You’ve probably heard the idea that if something non-kosher is mixed with a kosher dish that is hot, then if there is 60 times more kosher food than non-kosher, then the mix is permitted (see Rema, Yoreh Deah 98:1) because it is presumed that once this ratio has been reached, the non-kosher food can no longer be tasted (nb. this principle generally does not apply where the non-kosher food is important in terms of substance or fundamental in terms of flavour).
Reflecting on this principle, then if something is 1/60th of a mix – such that there is 59 times more of one substance than the other – then while that first substance is still considered to be a present and noticeable flavour, its presence is exceedingly weak and would be hard for some people to notice.
I mention this in light of today’s daf (Pesachim 94a) where we are told that “the world is 1/60th of the size of the Garden, and the Garden is 1/60th of Eden, and Eden is 1/60th of Gehinom”. Of course, as the Maharal points out (in his Be’er HaGolah 6:4 with reference to Ta’anit 10a), these statements are not meant to be understood in the physical sense. Instead, their purpose is to teach us about our relationship to the world of wisdom and spirituality. As Rav Tzadok HaKohen explains (see his Kedushat Shabbat Ch. 7 section 67) with reference to the laws of kashrut, ‘one in sixty is the ratio where a presence is felt at its weakest level…and in this world, there is 1/60th of the holiness of the Garden… in which there is 1/60th of Eden…in which there is 1/60th of Gehinom”. Still, how are we to understand what this means?
To try and make sense of this idea, we need consider the difference between the Garden, Eden and Gehinom. In terms of the Garden, this was the physical location where Adam & Chava were first placed – where the beauty of God’s creation was most potently felt, and where the potential for them to live the godliest of life was possible.
Contrasting this, Eden is understood to be the spiritual force that ‘waters’ the Garden (see Bereishit 2:10) which is explained to be the World to Come. This is the non-physical location where God’s presence is most potently felt and where we are rewarded for living a godly life.
And contrasting this is Gehinom, which is a non-physical location whose distance from the World to Come is measured according to the extent to which we have, in our life on this earth, failed to live up to God’s expectations and our potential.
Accordingly, what I understand this rabbinic teaching to be saying is that, in our daily lives, we have the capacity to sense – in a weak yet still noticeable manner – our potential to live a godly life. And if we tap into this awareness – weak though it may be – we may even sense the non-physical in this physical world and the presence of God in the things that we do. And if we ponder this even more, we will realise that God has expectations of us and has created potential in each of us, and that the greatest disservice we can do to ourselves and to God is to fail to strive to live a good and godly life.