Four Entered the Pardes: The Work of Creation and the Design of the Chariot

"I filled my soul with honey from your mouth, I saw a dream of your footprints in the garden."

--Avraham Chalfi

Glossary of Ancient Jewish Texts Used in this Study Sheet

Mishnah: Collection of teachings gathered near the beginning of the third century of Common Era by Rabbi Judah HaNasi. Traditionally regarded as the earliest written aattempt to organize and codify the Oral Law. The Mishnah is the starting point for both the Talmud of the Land of Israel (the "Yerushalmi") and the Talmud of the land of Babylon (the "Bavli"). The Mishnah of Tractate Chagigah addresses the rules governing the command to appear at the Temple on the three pilgrimage festivals. For reasons not entirely clear, Tractate Chagigah also deals with certain esoteric subjects, called the Ma'aseh Bereshit, the "Work" or "Act of Creation," which discusses the secrets of the creation of the world, and the Ma'aseh Merkava, the "Work" or "Design of the Chariot," which concerns the heavenly throne as described in the Book of Ezekiel. The Tractate does not describe these subjects but explains what is permitted and what is forbidden with regard to expounding on these subjects in public.

Tosefta: From a word in Hebrew that means "addenda" or "addition". A collection of teachings parallel to and contemporary with the Mishnah. The Tosefta has traditionally been regarded as a commentary on, or a companion to, the Mishnah but some scholars argue that the Tosefta, at least in some passages, preceded the Mishnah. The Tosefta to Tractate Chagigah is about 3 times as long as the Mishnah to Tractate Chagigah and includes aggadic material not found in the Mishnah.

Yerushalmi: A compilation comprising the Mishnah and its commentary (Germara) by rabbis of the third and fourth centuries primarily living in the land of Israel. Compiled around the beginning of the 5th century of the Common Era.

Bavli: A compilation comprising the Mishnah and its commentary (Gemara) by rabbis of the third through the 5th centuries, primarily living in Babylon. Compiled around the beginning of the 6th century of the Common Era.

Hekhalot Literature: From the Hebrew for "Palaces" or "Temples" A diverse collection of Jewish magical and mystical traditions arranged into a number of redacted texts. The texts generally attribute their traditions to rabbinic sages of the Tannaitic period (the first two centuries of the Common Era; the authorities cited in the Mishnah, or belonging to the Mishnaic period), especially R. Ishmael, R. Akiva and R. Nehunya b. Hakanah. These texts include detailed descriptions of the topography and inhabitants of the heavens, elaborate protocols for the liturgy performed by the angels before God and ritual instructions to enable the practitioner either to ascend to heaven or to bring angels down to earth. The term hekhalot comes from the Hebrew word for the celestial palaces or temples (sing. hekhal) within which God and his angelic host reside. Scholars disagree about the historical context of these texts. Gershom Scholem placed their development in the early rabbinic period of the land of Israel. Later scholars have taken issue with that position, locating the texts in the late Talmudic and Geonic periods of Babylon.

What is Mysticism?

In coming to the concept of mysticism, I should say that no one knows what mysticism is. The number of definitions for the concept mysticism in philosophy or comparative religion is like the number of sages who have written about it. Everyone has their own definition....Even so I will say how I use the term mysticism or mystery in Hebrew. Mysticism is the knowledge through which the human being comes into contact with God or foundational knowledge of the world....Not every foundational knowledge is mysticism: mysticism is an experiential endeavor pertaining to God and the foundations of ultimate reality to which the human being connects. Sometimes this endeavor includes knowledge, and other times it exists beyond knowledge in the rational sense of the term.

What is Jewish Mysticism?

A Guide to the Zohar, Arthur Green, at 5-6, 7-8

What do we mean by the term Jewish mysticism? The word mysticism itself is of Greek and Christian origins and is therefore not native to the traditions of which we speak, none of which saw themselves as "mystical." The equivalent Hebrew terms--sod ("secret"), hokhmah nistarah ("hidden wisdom"), and kabbalah ("tradition") refer to the esoteric nature of these teachings. Mysticism is generally taken to describe primarily a certain category of religious experiences, and secondarily all the theology, textual sources, religious movements, and so forth that derive from these experiences. Applying the term mysticism to the Zohar or to Jewish sources thus requires some adjustment in its usage and certain reservations about the meanings implied.

Mystics share with other religious people an intense awareness of divine presence and a constant readiness to respond to that presence in both prayer and action. For the mystic, that presence is revealed through powerful and transformative inner experiences. These seem to come from a source that lies beyond the ordinary human mind; they are usually understood as a divine gift, a source of special favor or grace, an act of revelation. The intensity of these experiences lends a sense that the reality they portray represents a deeper source of ultimate truth than do the more usual and widely shared human experiences of sense perception or rational thought.

The experience that lies at the heart of mysticism has been the object of much study and discussion by scholars of religion. Various characteristic types of mystical experience have been outlined and shown to exist across the borders that historically have defined religious traditions and separated them from one another. Mystical experience, whatever its ultimate source, represents a transformation of ordinary human con-sciousness. Mystics speak of reaching toward another plane of reality. Some of their experiences reflect a slowing down of mental activity to a more restful and contemplative pace; others result from a speeding up of the mind in a rush of ecstatic frenzy. Some mystics describe a fullness of divine presence that overwhelms and floods the mind, while others speak of utter emptiness, a mind that becomes so devoid of content that it can transcend its own existence. There are mystics who see their experiences conveyed by beings outside themselves: God, angels, or heavenly voices speak to them. Others view the experience more internally: a deeper level of the soul is activated, revealing truths or insights that the person was unable to perceive when in an ordinary state of mind. Moses of these experiences, as described by those who undergo them, contain some element of striving toward oneness, a breaking down of illusory barriers to reveal the great secret of the unity of all being. The nature of this oneness and its relationship to the phenomenal world world that appears before us a re described in a great variety of ways, depending on both the personality of the individual mystic, and the theology of the tradition out of which he or she speaks....

The mystic receives insights from a source that is "deeper" or "higher" than the ordinary human mind. But how can those insights be conveyed? Language, whether spoken or written, is our ordinary vehicle of communication, itself a product of the mind and one that shares the limitations of its source. In order to communicate a translinguistic or "ineffable" level of insight, the mystic needs to struggle against the barriers of language, perhaps by stretching the ordinary discursive vehicle to new poetic heights, perhaps by discovering within language a previously untapped symbolic stratum, perhaps by speaking in a holier tongue, by recourse to some code, or else by bearing witness to the utter breakdown of language through such phenomena as glossolalia, sacred stammer, or the glorification of silence.

Judaism offers a distinctive approach to this problem through its ancient belief in the creative and mysterious power of language, stemming back to the myth of creation through the word, the basis of the opening chapter of Genesis. Because of this belief, Jewish mystical sources are filled with reflections on the secrets of language and are often characterized by intense and highly detailed attempts to penetrate inner and hidden levels of speech. Language in general may indeed be a human creation, says the Jewish tradition, but the source of Hebrew, the Holy Tongue, is God. Hebrew is the language of divine speech, that by which God created the world. In some form, though perhaps one hidden to us, that language must have preexisted creation. The Hebrew language as we now have it, seemingly a vehicle of ordinary human speech (though it was seldom spoken among medieval Jews, who used it mainly for the study of sacred writings), bears within it an array of secrets that reveal it to be the premundane language of God. Such a primally charged language, one that offers a key to existence itself, might also be a proper vehicle for the conveying of mystical truth or insights.

The Mishnah Prohibits the Teaching of Certain Subjects Except in Limited Circumstances

(א) אֵין דּוֹרְשִׁין בַּעֲרָיוֹת בִּשְׁלֹשָׁה. וְלֹא בְמַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית בִּשְׁנַיִם. וְלֹא בַמֶּרְכָּבָה בְּיָחִיד, אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן הָיָה חָכָם וּמֵבִין מִדַּעְתּוֹ. כָּל הַמִּסְתַּכֵּל בְּאַרְבָּעָה דְּבָרִים, רָאוּי לוֹ כְּאִלּוּ לֹא בָּא לָעוֹלָם, מַה לְּמַעְלָה, מַה לְּמַטָּה, מַה לְּפָנִים, וּמַה לְּאָחוֹר. וְכָל שֶׁלֹּא חָס עַל כְּבוֹד קוֹנוֹ, רָאוּי לוֹ שֶׁלֹּא בָּא לָעוֹלָם:

(1) One does not expound upon the subject of forbidden relations in the presence of three. Nor the Work of Creation in the presence of two. Nor the Chariot in the presence of one, unless he is a sage and understands from his own knowledge. One who contemplates four things, it would have been better had he not come into the world: what is above, what is beneath, what came before, and what came after. All those that take no thought for the honor of their Creator, it would have been better that they not come into the world.

The Tosefta Parallels the Mishnah but Introduces a Story About Certain Sages Who "Understood the Chariot of their Own Accord"

(א) אין דורשין בעריות בשלשה אבל דורשין בשנים [ולא] במעשה בראשית בשנים אבל דורשין ביחיד ולא במרכבה ביחיד אא"כ היה חכם מבין מדעתו מעשה ברבן יוחנן בן זכאי שהיה רוכב על החמור והיה רבי אלעזר בן ערך מחמר אחריו אמר לו רבי שנה פרק אחד במעשה מרכבה אמר לו לא [כן אמרתי לך מתחלה שאין שונין] במרכבה ביחיד אלא אם כן היה חכם מבין מדעתו אמר לו מעתה ארצה לפניך אמר לו אמור פתח רבי אלעזר בן ערך ודרש במעשה מרכבה ירד רבי יוחנן בן זכאי מן החמור ונתעטף בטליתו וישבו שניהם על גבי אבן תחת הזית והרצה לפניו עמד ונשקו ואמר ברוך ה' אלהי ישראל אשר נתן בן לאברהם אבינו שיודע להבין ולדרוש בכבוד אביו שבשמים יש נאה דורש ואין נאה מקיים נאה מקיים ואין נאה דורש [אלעזר בן ערך] נאה דורש ונאה מקיים אשריך [אברהם] אבינו שאלעזר בן ערך יצא מחלציך [שיודע להבין ולדרוש בכבוד אביו שבשמים] רבי יוסי ברבי יהודה אומר רבי יהושע הרצה לפני רבן יוחנן בן זכאי [רבי עקיבה] הרצה לפני רבי יהושע חנניא בן חכינאי הרצה לפני רבי עקיבה.

