David and Rachel had been married for several years. They loved each other dearly, and were both kind, caring, giving people. But there was one major struggle: Rachel was blind. That didn’t matter to David, though. He helped her in every way that he could, taking her on walks, caring for her, and making sure that she always felt comfortable. Still, being blind was a daily struggle for Rachel. Ever since she could remember, she had been on a waitlist for a cornea transplant, a surgery that would finally grant her the gift of sight, the ability to see Hashem’s beautiful world. But after ten years of waiting, she had nearly given up.
One day, she received a phone call. “We have great news!” the doctors told her. “We finally have a donor ready for you. You are going to see!”
Rachel was ecstatic; she couldn’t contain her excitement. She and David eagerly set a date for the procedure.
On the morning of the operation, David helped Rachel get everything ready before leading her into the operation room. Just before leaving, he turned to her and said, “Before you go through with this operation, I need to tell you something. I know this might come as a shock, but I am actually blind, as well. I never told you because I didn’t want you to feel bad for me; I was always just so happy to be married to you. But I’m telling you now, because I don’t want you to be shocked when you see me for the first time.”
Rachel was stunned by her husband’s admission, but sincerely reassured him that nothing would change, just because she’d be able to see.
After the operation, Rachel felt like she had been given a new lease on life. She could finally see! She could go wherever she wanted and do all the things she had always dreamed of. But she quickly began to realize the burden that David imposed on her. He needed help with everything, and wasn’t able to contribute much to the relationship. She couldn’t even share her experiences with him, because he couldn’t see what she could. As time went on, it became harder and harder. Finally, she had had enough. She sat down with David and told him how she felt.
As she explained the struggle she was now facing, tears began rolling down David’s face. He calmly nodded, smiled softly, and said that he understood. He suggested that they take a few days to think things over.
That night, Rachel found a note on her pillow. It read:
To my dear Rachel,
For years, I watched you live with the pain and frustration of being blind. All you wanted was to experience Hashem’s beautiful world, the wonder of sight. I wanted, more than anything, to help you.
So, two years ago, I decided to do something radical. I decided to give you my eyesight. The eyes you now see through once belonged to me. I wanted you to have them.
Rachel began crying profusely. She could finally see, but she had been more blind than ever before.
Nega and Oneg
An important method for understanding any concept in Judaism is studying its Hebrew word. Strikingly, the Torah refers to tzaraas – the punishment of speaking lashon ha’ra – as “nega,” which translates literally as “affliction.” The Torah’s use of words is never incidental, which compels us to ask why tzaraas is specifically referred to as nega. What is the deeper connection between nega and the concept of lashon ha’ra?
Additionally, Chazal contrast the concept of nega with that of “oneg” (enjoyment). They note that while these two words are comprised of the same letters, oneg represents the “ultimate good,” and is associated with Olam HaBa and Shabbos, while nega represents the greatest corruption and is associated with tzaraas, evil, and breakdown (Sefer Yetzirah 2:4). In order to understand the significance of Chazal’s comparison between oneg and nega, and gain insight into the true meaning of nega and its connection to tzaraas, we must first analyze another equally enigmatic passage in the Torah.
Eden, Nahar, and Gan
The Torah begins by describing the creation of the physical world, culminating with the creation of man. Hashem placed Adam in Gan Eden, and the Torah then mentions that the Nahar (River) flowed from Eden toward the Gan (Garden) to water and nourish it (B’reishis 2:10).
At face value, this pasuk seems relatively straightforward, but there are layers of meaning behind it. On a simple level, the river flowing between Eden and the Gan alludes to the relationship between Olam HaZeh and Olam HaBa. The Gan refers to Olam HaZeh, a place to work, build, and plant eternal seeds. “Eden” literally means enjoyment, and thus refers to Olam HaBa, which is the place of euphoric ecstasy, where we enjoy everything we built during our lifetimes. The flowing waters of the Nahar represent a continuous process, a connection between these two realms and stages of humanity. The physical world receives its continued existence from a higher dimension (the flowing waters from Eden), while our ultimate experience in Eden is dependent on what we build in the Gan.
Oneg: Ideal Flow
Going a layer deeper, Eden, Gan, and Nahar represent the three-step process through which the infinite, spiritual dimension of reality is condensed and expressed into the finite, physical world that we inhabit. The Ramchal explains that Hashem created the world with multiple interlocking levels of reality. Hashem is the ultimate source, and His shefa (Divine energy) flows down through many stages and levels of filtration until it ultimately manifests in the physical world, the lowest level of reality (Daas Tevunos 36, 100; Adir BaMarom, p. 235).
Eden represents the infinite, the spiritually transcendent level. The Nahar represents the stage in which the infinite essence is filtered and diluted, allowing it to become expressed into the physical world. The Gan is the final stage, the place where the filtered “water” is experienced and enjoyed by humanity in the physical world. The Nahar takes the hiddenness of Eden, that which is completely transcendent, and enables it to manifest into the Gan, the revealed world.
The goal is for the essence of Eden to flow untainted through the Nahar into the Gan – for the spiritual to be powerfully and completely expressed through the physical. When this ideal is achieved, something truly wondrous and otherworldly results: oneg. This word, which embodies ultimate enjoyment, is comprised of three letters: the first letters of Eden, Nahar, and Gan. Oneg is the enjoyment associated with Shabbos, because Shabbos is where the physical world most powerfully and potently connects to its spiritual root (Yeshayahu 58:13. See also Siduro shel Shabbos 1:5:3). Shabbos is referred to as a “taste of the World to Come” (B’rachos 57b), because it is a taste of endpoint, of Eden, of the highest spiritual root. This is also the secret behind the concept of neshamah yeseirah, loosely translated as the “additional soul” of Shabbos. It is not that we are given an “additional” soul on Shabbos; rather, it is that Shabbos allows our soul to connect with our body in a deeper way, for more of the soul to reside within our physical body (Taanis 27b; Beitzah 16a, Rashi there), for Eden to more powerfully express itself in the Gan. Neshamah yeseirah is therefore qualitative, not quantitative.
In our next article, we will delve more deeply into this fascinating topic and try to understand it on an ever more profound level.
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is the author of the bestselling book, The Journey to Your Ultimate Self, which serves as an inspiring gateway into deeper Jewish thought. He is an international speaker, educator, and the CEO of Self-Mastery Academy. After obtaining his BA from Yeshiva University, he received s’micha from RIETS, a master’s degree in education, a master’s degree in Jewish Thought, and then spent a year studying at Harvard. He is currently pursuing a PhD at UChicago. To invite Rabbi Reichman to speak in your community or to enjoy more of his deep and inspiring content, visit his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.