About “A Tale of the Four”

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

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

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

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

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

(Chagiga 14b)

  • This Talmudic midrash reports on a mystical experience of four young rabbis. In what way does the comparison of the Talmudic “orchard” to an experience with kids’ drugs experimentation bring this Talmud story closer to you? In what ways does it distance you?
  • What does it tell you about Israeli society that this song (on a best-selling album by a top-selling artist) so confidently mixes the sacred and the profane? Is this a good thing or a bad thing in your eyes?
  • Have there ever been events in your life that you might compare to a mythical tale in Jewish tradition?
  • Have there ever been events in your life that left you changed forever ?

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