(1) One may not expound upon the subject of forbidden relations but they may expound before two. They may not expound concerning the Work of Creation before two but they may expound before one. They may not expound on the [Work of] the Chariot before one unless he is wise and understands of his own accord. A story of R. Yochanan ben Zaccai who was riding on his donkey and Rabbi Ele'azar ben Arakh was riding behind him. He said to him: "Rabbi, teach me one paragraph concerning the Work of the Chariot. He said to him: "No. Have I not said to you from the beginning that they do not teach concerning the [Work of] the Chariot before one unless he is wise and understands of his own accord? He said to him: "Now give me permission to expound before you." He said to him: "Speak!" Rabbi Ele'azar ben Arakh began to expound on the Work of the Chariot. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zaccai alighted from his donkey and wrapped himself in his tallit and the two of them sat on an outcropping of rock under an olive tree and he presented the subject before him. Rabbi Yochanan stood up and kissed him and said: "Blessed is Adonai, God of Israel, who gave a son to Abraham our father that knows and understands how to expound on the glory of our Father in Heaven! There are those suited to expound and who are not suited to fulfill, those who are suited to fulfill and who are not suited to expound. Ele'azar ben Arakh is suited to expound and to fulfill. Happy is Abraham our father, that Ele'azar ben Arakh, who came forth from your loins, knows and understands well enough to expound on the glory of our Father in heaven! (2) Rabbi Yosi bar R. Yehuda says: "Rabbi Yehoshua presented before R. Yochanan ben Zaccai, Rabbi Akiva presented before Rabbi Yehoshua and Hananiah ben Chachinai presented before Rabbi Akiva.

The Mekhilta Also Contains Part of this Story

[אם לאיו תן לי רשות שאומר לפניך. היה ר' אלעזר בן ערך דורש עד שהייתה אש מלהטת מכל סביביו כיון שראה רבן יוחנן בן זכי שהייתה האש מלהטת מכל סביביו ירד מעל החמור ונשקו ואמר לו ר' אלעזר בן ערך אשרי יולדתך אשריך אברהם אבינו שזה יצא מחלציך הוא היה אומר אם יהיו כל חכמי ישראל בכף מאזנים ור' אלעזר בן ערך בכף שנייה מכריע הוא את כולם:

If not, give me permission to speak before you. Eleazar ben Arach then expounded until flames licked all around. When Rabban Yochanan bar Zaccai saw that the flames were licking all around, he alighted from his donkey and kissed him and said to him: "Eleazar ben Arach, happy she that gave birth to you, Happy Abraham our father that such has come forth from his loins. He would say that if all the sages of Israel were on one side of the scale and Rabbi Eleazar ben Arach were on the other side, he would outweigh them all.

What is the "Work of Creation"?

(ג) כל המסתכל בארבעה דברים ראוי לו [כאלו לא] בא לעולם מה למעלה מה למטה מה לפנים ומה לאחור [יכול] קודם למעשה בראשית תלמוד לומר (דברים ד) למן היום אשר ברא אלהים אדם על הארץ יכול [עד שלא נבראו סדרי תקופות תלמוד לומר (שם) ולמקצה השמים ועד קצה השמים מה תלמוד לומר למן היום אשר ברא אלהים אדם על הארץ מן היום אשר ברא אלהים אדם על הארץ אתה דורש ואי אתה דורש] מה למעלה מה למטה מה היה ומה עתיד להיות.

Every one who reflects on 4 things, it is better that he had never come into the world: What is above, what’s is below, what came before and what comes after. One might think one can inquire into the Work of Creation, therefore Scripture says: "From the day that God created humanity upon the earth (Deut. 4:32)." One might think one might inquire concerning the time before the orders of the seasons were created, therefore Scripture says: "From one end of the heaven to the other (Deut. 4:32)." Why does Scripture say "from the day that God created humanity upon the earth." From the day that God created humanity upon the earth, you expound and you do not expound concerning what is above, what is below, what was and what will be.

(ה) רַב הוּנָא בְּשֵׁם בַּר קַפָּרָא פָּתַח (תהלים לא, יט): תֵּאָלַמְנָה שִׂפְתֵי שָׁקֶר וגו', אִתְפַּרְכָן, אִתְחַרְשָׁן, אִשְׁתַּתְּקָן. אִתְפַּרְכָן אִתְחַרְשָׁן, הֵיךְ מָה דְאַתְּ אָמַר (שמות ד, יא): אוֹ מִי יָשׂוּם אִלֵּם אוֹ חֵרֵשׁ אוֹ פִקֵּחַ אוֹ עִוֵּר הֲלֹא אָנֹכִי ה', וְאוֹמֵר (בראשית לז, ז): וְהִנֵּה אֲנַחְנוּ מְאַלְּמִים אֲלֻמִּים בְּתוֹךְ הַשָּׂדֶה וְהִנֵּה קָמָּה אֲלֻמָּתִי. אִשְׁתַּתְּקָן, כְּמַשְׁמָעוֹ (תהלים לא, יט): הַדֹּבְרוֹת עַל צַדִּיק, חַי הָעוֹלָמִים. (תהלים לא, יט): עָתָק, שֶׁהֶעְתִּיק בִּבְרִיּוֹתָיו. (תהלים לא, יט): בְּגַאֲוָה, אֶתְמְהָה בִּשְׁבִיל לְהִתְגָּאוֹת וְלוֹמַר אֲנִי דוֹרֵשׁ בְּמַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית. (תהלים לא, יט): וָבוּז, אֶתְמְהָה מְבַזֶּה עַל כְּבוֹדִי, דְּאָמַר רַבִּי יוֹסֵי בַּר חֲנִינָא כָּל הַמִּתְכַּבֵּד בִּקְלוֹן חֲבֵרוֹ אֵין לוֹ חֵלֶק לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא, בִּכְבוֹדוֹ שֶׁל מָקוֹם עַל אַחַת כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה, וּמַה כְּתִיב אַחֲרָיו (תהלים לא, כ): מָה רַב טוּבְךָ אֲשֶׁר צָפַנְתָּ לִירֵאֶיךָ, לִירֵאֶיךָ וְלֹא לַבּוֹזִים אֶת מוֹרָאֲךָ [הרב] אַל יְהִי בְּמָה רַב טוּבְךָ, בְּנֹהַג שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם מֶלֶךְ בָּשָׂר וָדָם בּוֹנֶה פָּלָטִין בִּמְקוֹם הַבִּיבִים, וּבִמְקוֹם הָאַשְׁפָּה, וּבִמְקוֹם הַסָּרִיּוֹת, כָּל מִי שֶׁהוּא בָּא לוֹמַר פָּלָטִין זוֹ בְּנוּיָה בִּמְקוֹם הַבִּיבִים וּבִמְקוֹם הָאַשְׁפָּה וּבִמְקוֹם הַסָּרִיּוֹת, אֵינוֹ פּוֹגֵם. כָּךְ כָּל מִי שֶׁהוּא בָּא לוֹמַר הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה נִבְרָא מִתּוֹךְ תֹּהוּ וָבֹהוּ, אֵינוֹ פּוֹגֵם, אֶתְמְהָה. רַב הוּנָא בְּשֵׁם בַּר קַפָּרָא אָמַר, אִילוּלֵי שֶׁהַדָּבָר כָּתוּב אִי אֶפְשָׁר לְאָמְרוֹ, בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, מִנַּיִן הֵן, וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ.

(5) Rabbi Huna in the name of Bar Kappara opened with (Psalms 31:19): "Let the lying lips be dumb, that speak against the righteous arrogantly with pride and contempt." Which means, let them be bound, made dumb, and silenced. "Let them be bound and made dumb"--as it says (Exodus 4:11): "Or who made one mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Was it not I, God?" and it says (Genesis 37:7): "We were binding sheaves in the field, and my sheaf rose." (The word for 'sheaf' is similar to 'mute'.) "Let them be silenced"--as it sounds. "Which speak against the righteous"--the life of all worlds (God). "Arrogantly"--[on matters] he has hidden from his creatures (The word for 'arrogant' is similar to 'hidden'). "In pride"--to boast and say: "I can discourse on the Work of Creation." "And contempt"--to hold My glory in contempt. As Rabbi Yossi Bar Chanina said: One who honor's oneself at the expense of one's friend has no share in the World to Come. How much more so with the honor of God! And it says afterward (Psalms 31:20): "How abundant is Your goodness that you have laid up for those who fear You." Those who fear You and not for those who hold Your awe in contempt. When a king builds a palace in a place of sewers, dunghills, and garbage, everyone who says: "This palace is built on sewers, dunghills, and garbage" discredits it. So too, everyone who says the universe was created from nothingness discredits it. Rabbi Hunna in the name of Bar Kappara said: If it were not written, it would be impossible to say it. "In the beginning God created" from what? "And the earth was tohu and bohu."

