Seventh Since the First

This might leave us wondering: How did we earn this exalted position? Are we greater than all the generations that preceded us?

The Rebbe explains that our sages are precise in their wording. “All those who are seventh are cherished,” they state, not “all those who are cherished are seventh.” Meaning to say: being seventh is not a status that one achieves by virtue of being precious; rather, the seventh’s quality lies simply in the fact that he is seventh. He is cherished not on account of his spiritual service, and not even because he chooses to be precious—it is something that he is born into.

On the other hand, the fact that the seventh is considered so precious in itself points to the greatness of the first—for the seventh is seventh only by virtue of the fact that he is the seventh since the first.

Who was the first? And why was he so great?

The first was our forefather Abraham. And to understand his greatness, the Rebbe contrasts Abraham to another great spiritual leader, Rabbi Akiva.

Rabbi Akiva was thoroughly suffused with a love for G‑d. Because of his insistence on teaching Torah to the masses, he was sentenced by the Romans to a horrible death—he was flayed to death in the public marketplace. His students who were watching saw that a broad smile adorned his holy face. “How is it possible to endure such torture with a smile?” they cried. Rabbi Akiva responded, “My entire life I have awaited the moment when I could sanctify G‑d’s Name, constantly asking myself: ‘When will I be afforded the opportunity to make this ultimate sacrifice?’ And now that the opportunity is here, I should not smile?!” Rabbi Akiva, then, understood that the soul can reach no greater heights than through mesirat nefesh (martyrdom).

Abraham To Abraham, mesirat nefesh was incidental, not something he actively pursuedwas different. To Abraham, mesirat nefesh was incidental, not something he actively pursued. He knew that his objective was to proclaim and publicize G‑d’s name. As the verse says, “[Abraham] proclaimed (vayikra) there the name of G‑d.” On this our sages comment, “Do not read vayikra—‘he proclaimed,’ but vayakri—‘he made others proclaim.’” Abraham didn’t suffice with proclaiming it himself; he saw to it that the people he influenced should likewise proclaim G‑d’s name to others.

This was his objective—nothing else. And if in the course of this service mesirat nefesh was called for, he was prepared for that too. But he had no personal aspirations, not even the loftiest of aspirations—the connection to G‑d achieved through mesirat nefesh.

Indeed, so great was Abraham’s service that Moses was privileged to have the Torah given through him only because he was the beloved seventh—the seventh to the first. And when Moses once thought to compare himself to Abraham, G‑d chastised him: “Do not stand in the place of the great ones!”

A Call to Action

We must understand, the Rebbe continued, that that our preciousness as the seventh generation, and our capacity to consummate the process of making this world into a divine abode, is due to the fact that we perpetuate the mission embarked upon by the first.

The conduct of the first rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was similar to Abraham’s. He sought nothing for himself, not even mesirat nefesh, for he knew that his whole existence was for the sake of “proclaiming there the name of G‑d”: proclaiming and causing others to proclaim.

In the spirit of Abraham, this means arriving in places where nothing is known of G‑dliness, nothing is known of Judaism, nothing is known even of the alef-bet, and while there, setting oneself completely aside and devoting oneself to the mission at hand.

And let it be known: if a person wishes to succeed in his own “proclamation,” i.e., his own divine service, he must see to it that others too—even those who have hitherto been utterly ignorant—know and vociferously proclaim.

To conclude with the Rebbe’s words:

“It “It is this that is demanded of each and every one of us of the seventh generation . . .”is this that is demanded of each and every one of us of the seventh generation—for ‘all those that are seventh are cherished’:

“Although the fact that we are in the seventh generation is not the result of our own choosing and our own service, and indeed in certain ways perhaps contrary to our will,3 nevertheless, ‘all those who are seventh are cherished.’

“We are now very near the approaching footsteps of Moshiach; indeed, we are at the conclusion of this period. Our spiritual task is to complete the process of drawing down the shechinah—the essence of the shechinah—specifically within our lowly world.”

