Let’s talk about the Garden of Eden, why lotto winners almost always go bankrupt, the Near Eastern concept of heaven, and why Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs is an accidental theologian.
In the book Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife, author Lisa Miller writes:
Gardens…were the best kind of place a poor desert farmer could imagine. Indeed, a verdant and protected garden was almost beyond imagining. Garden walls are crucial to Biblical imagination.
The word paradise, in fact, comes from the Persian word pairidaeza, which means, “walled garden”. The famed psychologist and philosopher Carl Jung had a near death experience in which he found himself in such a garden, surrounded by pomegranates, which are rooted in Middle Eastern symbolism and in the Bible especially as a symbol of fertility.
Or he may have been high. Freud did a lot of coke. Who knows what Jung might have been into.
Edenic imagery has found its way into all kinds of creative expression. In films such as What Dreams May Come, Just Like Heaven, and the silent film Modern Times, visions of gardens where peace and love permeate all aspects of life envelop us in rapture.
So Eden equals Heaven. Got it.
Or maybe not.
Is the film interpretation of the Garden of Eden, a carefree world, really what Eden was like? I suggest no. While Eden was magnificent, it was not the spa-like vacation that later artists and theologians made it out to be. It wasn’t like winning the lotto.
Let’s talk about that for a moment.
Most lotto winners end up declaring bankruptcy.
Odd, huh? How could winning a multimillion dollar jackpot put you in the poor house?
Marketwatch has a few theories, but the one that interests me the most is the idea of mental accounting, that lotto winners go broke through a process of “treating their winnings less cautiously than they would their earnings.” The money from the lotto is somehow less important, less valuable, less tangible, than money you earned from your work. Lotto winners take their money for granted until it’s gone, because it’s a different category of money than anything they had ever experienced before.
Bottom line: there is something profoundly important about a hard day’s work.
And it turns out, Adam and Eve knew something about that.
God, we are told, put Adam in the garden to “work it and to guard it” (Genesis 2:15). When God tells Adam, “I have given you all the herbage bearing seed” God is not saying that Adam will sit and relax as all the work of the garden is done for him. Rather, Adam is to work with what God has given him in order to feed himself and Eve, just as the animals are given the same herbage to eat. In fact, it could be argued that connecting “to every beast…to every bird…green herb is for food” (Genesis 2:18) is a way of telling mankind that their responsibility is to literally guard (shamrah) the land from the animals that will eat the same food as them!
All this begs the question: what kind of lazy place requires you to guard plants in a field, which you cultivate? How lazy of a life can one really have, while at the same time having dominion over everything on Earth (Genesis 1:26)?
The answer is simple: Eden is something created, not something consumed. And if we want to live in Eden, we have to actually make it happen.
Which brings me to the show Dirty Jobs and its host, Mike Rowe.
Mike Rowe is on a mission to repair what he calls a profoundly disconnected economy. Millions of dollars in student loan debt, high unemployment, a crumbling infrastructure…all these things put together are an economic disaster.
For Rowe, the solution is oddly simple: reward honest, hard work.
Rowe’s non-profit, mikeroweWorks, gives scholarships to men and women who are interested in taking up trades that benefit our economy. His message of closing the skills gap in America resonates with people who have gone to four year universities, and come out unable to do anything productive.
But underlying Rowe’s charitable work is actually something spiritual; Mike Rowe’s outreach is about the peace that comes from separating what you are passionate about, from what earns you a living.
“When you put passion first, you erect a gigantic wall…don’t follow your passion, but bring it with you.”
I have had this discussion with many, many people. The theory is that if we work hard at preparing to be whatever it is that we are going to be, that the payday will come and we will be happy.
That may be true for many people. But not everyone. And I suspect a great amount of emotional turmoil comes from a crisis where the idealized self that we want to be never comes through. The world, we feel, conspires against us to prevent us from living the dream. So we suck it up and do something we are not passionate about, while feeling like a cog in some great machine.
What Rowe is saying is fantastic. Forget about the magical life you think you want, and instead focus on doing what it is that you’ve got to do to make a buck, and at the end of the day, relax and enjoy that other thing that truly matters to you.
Earning a Living vs. Earning a Life
Another way of putting all of this: there is a difference between earning a living, and earning a life.
Adam had to earn a living. That living was cultivating Eden. But the life that he would earn at the end of that hard workday was Heaven.
We all want Heaven. But we are not always willing to cultivate Eden.
God put Adam in Eden without asking him what his true passion was. God did not ask Adam if he had always wanted to be a priest, or a lute player, or whatever else one could do. God said, “this is it, pal. Go work this garden. And when you complete your work, have fun with Eve. Welcome to heaven.”
In case you think I’m being a hypocrite, because I love PunkTorah and being a rabbi is what I get to do, I’d just like to say that secretly, I still want to be a rockstar. I’ll never get to have that dream. It makes me profoundly sad.
But I get heaven instead. So I’m cool with that.
Written by Rabbi Patrick