ואיני אומר כי המאמר הזה דוחה לכל ספק למי שיבינהו; אבל אמר שהוא דוחה לרב הספקות והגדולות שבהם. ולא יבקש ממני המשכיל ולא ייחל שאני - כשאזכר ענין מן הענינים - שאשלימהו או כשאתחיל לבאר ענין משל מן המשלים - שאשלים כל מה שנאמר במשל ההוא; זה אי אפשר למשכיל לעשותו בלשונו למי שמדבר עמו פנים בפנים כל שכן שיחברהו בספר שלא ישוב מטרה לכל סכל - יחשוב שהוא חכם - יורה חצי סכלותו נגדו: וכבר בארנו בחבורינו התלמודיים כללים מזה הענין והעירונו על ענינים רבים; וזכרנו בהם ש'מעשה בראשית' הוא חכמת הטבע ו'מעשה מרכבה' הוא חכמת האלוהות; ובארנו אמרם "ולא במרכבה ביחיד אלא אם כן היה חכם ומבין מדעתו" "מוסרים לו ראשי פרקים". אם כן לא תבקש ממני הנה זולת 'ראשי פרקים'. ואפילו הראשים ההם אינם במאמר הזה מסודרים ולא זה אחר זה אבל מפזרים ומערבים בענינים אחרים ממה שנבקש לבארו. כי כונתי - שיהיו האמתיות משקפות ממנו ואחר יעלמו עד שלא תחלק על הכונה האלוקית - אשר אין ראוי לחלק עליה - אשר שמה האמתיות המיחדות בהשגתו נעלמות מהמון העם - אמר "סוד יי ליראיו":

I do not presume to think that this treatise settles every doubt in the minds of those who understand it, but I maintain that it settles the greater part of their difficulties. No intelligent man will require and expect that on introducing any subject I shall completely exhaust it; or that on commencing the exposition of a figure I shall fully explain all its parts. Such a course could not be followed by a teacher in a viva voce exposition, much less by an author in writing a book, without becoming a target for every foolish conceited person to discharge the arrows of folly at him. Some general principles bearing upon this point have been fully discussed in our works on the Talmud, and we have there called the attention of the reader to many themes of this kind. We also stated (Mishneh torah, I. 2:12, and 4:10) that the expression Ma‘aseh Bereshit (Work of Creation) signified" Natural Science," and Ma‘aseh Merkavah ("Work of the Chariot") Metaphysics, and we explained the force of the Rabbinical dictum," The Ma‘aseh Merkavah must not be fully expounded even in the presence of a single student, unless he be wise and able to reason for himself, and even then you should merely acquaint him with the headings of the different sections of the subject. (B. Ḥagigah, 2b). You must, therefore, not expect from me more than such headings. And even these have not been methodically and systematically arranged in this work, but have been, on the contrary, scattered, and are interspersed with other topics which we shall have occasion to explain. My object in adopting this arrangement is that the truths should be at one time apparent, and at another time concealed. Thus we shall not be in opposition to the Divine Will (from which it is wrong to deviate) which has withheld from the multitude the truths required for the knowledge of God, according to the words, "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him" (Ps. 25:14).

(א) בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים ויש לשאול בה, כי צורך גדול הוא להתחיל התורה ב"בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים", כי הוא שורש האמונה; ושאינו מאמין בזה וחושב שהעולם קדמון, הוא כופר בעיקר ואין לו תורה כלל. והתשובה, מפני שמעשה בראשית – סוד עמוק, אינו מובן מן המקראות, ולא יוודע על בוריו אלא מפי הקבלה עד משה רבינו מפי הגבורה, ויודעיו חייבין להסתיר אותו. לכך אמר רבי יצחק שאין להתחלת התורה צורך ב"בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא", והסיפור במה שנברא ביום ראשון ומה נעשה ביום שני ושאר הימים, והאריכות ביצירת אדם וחוה, וחטאם ועונשם, וסיפור גן עדן וגירוש אדם ממנו, כי כל זה לא יובן בינה שלימה מן הכתובים.

(1) In the beginning, God created: There is a question in this verse, because it was absolutely necessary to begin the Torah with "In the beginning God created" for it is the root of faith. One who doesn't believe this and thinks that the world already existed is an apostate and has no Torah whatsoever. And the answer? It is that the work of creation is a deep mystery, not understandable from the verses, and it cannot be known except through the received tradition going back to Moses our teacher who received it from the mouth of the Almighty, and those who know it are required to hide it. Therefore Rabbi Isaac said that the Torah didn't need to begin with "In the beginning God created" and the story of what was created on the first day, and what was done on the second day and the remaining days, and the lengthy telling of the creation of Adam and Eve, and their sin and punishment, and the story of the Garden of Eden and Adam's exile from it, for all this cannot be understood with full understanding from the verses.

What is "The Chariot"?

(י) מַעֲשֵׂה רְאוּבֵן (בראשית לה), נִקְרָא וְלֹא מִתַּרְגֵּם. מַעֲשֵׂה תָמָר (בראשית לח), נִקְרָא וּמִתַּרְגֵּם. מַעֲשֵׂה עֵגֶל הָרִאשׁוֹן (שמות לב), נִקְרָא וּמִתַּרְגֵּם. וְהַשֵּׁנִי (שם), נִקְרָא וְלֹא מִתַּרְגֵּם. בִּרְכַּת כֹּהֲנִים (במדבר ו), מַעֲשֵׂה דָּוִד (שמואל ב י״א:כ״ז) וְאַמְנוֹן (שמואל ב יג), לֹא נִקְרָאִין וְלֹא מִתַּרְגְּמִין. אֵין מַפְטִירִין בַּמֶּרְכָּבָה (יחזקאל א), וְרַבִּי יְהוּדָה מַתִּיר. רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר אוֹמֵר, אֵין מַפְטִירִין בְּהוֹדַע אֶת יְרוּשָׁלַיִם (יחזקאל ט״ז:ב׳):

(10) The incident of Reuven is read but not translated. The story of Tamar is read and translated. The first part of the incident of the golden calf is both read and translated, but the second is read but not translated. The blessing of the priests, the stories of David and Amnon are not read or translated. They do not conclude with the portion of the chariot as a haftarah. But Rabbi Judah permits this. R. Eliezar says: they do not conclude with “Proclaim Jerusalem’s [abominations]” (Ezekiel as a haftarah).

The Tosefta, in Discussing Forbidden Subjects, Introduces the Story of Four Who Entered (the) Pardes

(ב) ארבעה נכנסו לפרדס בן עזאי ובן זומא אחר ורבי עקיבה אחד הציץ ומת אחד הציץ ונפגע אחד הציץ וקיצץ בנטיעות ואחד עלה בשלום וירד בשלום בן עזאי הציץ ומת עליו הכתוב אומר (תהילים קטו) יקר בעיני ה' המותה לחסידיו בן זומא הציץ ונפגע עליו הכתוב אומר (משלי כה) דבש מצאת אכול דייך [וגו'] אלישע הציץ וקיצץ בנטיעות עליו הכתוב אומר (קוהלת ה) אל תתן את פיך לחטיא את בשרך וגו' רבי עקיבה עלה בשלום וירד בשלום עליו הכתוב אומר (שיר השירים א) משכני אחריך נרוצה [וגו'] משלו משל למה הדבר דומה לפרדס של מלך ועלייה בנוייה על גביו מה עליו [על אדם] להציץ ובלבד שלא יזוז [את עיניו] ממנו. ועוד משלו משל למה הדבר דומה [לאיסתרא] העוברת בין שני דרכים אחד של אור ואחד של שלג הטה לכאן נכוה [באור] הטה לכאן נכוה משלג מה עליו על אדם להלך באמצע ובלבד שלא יהא נוטה לא לכאן ולא לכאן. מעשה ברבי יהושע [שהיה מהלך באסתרטא והיה בן זומא בא כנגדו] הגיע אצלו ולא נתן לו שלום אמר לו [מאין ולאן] בן זומא אמר לו צופה הייתי במעשה בראשית ואין בין מים העליונים למים התחתונים אפילו טפח שנאמר (בראשית א) ורוח אלהים מרחפת על פני המים ואומר (דברים לג) כנשר יעיר קנו [וגו'] מה נשר זה טס על גבי קינו נוגע ואינו נוגע כך אין בין מים העליונים למים התחתונים אפילו טפח אמר להם רבי יהושע לתלמידיו כבר בן זומא מבחוץ לא היו ימים מועטים עד שנסתלק בן זומא.

(2) Four entered the Pardes: Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Aher, and Rabbi Akiva. One gazed and died. One gazed and was afflicted. One gazed and cut down the saplings. One went up in peace and went down in peace. Ben Azzai gazed and died. Scripture says about him: "Precious in the eyes of Adonai is the death of His faithful ones (Psalms 116:15)." Ben Zoma gazed and was afflicted. Scripture says about him: "If you find honey, eat only what you need, lest, gorging yourself, you throw it up. (Prov. 25:16)." Elisha gazed and cut down the saplings. Scripture says about him : "Don't let your mouth bring your flesh into sin (Ecclesiastes 5:5)."

Rabbi Akiva went up in peace and went down in peace. Scripture says about him: "Draw me after you, let us run! The king has brought me to his chambers (Song of Songs 1:4)."

They told a parable: What is this similar to? To the orchard of a king and there is an upper chamber above it. What should a person do? Gaze but not let his eyes feast upon it. They told another parable. What is this similar to? To a thoroughfare that passes between two paths, one of fire, and one of snow. If one leans one way, one gets burned [by the fire]. If one leans the other way one gets burned by the snow. What should a person do? One must walk in the middle and not lean this way or that.

A story of Rabbi Yehoshua who was walking in the thoroughfare and Ben Zoma was coming toward him. He reached him but did not greet him. He said to him [from where and to where] Ben Zoma? He said to him: I was focused on the Work of Creation, and there is not between the upper waters and the lower waters even a handsbreadth. As it is written "and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2)." And Scripture says "Like an eagle who rouses his nestlings, hovering over his young (Deut. 32:11)." Just as an eagle hovers over the nest, touching and not touching, so too there is not even a handsbreadth between the upper waters and lower waters. Rabbi Yehoshua said to his students: "Ben Zoma is already outside." In a few days, Ben Zoma passed away.

The Meaning of "Pardes": Dictionaries

Jastrow Dictionary

פַּרְדֵּס m. (b. h.; v. Ges. Hebr. Dict.10 s. v.) enclosure, park, pleasure garden. Tosef. Bets. I, 10 החיה שקינתה בפ׳ game which nests in a park. Sot. 10ᵃ (ref. to אשל, Gen. XXI, 33) עשה פ׳ ונטע וכ׳ he made a garden and planted therein &c.; Gen. R. s. 54; a. e.—Trnsf. enclosure in heaven, esoteric philosophy. Ḥag. 14ᵇ ארבעה נכנסו לפ׳ וכ׳ four men entered the enclosure (engaged in esoteric philosophy), one cast a look and died &c.; Tosef. ib. II, 3; Y. ib. II, 77ᵇ top.—Pl. פַּרְדֵּסוֹת, פַּרְדֵּי׳. Arakh. III, 2 (14ᵃ) פ׳ סבסטי the pleasure gardens of Sebaste, v. חוֹלַת; Tosef. ib. II, 8. Pes. 56ᵃ פורצין ובפַרְדְּסוֹתֵיהֶן … (some ed. ובפַרְדְּסֵיהֶן) made openings in their gardens and orchards; Men. 71ᵃ; Tosef. Pes. II (III), 21; a. e.