Footnotes
1.
Basi LeGani is the first in a series of four discourses. The following is an adaptation only of the ideas discussed in the first part of the discourse (the part that was intended for study on the tenth of Shevat).
2.
In the discourse, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak brings an example of such holy folly.

The Talmud (Ketubot 17a) relates that one of the great sages, Rabbi Shmuel bar Yitzchak, would bring joy to brides by juggling myrtle branches before them. He was chastised by his colleague Rabbi Zeira for his behavior: “The master is embarrassing us; he is not demonstrating proper etiquette for a Torah scholar!”

When Rabbi Shmuel passed away, a pillar of fire in the shape of a myrtle interposed between his bier and all those attending the funeral—symbolizing his immense holiness. Then Rabbi Zeira said, “This elder’s folly has benefited him . . .”
3.
Meaning that the transition into the seventh generation occurred as a result of the sixth rebbe’s passing.
Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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sue Kanata, ON February 5, 2012

thank you The garden and sources of Creation is one of the deepest meditations there is.
It is awesome to me that our forebears knew so much about creation and space- there must have been some historic legacy before what we deem to be written history, that has offered some knowledge of formation. Reply

victor fatherheart consoler 234, Nigeria February 1, 2012

comment Dear Naftali, shalom and thanks for your inspiration! Reply

Dovid Sholom Pape Brooklyn, NY, USA January 31, 2012

Yashar Koach Rabbi Silberberg. Clear. Readable. Excellent!
With blessings for Moshiach Now! Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma January 31, 2012

And so I come back to this piece I am in the garden, and you can understand this however you are meant to. I am always in the garden, perhaps I never left. I feel it, every waking hour, the garden exists everywhere, if you just open your eyes and see this world, see through metaphoric connects, through layers and layers of meaning, to a deep truth, that all is G_d.

I am not sure I am able to convey this in words, because we're all on different levels of that climb, Jacob's ladder, from merger to merger. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma January 14, 2011

The spiral that is a tight "scroll" I was in a ceramics class yesterday, and we made these little snails, out of "snakes" of clay, which we rolled to make lengthy, as children do, in making strings out of clay. I noted that the symbol of the spiral is universal and that it is found in ancient spiritual sites around the world, such as Malta, and also that the spiral itself, is for DNA, for the nascent fern, and for many aspects of nature we see every day, even as a leaf does fold in on itself.

What is wound tightly is a scroll, and there are so many metaphoric aspects that do relate to this word, and I am saying, I think they are all related. We did it, from snakes of clay. It seems that in the unraveling, of story itself, a world was created that brought us out of Eden, and now perhaps, we are going back to "the garden" in all its images, and certainly I see symbols of this everywhere, as symbol is also for cymbals and what does sound, as in a treble clef, or "key" signature. Music! This symphony has a conductor. Reply

Mushka Brooklyn, NY January 13, 2011

Yud Shvat Thank-you for this wonderful article!! Reply

Anonymous charlotte, NC via chabadnc.org January 26, 2010

Ruth Housman'S Comment That is very beautiful thinking Ruth,as it exhibits lots of trust in yourself,and I think that emanates from love and trust and relationship with the "unapprehendable"---lots of holy folly! Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, MA January 25, 2010

All life is metaphor: Gan Eden/Poet tree When I look at the words, gan eden I see the English word, garden, within. I am deconstructing words and see something beautiful within all words and this is a profound gift, to move across Babel in this way.

I feel deeply that this idea of the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden was a way to get this story started, because the snake in the form to temptress or evil was God, moving the story forward. Now I am not saying this in a non religious way, I am saying, we see the sacred in the profane. For me, there is a strong symbolic aspect to all life, so any scroll for me, is Torah, the scrolls of fern, what is rolled, that then unwraps, and it is holy, meaning life unfolds in multiple symbolic ways that can be so understood.

They were naked, and to snake is a river that winds, or a road, and naked has within an echo of the very word, snake. We can do this across all languages.

Today it was about a tree in my garden, and that it will be replanted. Roots and branches: a story about LOVE. Reply