The basic story goes like this: four people of great learning enter the paradise of all knowledge. As each takes in the totality, one dies, one goes mad, one rebels and fights to destroy the knowledge, and only one takes it all in and survives. That person then returns to the world of humanity to teach by word and by example.
In my reading of this story, I see a deep wisdom: I am one of those people, and I do not know which one I am. I suppose if I am not ready to leave behind the things of the world to teach peace and love by word and example, then I am one of the other three, incapable of handling the whole of knowledge and truth, incapable of being in the presence of G-d. I use the form G-d, as this story comes to me from Jewish tradition, and I wish to observe how some in that faith render that name so as to show it respect.
And while some beliefs allow me a clear pathway to heaven, not a one writes a guarantee that I am capable of being in the presence of G-d, to know as G-d knows, as an unprepared human being. Any belief that calls upon me to make that journey to the paradise of all knowledge does so with a caution that I have much to change in how I live and think and act in order to be ready for that ultimate revelation, that it not consume me. And then, once having attained that knowledge, I become even more different from the natural human I was at birth and through most of my life.
For I read the story to understand that those who die, who go mad, who rebel against truth, all them were unready to abandon the ends that they desired so that they could live only according to righteous means, even if it led to their worldly perishing. They were unwilling to be as compassionate as they needed to be. They did not welcome the ideals demanded of us when we understand the whole of the truth and knowledge of the universe.
All around me, I see people caught up in arguments about this or that, and at times I become caught up in them, as well. And, in the moment I argue, in the moment my hatred rises even a little bit, in that moment, I start to wonder if I am a dead man, a mad man, or a man who makes war against G-d. Because, in that moment of anger and contention, I am not a man who teaches peace and love by word and by example.
I am yet alive and I can yet re-think my ways, repent so that my reactions are different the next time I see a contention around me. If I want to be the kind of person who takes in all knowledge and survives to teach, then I must work at being a person who behaves as such a teacher even before I enter into that knowledge. It is not enough to show a checklist of things I never did and another list of things I no longer do. The lack of evil does not make us good. It must instead be a list of things I did where I made sacrifices in faith and love so that others would have better lives and hopefully themselves begin to prepare to become teachers themselves.
I have much yet to do with my life. May I draw breath and think clearly long enough to make as much preparation now for the knowledge that is to come. May I give thanks to my fellow humans of the Jewish faith, for they have been a light of wisdom unto the nations.