Klein Dictionary

פַּרְדֵּס m.n. 1 park, orchard. PBH 2 esoteric philosophy. NH 3 orange grove. [From Avestic, of Old Pers. origin. cp. Avestic pairidaēza (= enclosure), which is compounded of pairi (= around), and daēza (= wall). The first element is cogn. with Gk. peri (= around, about; see פֶּרִי◌). The second element is cogn. with Gk. teichos (= wall). Gk. paradeisos (= park, the garden of Eden, paradise), whence L. paradīsus, is also of Old Pers. origin. Aram. פַּרְדֵּס, פַּרְדְּסָא, is borrowed from Heb.] Derivative: פַּרְדְּסָן.

The Yerushalmi on the Work of Creation and the Chariot

ולא במעשה בראשית בשנים: ר' בא בשם רב יהודה דר' עקיבה היא ברם כר' ישמעאל דורשין....ולא במרכבה ביחיד׃ עוד היא כר׳ עקיבה דברי הכל היא כדי שיהא אדם יודע לחוס על כבוד קונו

Nor the Work of Creation before two. R. [Ab]ba in the name of R.Judah. This comes from R. Akiva. But they expound [the Work of Creation before two], as R. Ishmael holds....Nor the Chariot before one: Is this also according to R. Akiva? [No.] It is the opinion of all, in order that a person might know that they should have consideration for the glory of their Creator.

מעשה ברבן יוחנן בן זכאי שהיה מהלך על הדרך רוכב על החמור ור' אלעזר בן ערך מהלך אחריו אמר לו ר' השניני פרק אחד במעשה המרכבה אמר לו ולא כך שנו חכמים ולא במרכבה אלא א"כ היה חכם ומבין מדעתו אמר לו ר' תרשיני לומר דבר לפניך אני אמר לו אמור כיון שפתח ר' אלעזר בן ערך במעשה המרכבה ירד לו רבן יוחנן בן זכאי מן החמור אמר אינו בדין שאהא שומע כבוד קוני ואני רכוב על החמור הלכו וישבו להן תחת אילן אחד וירדה אש מן השמים והקיפה אותם והיו מלאכי השרת מקפצין לפניהן כבני חופה שמיחין לפני חתן נענה מלאך אחד מתוך האש ואמר כדבריך אלעזר בן ערך כן הוא מעשה המרכבה מיד פתחו כל האילנות פיהן ואמרו שירה (תהילים צ״ו:י״ב) אז ירננו כל עצי יער כיון שגמר ר' אלעזר בן ערך במעשה המרכבה עמד רבן יוחנן בן זכאי ונשקו על ראשו ואמר ברוך ה' אלהי אברהם יצחק ויעקב שנתן לאברהם אבינו בן חכם יודע בכבוד אבינו שבשמים יש לך נאה לדרוש ואינו נאה מקיים נאה מקיים ואינו נאה דורש אלעזר בן ערך נאה דורש ונאה מקיים אשריך אברהם אבינו שיצא מחלציך אלעזר בן ערך וכיון ששמעו ר' יוסף הכהן ור"ש בן נתנאל אף הם פתחו במעשה המרכבה אמרו יום א' בתקופת תמוז היה ורעשה הארץ ונראת הקשת בענן ויצאה בת קול ואמרה להן הרי המקום פנוי לכם והטריקלין מוצע לכם אתם ותלמידיכם מזומנין לכת שלישית ואתיא כמ"ד (תהילים ט״ז:י״א) שובע שמחות את פניך שבע כיתות של צדיקים לעתיד לבוא שוב מעשה בי ר' יהושע שהיה מהלך בדרך ובן זומא בא כנגדו שאל בשלומו ולא השיבו אמר לו מאיין ולאיין בן זומא אמר לו מסתכל הייתי במעשה בראשית ואין בין מים העליונים למים התחתונים אלא כמלא פותח טפח נאמר כאן ריחוף ונאמר להלן (דברים ל״ב:י״א) כנשר יעיר קינו על גוזליו ירחף מה ריחוף שנאמר להלן נוגע ואינו נוגע אף ריחוף שנאמר כאן נוגע ואינו נוגע א"ר יהושע לתלמידיו הרי בן זומא מבחוץ ולא היו ימים קלים עד שנפטר בן זומא ר' יודה בר פזי בשם ר' יוסי בי ר' יודה שלשה הרצו תורתן לפני רבן ר' יהושע לפני רבן יוחנן בן זכאי ר' עקיבה לפני ר' יהושע חנניה בן חכיניי לפני ר' עקיבה מיכן והילך אין דעתן נקייה ארבעה נכנסו לפרדס אחד הציץ ומת אחד הציץ ונפגע אחד הציץ וקיצץ בנטיעות אחד נכנס בשלום ויצא בשלום בן עזאי הציץ ונפגע עליו הכתוב אומר (משלי כ״ה:ט״ז) דבש מצאת אכול דייך בן זומא הציץ ומת עליו הכתוב אומר (תהילים קיז) יקר בעיני ה' המותה לחסידיו אחר הציץ וקיצץ בנטיעות מני אחר אלישע בן אבויה שהיה הורג רבי תורה אמרין כל תלמיד דהוה חמי ליה משבח באוריתא הוה קטיל ליה ולא עוד אלא דהוה עליל לבית וועדא והוה חמי טלייא קומי ספרא והוה אמר מה אילין יתבין עבדין הכא אומנותיה דהן בנאי אומנותיה דהן נגר אומנותיה דהן צייד אומנותיה דהן חייט וכיון דהוון שמעין כן הוון שבקין ליה ואזלין לון עליו הכתוב אומר (קוהלת ה) אל תתן את פיך לחטיא את בשרך וגו' שחיבל מעשה ידיו של אותו האיש אוף בשעת עקתא הוון מטענין לון מטילין והוון מתכוונין מיטעון תרי חד מטול משום שנים שעשו מלאכה אחת אמר אטעוננון יחידאין אזלין ואטעונינון יחידיין והוון מתכוונין מיפרוק בכרמלית שלא להוציא מרשות היחיד לרשות הרבים אמר אטעונינון צלוחיין אזלין ואטעונינון צלוחיין רבי עקיבה נכנס בשלום ויצא בשלום עליו הכתוב אומר (שיר השירים א׳:ד׳) משכני אחריך נרוצה וגו'

A story about R. Yochanan ben Zakkai, who was traveling on the road, riding on his donkey, and Rabbi Ele'azar ben Arakh, who was traveling after him. He said to him: "Rabbi, teach me one paragraph concerning the Work of the Chariot." He replied to him: "The sages do not teach this, not concerning the Divine Chariot, unless he is already wise and understands on his own." He said to him: "Rabbi, permit me to speak a word before you." He replied to him: "Speak!" Rabbi Ele'azar ben Arakh then began concerning the Work of Chariot. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai then descended to him from his donkey. He said: "It is not right that I hear about the glory of my Creator and I ride upon a donkey." They went and they sat down under a tree and fire descended from heaven and arose around them and then the ministering angels leaped before them like the guests at a wedding rejoicing before the groom. One Angel answered from the midst of the fire and said: "As Ele'azar ben Arach has spoken, so is the Work of the Chariot." Immediately, all the trees opened their mouths and sang a song "then shall all the trees of the forest shout for joy (Psalms 96:12)." Then, Rabbi Ele'azar finished [expounding] the Work of the Chariot, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai stood up and kissed him upon his head and said, "Blessed be the Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who has given to Abraham, our father, a wise son who knows how to expound on the glory of our Father who is in heaven. Some expound well, but do not fulfill well; some fulfill well, but do not expound well. Eleazar ben Arakh expounds well and fulfills well. Happy are you, Abraham our father, that Eleazar ben Arakh has come forth from your loins." When R. Yosef the Priest and R. Simeon ben Nathanel heard, they also opened a discourse on the Work of the Chariot. They said: "It was the first day in the season of Tammuz, and the earth shook and a rainbow appeared in the cloud. A Bat Kol came forth and said to them, "Behold, the place is vacant for you and the dining couches are laid out for you. You and your students are destined for the third level of heaven." This compares to what is said in Scripture: "In your presence there is fullness of joy (Ps.16.11)." There are seven levels of righteousness in the time to come. Another time, R. Joshua was walking on a road and Ben Zoma came up opposite him. Joshua inquired about his welfare, but [Ben Zoma] did not reply to him. He said to him, "From where and to where Ben Zoma?" Ben Zoma said to him: "I have been gazing with speculation on the Work of Creation. Between the upper and the lower waters there is nothing but an opening of a hand`s breadth. It is said here, "hovering," and it is said there: "Like an eagle who rouses his nestlings, hovering over his young, (Deut. 32:11)." Just as the "hovering" which is spoken of there implies touching which is not touching, so the "hovering" spoken of here is touching but not touching." R. Joshua said to his students, "See, Ben Zoma is outside." It was only a few days more before Ben Zoma died.

R. Judah bar Pazzi in the name of R. Yose ben R. Judah: Three presented their knowledge before their master, R. Joshua before Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, Rabbi Akiva before R. Joshua, Hananiah ben Hakinai before R. Akiva. After that time, the knowledge [of the Work of the Chariot] becomes uncertain.

Four entered the Pardes. One gazed and died. One gazed and was afflicted. One gazed and cut the saplings. One entered in peace and departed in peace.
Ben Azzai gazed and was stricken. Of him Scripture says: "If you find honey, eat only what you need, lest, gorging yourself, you throw it up. (Prov. 25:16)."
Ben Zoma gazed and died. Of him Scripture says: "The death of His faithful ones is precious in the eyes of Adonai (Ps.116.15)."

Aher gazed and cut the saplings. Who is Aher? Elisha ben Abbuyah, who murdered the young scholars of the Torah.
They say: "He used to kill every disciple he saw mastering the Torah. Moreover, he used to enter the schoolhouse, and when he saw the pupils in the presence of the teacher he would say, ``What are these doing here? This one should be a mason; this one should be a carpenter; this one should be a fisherman; this one should be a tailor." When they heard this they would leave and go. Of him Scripture says: "Don't let your mouth bring you into disfavor, and don't plead before the messenger that it was an error, but fear God; else God may be angered by your talk and destroy your possessions (Eccl. 5:5)." For he ruined his own works. Also at the time of the persecution they made them carry burdens, and the Jews arranged it so that two people should share one load, because of the rule that two people doing one piece of work [are not liable in regard to a Sabbath violation]. Elisha said, "Make them carry the loads by themselves." They went and made them carry them by themselves, but they arranged to unload in a karmelit [an area that cannot be classified either as private ground or as public ground], so that they might not bring them out from private to public ground. Elisha said, "Make them carry bottles.

R. Akiva entered in peace, and departed in peace. Of him Scripture says: "Draw me after you, let us run! The king has brought me to his chambers. (Song of Songs 1:4)."


Avot D'Rabbi Natan B: 33

Ben Zoma says: Who is a wise man? He that learns from all men, as scripture says: "From all my teachers I have got understanding (Ps 119:99)." Who is an honorable man? He that honors mankind, as scripture says: "For those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed (1 Sam 2:30)." Who is a mighty man? He that subdues his evil impulse, as scripture says: "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city (Prov 16:32)." Who is a rich man? He that is content with his portion, as scripture says: "You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you (Ps 128:2)." "You shall be happy" in this world, "and it shall be well with you" in the world to come. He used to say: "Do not look (תציץ) into a man's vineyard. If you have looked, do not go down into it. If you have gone in, do not stare. If you stared, do not touch. If you touched, do not eat. If a man eats, he removes his soul from the life of this world and the life of the world to come."

The Bavli on the Work of Creation and the Chariot

גמ׳ אמרת ברישא ולא במרכבה ביחיד והדר אמרת אלא אם כן היה חכם ומבין מדעתו הכי קאמר אין דורשין בעריות לשלשה ולא במעשה בראשית לשנים ולא במרכבה ליחיד אלא אם כן היה חכם ומבין מדעתו:
GEMARA: The Gemara poses a question: You said in the first clause of the mishna: Nor may one expound the Design of the Divine Chariot by oneself, which indicates that the topic may not be learned at all, and yet you subsequently said: Unless he is wise and understands most things on his own, which indicates that an individual is permitted to study the Design of the Divine Chariot. The Gemara explains: This is what the mishna is saying: One may not expound the topic of forbidden sexual relations before three students, nor the act of Creation before two, nor may one teach the Divine Chariot to one, unless that student was wise and understands on his own.
א"ל רבי יוחנן לרבי אלעזר תא אגמרך במעשה המרכבה א"ל לא קשאי כי קש נח נפשיה דרבי יוחנן א"ל ר' אסי תא ואגמרך במעשה מרכבה א"ל אי זכאי גמירתא מר' יוחנן רבך רב יוסף הוה גמיר מעשה המרכבה סבי דפומבדיתא הוו תנו במעשה בראשית אמרו ליה ליגמור לן מר מעשה מרכבה אמר להו אגמרון לי מעשה בראשית בתר דאגמרון אמרו ליה ליגמרון מר במעשה מרכבה אמר להו תנינא בהו (שיר השירים ד, יא) דבש וחלב תחת לשונך דברים המתוקין מדבש וחלב יהו תחת לשונך ר' אבהו אמר מהכא (משלי כז, כו) כבשים ללבושך דברים שהן כבשונו של עולם יהיו תחת לבושך אמרו ליה תנינן בהו עד (יחזקאל ב, א) ויאמר אלי בן אדם אמר להו הן הן מעשה המרכבה מיתיבי עד היכן מעשה המרכבה רבי אומר עד (יחזקאל א, כז) וארא בתרא ר' יצחק אומר עד החשמל עד וארא מגמרינן מכאן ואילך מסרינן ראשי פרקים איכא דאמרי עד וארא מסרינן ראשי פרקים מכאן ואילך אם הוא חכם מבין מדעתו אין אי לא לא
§ The Gemara relates: Rabbi Yoḥanan said to Rabbi Elazar: Come and I will teach you the Design of the Divine Chariot. Rabbi Elazar said to him: I have not yet aged sufficiently, as one must be very settled in one’s mind for these studies. When he grew old, Rabbi Yoḥanan had already passed away. Rabbi Asi said to him: Come and I will teach you the Design of the Divine Chariot. He said to him: Had I merited, I would have learned it from Rabbi Yoḥanan, your teacher. It therefore appears that I am unworthy of studying it. The Gemara relates: Rav Yosef would study the Design of the Divine Chariot and was familiar with the subject, whereas the Elders of Pumbedita would study the act of Creation. They said to Rav Yosef: Let the Master teach us the Design of the Divine Chariot. He said to them: You teach me the act of Creation. After they taught him that subject, they said to him: Let the Master teach us the Design of the Divine Chariot. He said to them: We learned with regard to them the secrets of the Torah: “Honey and milk are under your tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11), meaning that matters that are sweeter than honey and milk should remain under your tongue. In other words, one should not speak of such matters, and anyone who is familiar with them may not reveal them to others. Rabbi Abbahu said: It is derived from here, from the following verse: “The lambs [kevasim] will be for your clothing” (Proverbs 27:26), which he expounds as though it were written with the letter shin, kevashim, meaning concealed matters: Things that constitute the concealed matters of the world should be under your clothing; you should not reveal them. When the Elders of Pumbedita saw that Rav Yosef was not going to teach them, they said to him: We have learned them, the verses concerning the Design of the Divine Chariot written in the book of Ezekiel, up to the verse “And He said to me, son of man” (Ezekiel 2:1). He said to them: If so, these verses are the very essence of the Design of the Divine Chariot, as they provide the main details of the topic. The Gemara raises an objection to this from a baraita: Until where is the Design of the Divine Chariot related? Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi says: Until the latter “And I saw” (Ezekiel 1:27), not including the last verse. Rabbi Yitzḥak says: Until the word “the electrum” (Ezekiel 1:27). Neither of these opinions accord with Rav Yosef’s opinion that the Design of the Divine Chariot continues until the end of the chapter. The Gemara answers: Until “And I saw,” we teach those worthy of it; from this point forward, we transmit only the outlines. There are those who say: Until “And I saw,” we transmit the outlines; from this point forward, if he is wise and can understand of his own accord, yes, we teach him. If not, we do not teach him even the outlines.
ת"ר מעשה ברבן יוחנן בן זכאי שהיה רוכב על החמור והיה מהלך בדרך ור' אלעזר בן ערך מחמר אחריו אמר לו רבי שנה לי פרק אחד במעשה מרכבה אמר לו לא כך שניתי לכם ולא במרכבה ביחיד אלא א"כ היה חכם מבין מדעתו אמר לו רבי תרשיני לומר לפניך דבר אחד שלמדתני אמר לו אמור מיד ירד רבן יוחנן בן זכאי מעל החמור ונתעטף וישב על האבן תחת הזית אמר לו רבי מפני מה ירדת מעל החמור אמר אפשר אתה דורש במעשה מרכבה ושכינה עמנו ומלאכי השרת מלוין אותנו ואני ארכב על החמור מיד פתח ר"א בן ערך במעשה המרכבה ודרש וירדה אש מן השמים וסיבבה כל האילנות שבשדה פתחו כולן ואמרו שירה מה שירה אמרו (תהלים קמח, ז) הללו את ה' מן הארץ תנינים וכל תהומות עץ פרי וכל ארזים הללויה נענה מלאך מן האש ואמר הן הן מעשה המרכבה עמד רבן יוחנן ב"ז ונשקו על ראשו ואמר ברוך ה' אלהי ישראל שנתן בן לאברהם אבינו שיודע להבין ולחקור ולדרוש במעשה מרכבה יש נאה דורש ואין נאה מקיים נאה מקיים ואין נאה דורש אתה נאה דורש ונאה מקיים אשריך אברהם אבינו שאלעזר בן ערך יצא מחלציך וכשנאמרו הדברים לפני ר' יהושע היה הוא ורבי יוסי הכהן מהלכים בדרך אמרו אף אנו נדרוש במעשה מרכבה פתח רבי יהושע ודרש ואותו היום תקופת תמוז היה נתקשרו שמים בעבים ונראה כמין קשת בענן והיו מלאכי השרת מתקבצין ובאין לשמוע כבני אדם שמתקבצין ובאין לראות במזמוטי חתן וכלה הלך רבי יוסי הכהן וסיפר דברים לפני רבן יוחנן בן זכאי ואמר אשריכם ואשרי יולדתכם אשרי עיני שכך ראו ואף אני ואתם בחלומי מסובין היינו על הר סיני ונתנה עלינו בת קול מן השמים עלו לכאן עלו לכאן טרקלין גדולים ומצעות נאות מוצעות לכם אתם ותלמידיכם ותלמידי תלמידיכם מזומנין לכת שלישית איני והתניא ר' יוסי בר' יהודה אומר שלשה הרצאות הן ר' יהושע הרצה דברים לפני רבן יוחנן בן זכאי ר"ע הרצה לפני ר' יהושע חנניא בן חכינאי הרצה לפני ר"ע ואילו ר"א בן ערך לא קא חשיב דארצי וארצו קמיה קחשיב דארצי ולא ארצו קמיה לא קא חשיב והא חנניא בן חכינאי דלא ארצו קמיה וקא חשיב דארצי מיהא קמיה מאן דארצי. ת"ר ארבעה נכנסו בפרדס ואלו הן בן עזאי ובן זומא אחר ורבי עקיבא אמר להם ר"ע כשאתם מגיעין אצל אבני שיש טהור אל תאמרו מים מים משום שנאמר (תהלים קא, ז) דובר שקרים לא יכון לנגד עיני בן עזאי הציץ ומת עליו הכתוב אומר (תהלים קטז, טו) יקר בעיני ה' המותה לחסידיו בן זומא הציץ ונפגע ועליו הכתוב אומר (משלי כה, טז) דבש מצאת אכול דייך פן תשבענו והקאתו אחר קיצץ בנטיעות רבי עקיבא יצא בשלום

§ [The Gemara returns to the topic of the Work of the Chariot.] The Sages taught: A story involving Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai, who was riding on a donkey and was traveling along the road, and his student, Rabbi Ele'azar ben Arakh, was riding a donkey behind him. Rabbi Elazar said to him: My teacher, teach me one chapter concerning the Design of the Divine Chariot. He said to him: Have I not taught you: And one may not expound the Design of the Divine Chariot to an individual, unless he is a Sage who understands on his own accord? Rabbi Elazar said to him: My teacher, allow me to say before you one thing that you taught me. He said to him: Speak! Immediately, Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai alighted from the donkey, and wrapped himself in a tallit, and sat on a stone under an olive tree. Rabbi Elazar said to him: My teacher, for what reason did you alight from the donkey? He said: Is it possible that while you are expounding about the Design of the Divine Chariot, and the Shekhinah is with us, and the ministering angels are accompanying us, that I should ride on a donkey? Immediately, Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh began to discuss the Design of the Divine Chariot and expounded, and fire descended from heaven and encircled all the trees in the field, and all the trees began reciting song. What song did they sing? “Praise the Lord from the earth, sea monsters and all the depths…all fruit trees and cedars…praise the Lord (Psalms 148:7–14)." An angel responded from the fire, saying: This is the very Design of the Divine Chariot. R. Yoḥanan ben Zakkai stood and kissed Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh on his head, and said: Blessed be God, Lord of Israel, who gave our father Abraham a son like you, who knows how to understand, investigate, and expound the Design of the Divine Chariot. There are some who expound well but do not fulfill well, and there are some who fulfill well but do not expound well, whereas you expound well and fulfill well. Happy are you, our father Abraham, that Elazar ben Arakh came from your loins. And when these matters were recounted before Rabbi Yehoshua, he was traveling along the way with Rabbi Yosei the Priest. They said: We too shall expound the Design of the Divine Chariot. Rabbi Yehoshua began expounding. And that was the day of the summer solstice, when the heavens became filled with clouds, and there was the appearance of a kind of rainbow in a cloud. And ministering angels gathered and came to listen, like people gathering and coming to see the rejoicing of a bridegroom and bride. Rabbi Yosei the Priest went and recited these matters before Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai, who said to him: Happy are all of you, and happy are the mothers who gave birth to you; happy are my eyes that saw this. As for you and I, I saw in my dream that we were seated at Mount Sinai, and a Divine Voice came to us from heaven: Ascend here, ascend here, for large halls [teraklin] and pleasant couches are made up for you. You, your students, and the students of your students are invited to the third level. Is that so? But isn’t it taught in a baraita: Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Yehuda, says: There are three lectures. Rabbi Yehoshua lectured on these matters before Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai; Rabbi Akiva lectured before Rabbi Yehoshua; and Ḥananya ben Ḥakhinai lectured before Rabbi Akiva. However, Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh was not included. The Gemara explains: Those who lectured and were also lectured to were included; but those who lectured and were not lectured to were not included. The Gemara asks: But wasn’t there Ḥananya ben Ḥakhinai, who was not lectured to, and yet he is included? The Gemara answers: Ḥananya ben Ḥakhinai actually lectured before one who lectured.

The Sages taught: Four entered the orchard [pardes] and they are as follows: Ben Azzai; and ben Zoma; Aḥer, and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva said to them: When you reach pure marble stones, do not say: Water, water, because it is stated: “He who speaks falsehood shall not be established before My eyes (Psalms 101:7)." Ben Azzai gazed and died. And with regard to him the verse states: “Precious in the eyes Adonai is the death of His faithful ones (Psalms 116:15)." Ben Zoma gazed and was afflicted. With regard to him the verse states: “If you find honey, eat only what you need, Lest, gorging yourself, you throw it up. (Proverbs 25:16)." Aḥer chopped down the sapling. Rabbi Akiva came out in peace.

Mystical Experience or Parable?

נכנסו לפרדס - עלו לרקיע על ידי שם:

Entered (the) Pardes--They ascended to the firmament by means of a (Sacred) Name

נכנסו לפרדס. כגון על ידי שם ולא עלו למעלה ממש אלא היה נראה להם כמו שעלו וכן פי' בערוך:

Entered (the) Pardes...By means a Name but they did not literally ascend but rather it appeared to them as if they had ascended, this is the explanation of the Arukh.

sת"ר ד' נכנסו לפרדס. אלו הן בן עזאי ובן זומא אחר ור' עקיבא. אמר להם ר' עקיבא כשאתם מגיעים אל אבני שיש טהור אל תאמרו מים מים משום שנאמר דובר שקרים לא יכון לנגד עיני. פי' כינוהו פרדס מעין ג"ע שהיא גנוזה לצדיקים כך אותו מקום הוא מקום בערבות שהנשמות של צדיקים צרורות בו ומפורש בהיכלות שהיו החכמים הראוין למדה הזו מתפללין ומנקין עצמן מכל דבר טומאה וצמין ומטבלין ומטהרין והיו משתמשין בשמות וצופין בהיכלות ורואין [היאך] משמרות המלאכים במעמדם והיאך היכל אחרי היכל ולפני' מהיכל וצוה אותם ר"ע כשאתם מגיעין להביט באובנתא דליבא אצל אבני שיש טהור אל תאמרו מים מים שאין שם מים כל עיקר אלא דמות בעולם נראית והאומר מים נהדף שנמצא משקר ובלשון הזה מפורש בהיכלות רבתי מפני ששומרי היכל פתח שיש מטילין ומשליכין אלף אלפי גלי מים ואין שם אפי' טפה אחת. א"ר עקיבא נראה כמי שיש בו גלי מים ואין בו אפילו טפה אחת אלא אויר זיו אבני שיש טהור שהן כלולות בהיכל שהיה זיו פניהם דומים למים והאומר מים הללו מה טיבן נהדף כו' ואינם עולים בשמים אלא צופים ורואים באובנתא דליבא כאדם הרואה ומביט מתוך אספקלריא שאינה מאירה ובן עזאי הציץ כלומר הוסיף להזכיר בשמות כדי להביט באספקלריא מאירה ומת בן זומא הציץ ונפגע כלומר נטרפה דעתו אחר קיצץ בנטיעות כיון שכינו המקום ההוא פרדס א' קיצץ בנטיעות.

The Sages taught about 4 who entered to the Pardes. They were: Ben Azzai, and Ben Zoma, Aher and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva said to them: "When you reach the pure stones, don't say 'water' 'water' because it is said: "He who speaks deception shall not stand before my eyes (Ps. 101:7)." The explanation is as follows: "Pardes" refers to the Garden of Eden, which is reserved for the righteous. It is therefore that place in Aravot (the 7th level of heaven--B. Chagigah 12b) where the souls of the righteous are stored. The Hekhalot explain that the sages who were worthy regarding this matter used to pray, cleanse themselves of all contamination, fast, immerse and purify themselves. Then they would employ the names and gaze with imagination into the palaces and see how the angelic guards arranged themselves, and how one palace follows after the one before it. Rabbi Akiva commanded them that, when they reached the stone of pure marble, to gaze there with imagination, but not to say "water, water." because there is no water there at all but a reflection of the world is seen and the one who says "water" is thrust away and found to be a liar. This is the language of the explanation in Hekhalot Rabbati, that the guards of the sixth gate stir and direct thousand upon thousands of waves of water but there is not even a single drop there. Rabbi Akiva said: It appears like water that has waves of water within it but there is not even a single drop there but only the radiant reflection of the pure stones that pave the palace that appear to reflect like water. The one who says: "What is the nature of this water?", is cast away, etc. However, they did not ascend to the heavens, but rather they gazed with imagination and saw by means of an understanding of the heart, like a person who gazes and sees from the midst of a speculum that does not shine. Ben Azzai gazed, that is, he invoked additional names in order to look through a speculum that does shine and he died. Ben Zoma gazed and was afflicted, that is, his lucidity was torn away. Aher cut the saplings. Since the name for that place was "Pardes" ("orchard" or "garden"), Aher cut the saplings (from the root).

Responsum of Rav Hai Gaon b. Sherira (939–1038) translation from Judaism as Philosophy: Studies in Maimonides and the Medieval Jewish Philosophers of Provence, Howard Kreisel (2015) at 220-1

Know that it has never been our way to conceal anything or to interpret it not in accordance with the thought of its author, as others do. We will interpret for you the view of this tanna [sage of the Mishnah], the matter as he intended and the truth as he held it, without guaranteeing at present that [acceptance] of these matters is legally binding (halakhah). . . . Perhaps you are aware that many of the sages were of the opinion that one who is upright . . . when he wishes to gaze upon the merkavah and glance at the palaces of the angels on high, there are several ways to accomplish this: He should fast on certain known days and place his head between his knees and whisper to the ground many songs and praises, which have been disclosed. Then he glimpses its [i.e.--the merkavah’s] innermost parts and chambers as one who sees with his eyes seven palaces and gazes at them as though he goes from palace to palace and sees what is in each one. There are two books of Mishnah that the tannas taught regarding this matter, and they are called Heikhalot Rabbati and Heikhalot Zutarti. This matter is well known. Regarding gazing [upon the merkavah], this tana taught: “Four entered pardes.” He likened these palaces to an orchard and pictured these four [sages], in accordance with his opinion, as gazing at the merkavah and viewing the entrance to the palaces as one who enters an orchard. This interpretation is clear from the context [of the story]. First, the passage of the mishnah upon which this teaching is brought is: “. . . Nor [is taught] the [Account of the] Chariot in the presence of one, unless he is a sage and understands by his own intelligence.” Furthermore, it is stated in the baraitha explicity: “R. Akiva said: When you arrive at the stones of pure marble, say not: Water water.” In Heikhalot Zutarti, this is explained as follows: “The entrance to the sixth palace appears as though it contains thousands of myriads of waves of water, yet it contains not a single drop. Rather it contains luminous air and transparent stones of pure marble, like a palace whose luminous appearance is similar to water.” . . . R. Akiva was more perfect than the others, for he glanced as required and gazed properly and his mind was able to contain these frightening sights, so God granted him life. Everything upon which he gazed he grasped properly with the correct understanding. Know that this interpretation was accepted by all the earliest [sages] and none of them denied it, since they said that God performs signs and wonders by means of the righteous just as He does by means of the prophets, and He shows the righteous wondrous sights as He does for the prophets. . . . The master R. Samuel Gaon and others like him, who frequently consulted the books of the gentiles, maintain that these sights were seen only by the prophets, and no miracle is performed except for a prophet. They deny all tales in which it is claimed that a miracle was performed for the righteous and say that this is not a legally binding opinion. Even the tale regarding R. Akiva gazing upon the palaces, and what is told about R. Neḥunia ben Haqana and R. Ishmael and others like them— they say that belief in all these stories is not legally binding. We, however, are of the opinion that God performs miracles and great wonders for the righteous, and it is not farfetched that He shows them inwardly the sights of His palaces and the status of His angels.

ת"ר מעשה ברבי יהושע בן חנניה שהיה עומד על גב מעלה בהר הבית וראהו בן זומא ולא עמד מלפניו אמר לו מאין ולאין בן זומא אמר לו צופה הייתי בין מים העליונים למים התחתונים ואין בין זה לזה אלא שלש אצבעות בלבד שנאמר (בראשית א, ב) ורוח אלהים מרחפת על פני המים כיונה שמרחפת על בניה ואינה נוגעת אמר להן רבי יהושע לתלמידיו עדיין בן זומא מבחוץ

With regard to the fate of ben Zoma, the Sages taught: There was once an incident with regard to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Ḥananya, who was standing on a step on the Temple Mount, and ben Zoma saw him and did not stand before him to honor him, as he was deep in thought. Rabbi Yehoshua said to him: From where do you come and where are you going, ben Zoma, i.e., what is on your mind? He said to him: In my thoughts I was looking upon the act of Creation, at the gap between the upper waters and the lower waters, as there is only the breadth of a mere three fingers between them, as it is stated: “And the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2), like a dove hovering over its young without touching them. Rabbi Yehoshua said to his students who had overheard this exchange: Ben Zoma is still outside.

אחר קיצץ בנטיעות עליו הכתוב אומר (קהלת ה, ה) אל תתן את פיך לחטיא את בשרך מאי היא חזא מיטטרון דאתיהבא ליה רשותא למיתב למיכתב זכוותא דישראל אמר גמירא דלמעלה לא הוי לא ישיבה ולא תחרות ולא עורף ולא עיפוי שמא חס ושלום ב' רשויות הן אפקוהו למיטטרון ומחיוהו שיתין פולסי דנורא א"ל מ"ט כי חזיתיה לא קמת מקמיה איתיהיבא ליה רשותא למימחק זכוותא דאחר יצתה בת קול ואמרה (ירמיהו ג, יד) שובו בנים שובבים חוץ מאחר אמר הואיל ואיטריד ההוא גברא מההוא עלמא ליפוק ליתהני בהאי עלמא נפק אחר לתרבות רעה נפק אשכח זונה תבעה אמרה ליה ולאו אלישע בן אבויה את עקר פוגלא ממישרא בשבת ויהב לה אמרה אחר הוא

§ The Gemara stated earlier that Aḥer chopped down the saplings, becoming a heretic. With regard to him, the verse states: “Do not let your mouth bring your flesh into guilt” (Ecclesiastes 5:5). The Gemara poses a question: What was it that led him to heresy? He saw the angel Metatron, who was granted permission to sit and write the merits of Israel. He said: There is a tradition that in the world above there is no sitting; no competition; no turning one’s back before Him, i.e., all face the Divine Presence; and no lethargy. Seeing that someone other than God was seated above, he said: Perhaps, the Gemara here interjects, Heaven forbid, there are two authorities, and there is another source of power in control of the world in addition to God. Such thoughts led Aḥer to heresy. The Gemara relates: They removed Metatron from his place in heaven and smote him with sixty rods [pulsei] of fire, so that others would not make mistake that Aḥer made. They said to the angel: What is the reason that when you saw Elisha ben Avuya you did not stand before him? Despite this conduct, since Metatron was personally involved, he was granted permission to erase the merits of Aḥer and cause him to stumble in any manner. A Divine Voice went forth saying: “Return, rebellious children” (Jeremiah 3:22), apart from Aḥer. Upon hearing this, Elisha ben Avuya said: Since that man, meaning himself, has been banished from that world, let him go out and enjoy this world. Aḥer went astray. He went and found a prostitute and solicited her for intercourse. She said to him: And are you not Elisha ben Avuya? Shall a person of your stature perform such an act? He uprooted a radish from a patch of radishes on Shabbat and gave it to her, to demonstrate that he no longer observed the Torah. The prostitute said: He is other than he was. He is not the same Elisha ben Avuya, he is Aḥer, other.

ר"ע עלה בשלום וירד בשלום ועליו הכתוב אומר (שיר השירים א, ד) משכני אחריך נרוצה ואף רבי עקיבא בקשו מלאכי השרת לדוחפו אמר להם הקב"ה הניחו לזקן זה שראוי להשתמש בכבודי מאי דרש אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי יוחנן (דברים לג, ב) (ואתא) מרבבות קדש אות הוא ברבבה שלו ורבי אבהו אמר (שיר השירים ה, י) דגול מרבבה דוגמא הוא ברבבה שלו וריש לקיש אמר (ישעיהו מח, ב) ה' צבאות שמו אדון הוא בצבא שלו ורבי חייא בר אבא א"ר יוחנן (מלכים א יט, יא) לא ברוח ה' ואחר הרוח רעש לא ברעש ה' ואחר הרעש אש לא באש ה' ואחר האש קול דממה דקה והנה ה' עובר
§ The Gemara returns to the four who entered the orchard. It is stated above that Rabbi Akiva ascended in safety and descended safely. With regard to him, the verse states: “Draw me, we will run after you; the king has brought me into his chambers” (Song of Songs 1:4). The Gemara relates: And even Rabbi Akiva, the ministering angels sought to push him out of the orchard. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to them: Leave this Elder, for he is fit to serve My glory. The Gemara asks: What verse did Rabbi Akiva expound that prevented him from making the same mistake as Aḥer? Rabba bar bar Ḥana said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: It was the following: “And He came [ve’ata] from the holy myriads” (Deuteronomy 33:2), which he explained in this manner: He, God, is unique [ot] among His myriads of angels. Therefore, he knew that he had merely seen an angel. And Rabbi Abbahu said: Rabbi Akiva expounded the verse: “Preeminent above a myriad” (Song of Songs 5:10) to indicate that He is exemplary among His myriad. And Reish Lakish said: He expounded the verse: “The Lord of hosts is His name” (Isaiah 48:2); He is the Master in His host. And Rav Ḥiyya bar Abba said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: He expounded the verses: “But the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake; the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, a still, small voice,” and it states in that verse: “And behold, the Lord passed by” (I Kings 19:11–12). Rabbi Akiva used this verse in order to recognize the place of His presence and refrain from trespassing there.

Midrash on the Four Who Entered (the) Pardes

הֱבִיאַנִי הַמֶּלֶךְ חֲדָרָיו, תַּמָּן תְּנֵינַן אַרְבָּעָה נִכְנְסוּ לַפַּרְדֵּס, בֶּן עַזַּאי, וּבֶן זוֹמָא, אֱלִישָׁע בֶּן אֲבוּיָה וְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא. בֶּן עַזַּאי, הֵצִיץ וְנִפְגַּע, וְעָלָיו נֶאֱמַר (משלי כה, טז): דְּבַשׁ מָצָאתָ אֱכֹל דַּיֶּךָּ. בֶּן זוֹמָא, הֵצִיץ וָמֵת, וְעָלָיו נֶאֱמַר (תהלים קטז, טו): יָקָר בְּעֵינֵי ה' הַמָּוְתָה לַחֲסִידָיו. אֱלִישָׁע בֶּן אֲבוּיָה קִצֵּץ בַּנְּטִיעוֹת, כֵּיצַד קִצֵּץ בַּנְּטִיעוֹת, בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁהָיָה נִכְנַס לְבָתֵּי כְנֵסִיּוֹת וּמִדְרָשׁוֹת וְרוֹאֶה תִּינוֹקוֹת שֶׁמַּצְלִיחִין בַּתּוֹרָה, הָיָה אוֹמֵר עֲלֵיהוֹן מִלַּיָּא וּמִסְתַּתְּמִין, וְעָלָיו נֶאֱמַר (קהלת ה, ה): אַל תִּתֵּן אֶת פִּיךָ לַחֲטִיא אֶת בְּשָׂרֶךָ. רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא נִכְנַס בְּשָׁלוֹם וְיָצָא בְשָׁלוֹם, וְאָמַר, לֹא מִפְּנֵי שֶׁגָּדוֹל אֲנִי מֵחֲבֵרַי, אֶלָּא כָּךְ שָׁנוּ חֲכָמִים בַּמִּשְׁנָה, מַעֲשֶׂיךָ יְקָרְבוּךָ וּמַעֲשֶׂיךָ יְרַחֲקוּךָ, וְעָלָיו נֶאֱמַר: הֱבִיאַנִי הַמֶּלֶךְ חֲדָרָיו.

"The King has brought me to his chambers...." We have learned elsewhere: 4 entered the Pardes, Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Elisha ben Avuya and Rabbi Akiva. Ben Azzai, he gazed and was afflicted. About him Scripture says: "If you find honey, eat only what you need, lest, gorging yourself, you throw it up. (Prov. 25:16)." Ben Zoma, he gazed and died. About him, Scripture says: "The death of His faithful ones is precious in the eyes of Adonai (Ps. 116:15)." Elisha ben Avuya cut the saplings. How did he cut the saplings? At the hour that he entered a synagogue and house of study and he saw children succeeding with Torah, he would pronounce spells over them which would stop them. About him, Scripture says: "Don't let your mouth bring your flesh into sin (Koh. 5:5)." Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and exited in peace. He said: "It is not because I am greater than my colleagues but rather, as the Sages of the Mishnah taught: Your own deeds bring you near and your own deeds distance you. About him, Scripture says: "The King has brought me into his chambers."

Hekhalot Literature on the Four Who Entered (the) Pardes


Not Yet Available

Hekhalot Zutarti (As set forth in The Mystery of God: Early Jewish Mysticism and the New Testament at 276-7)

R. Aqiba said: We were four who went into pardes. One looked and died, one looked and was stricken, one looked and cut the shoots, and I went in in peace and came out in peace. Why did I go in in peace and come out in peace? Not because I am greater than my fellows, but my deeds [they] have caused me to fulfill the teaching that the sages have taught in their Mishnah: "Your deeds will bring you near and your deeds will keep you afar." And these are they that went into pardes: Ben Azzai and Ben Zoma and 'Aher and R. Aqiba.

Ben Azzai looked into the sixth palace and saw the brilliance of the air of the marble stones with which the palace was paved, and his body could not bear it, and he opened his mouth and asked them: "These waters—what is the nature of them?" and died. Of him, scripture says: "Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints." (Ps 116:15).

Ben Zoma looked at the brilliance in the marble stones and thought that they were water, and his body could bear that he did not ask them, but his mind could not bear it, and was stricken (he went out of his mind). Of him scripture says: "Have you found honey? Eat what is enough for you. . . " etc. (Prov 25:16).

Elisha b. Avuya looked and cut the shoots. {In what way did he cut the shoots? They say that whenever he went into the synagogues and study-houses and saw children succeeding in Torah-study, he used to speak over them and they would be silenced, and} Of him, scripture says: Do not let your mouth lead your flesh into sin! (Eccl 5:5).

R. Akiva went in in peace and came out in peace. Of him, scripture says: Draw me after you. Let us run. Let the king bring me into his chambers (Cant 1:4).

[R. Akiva said: At that time, when I went up to the heavenly height, I made more signs in the entrances of Rakia than in the entrances of my house, and when I arrived at the pargod, angels of destruction came out to destroy me. The holy one, blessed be he, said to them: ‘Leave this elder alone, for he is worthy to behold my glory.’]


Hekhalot Zutarti (As set forth in The Mystery of God: Early Jewish Mysticism and the New Testament at 292-3)

§ 407a And I saw what/one who looked like the hashmal (Ezek 1:27),
§ 407b who is recognized, and stands up and selects from the yordei merkava, between one who is worthy to see the king in his beauty and one who is unworthy to see the king in his beauty.
§ 407c If one was worthy to see the king in his beauty, they would influence his mind. When they said to him: ‘Enter!’ he would
not enter. And again they would say to him: ‘Enter!’ Then he would enter. They would praise him, saying: ‘Surely, so-and-so is worthy to see the king in his beauty!’
§ 407d But if one was unworthy to see the king in his beauty, they would influence his mind and when they said to him: ‘Enter!’
he would enter. Then they would crush him and throw him into the river Rigyon of fiery coals.
§ 408a The sixth palace looked as if a hundred thousand thousand myriads of myriads of waves of the sea were billowing in it, yet there was not a single drop of water in it but only, of brilliant air, the pure marble stones with which the palace was paved, the brilliance of the appearance of which was more terrible than water.
§ 408b And lo, the ministers stand before him, and if one should say, ‘These waters: what is the nature of them?’—then they run after him to stone him and say to him: ‘Worthless one! Do you not see with your eyes? Perhaps you are of the calf-kissers’ seed and unworthy to see the king in his beauty!’
§ 408c If so, a heavenly voice comes forth from the seventh palace, and the herald comes forth before him and trumpets and pro-claims, saying to them: ‘You have spoken well! He is indeed of the calf-kissers’ seed and unworthy to see the king in his beauty!’
§ 408d And he does not depart thence before they split his head with
iron cleavers.
§ 409a This shall be for a sign to the generations, lest a man should err at the gate of the sixth palace and see the brilliance of the air of the stones and ask, or say that they are water, that he may not bring himself into danger,
§ 409b because even if one is unworthy to see the king in his beauty, and does not ask them about the brilliant air of the pure marble stones with which the palace is paved, they will not destroy him but judge him according to the scale of merit, saying: ‘If he is unworthy to see the king in his beauty, how did he get into the (first) six hekhalot?’
§ 410a R. Akiva said:
§ 410b A certain person was worthy, and stood at the gate of the sixth palace, and saw the brilliance of the air of the stones,
and he opened his mouth twice and said: ‘Water! Water!’ In the blink of an eye, they cut off his head. And eleven thousand iron cleavers shall be upon him.

מפני ששומרי פתח היכל ששי היו עושים כמי שמטילים עליו אלף אלפי גלי מים ואין שם אפילו טפה אחת אם אמר מים הללו מה טיבן מיד רצין אחריו בסקילה ואומרין ריקה שמא מזרעו של מנשקי העגל שאין אתה ראוי לראות במלך וכסאו לא זז משם עד שמטילין עליו אלף אלפים מגזרי ברזל:

The door-keepers of the sixth palace place upon him a thousand thousands of waves of water, and there is not in that place even a single drop. And if he said, “What is
the nature of this water?” they at once run after him, stoning him, and saying to him, “Wretch, are you not or the seed of those that kissed the [golden] calf, and are unfit to see the King and His throne. He does not move from the spot before they place on him a thousand thousands of pieces of iron.

Dead Sea Scrolls/Qumran


Dead Sea Scroll 1QH" col 16.4-26

as translated in THE "HODAYOT" HYMNIST AND THE FOUR WHO ENTERED PARADISE, James R. Davila, Revue de Qumrân, Vol. 17, No. 1/4 (65/68), pp 461-2

I t[hank you, Lord, for] You [have ]put me at a source of streams in the dry land, a spring of water in a parched land as an irrigator of a garden... planting of cyprus and elm with cedar together for Your glory, trees of life by a fountain of mystery, hidden in the midst of all the trees of the waters. And they were to make sprout a shoot for an eternal planting to root (it in) before they (even) sprout (themselves). They sent out their roots to a watercourse and its stem was opened to living waters, and it belongs to the eternal source.

But on the shoot of its leaves all the [animals of the forest graze, and its stem is a trampling-place for all who traverse ',the path, and its boughs for every winged bird. And all the tr[ees of] the waters are exalted over it, for in their planting they grow, but they did not send out a root to the watercourse. And the holy shoot budding for the true planting was secret, unreckoned and the seal of its mystery unknown. But Yo[u, Go]d, hedged its fruit with the mystery of vigorous mighty ones, and holy spirits and blazing fire that turns from side to side. No prince [comes to the fountain of life, Nor does he drink holy waters with the eternal trees. He does not make his fruit flourish with [the pla]nt of the heavenly clouds, for he sees without recognizing, and reckons without believing in the source of life, and he sets [his] hand [upon the] eternal [spr]out. As for me, I have become despised by overflowing rivers, for they cast forth their mire upon me. But You, my God, have put in my mouth, as it were early rain, a downpour for all [... and a spring of living waters. And it shall not fail to open the h[ea]vens. They do not recede and they turn into overflowing wadi [ ] waters and into unsearchable] seas. Suddenly they spring forth, hidden in secret... and they turn into... fresh and dry, depth to every animal and... lead in magnificent waters ... fire and they dry up and a plant of fruit... \fountain of eternity for Eden of glory and fru[it...] And by my hand You have opened their fountain with channels of [wate]r to turn upon a sure plumb-line, and the plant of their trees upon the level of the sun to... me for ornamentation of glory. When I wave (my) hand to dig its channels its roots strike into rock of flint and... its stem in the earth. And in the time of heat it retains its fortitude. But if I withdraw (my) hand it shall be like junifper of the wilderness,] its stem like chickpea in a salt waste, and as for its channels, thorn and thistle shall arise as briers and brambles ...s of its bank shall be turned into something like stinking trees. Before the heat, its leaves shall wither and it shall not be opened

ביחיד אלא אם כן היה חכם ומבין מדעתו אפילו לאדם אחד אין דורשין במרכבה, אלא א''כ מכיר בו הרב שהוא חכם שאם ימסור לו ראשי פרקים יהיה הוא מבין השאר מדעתו:

Alone, except if he is already wise and understands from his knowledge - Even to one we don't teach the Merkavah, except if the teacher knows that he is wise such that if he will provide for him the chapter headings he will understand the rest from his knowledge.

ומי דרשינן בחשמל והא ההוא ינוקא דדרש בחשמל ונפקא נורא ואכלתיה שאני ינוקא דלאו מטי זימניה אמר רב יהודה ברם זכור אותו האיש לטוב וחנניה בן חזקיה שמו אלמלא הוא נגנז ספר יחזקאל שהיו דבריו סותרין דברי תורה מה עשה העלו לו ג' מאות גרבי שמן וישב בעלייה ודרשו ת"ר מעשה בתינוק אחד שהיה קורא בבית רבו בספר יחזקאל והיה מבין בחשמל ויצאה אש מחשמל ושרפתו וביקשו לגנוז ספר יחזקאל אמר להם חנניה בן חזקיה אם זה חכם הכל חכמים הן
The Gemara poses a question: And may one teach about the electrum of the Design of the Divine Chariot at all? But wasn’t there a certain youth who expounded the electrum, and fire came out and consumed him, showing that such study is highly dangerous? The Gemara answers: That youth was different, for his time to study such matters had not yet arrived. Therefore, he was punished. Rav Yehuda said: Indeed, that man is remembered for good, and Ḥananya ben Ḥizkiya was his name, because were it not for him, the book of Ezekiel would have been suppressed. Why did they wish to suppress it? Because they found that its words contradicted the words of Torah, as its later chapters contain many halakhot that appear not to accord with those of the Torah. What did he do? They brought up to him three hundred barrels of oil, for light and sustenance, and he sat in an upper chamber and expounded it, to reconcile its teachings with those of the Torah. The Sages taught: An incident occurred involving a youth who was reading the book of Ezekiel in the house of his teacher, and he was able to comprehend the electrum, and fire came out of the electrum and burned him. And they sought to suppress the book of Ezekiel due to the danger it posed. Ḥananya ben Ḥizkiya said to them: If this youth happened to be wise, are all people wise enough to understand this book?