The Return to the Original Garden: Dedicated to Alex Sharone
The Hebrew term for the Garden of Eden is Gan Eden. After the human being was created on Mount Moriah, the site of the future Temple, the Creator brought the human being to Gan Eden, as it is written: “And Hashem God took the human being and placed him in Gan Eden to serve it and to guard it” (Genesis 2:15). Where was Gan Eden located? The ancient midrashic work, Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, states:
“The Gate of Gan Eden is near Mount Moriah” (chapter 20).
Various locations for Gan Eden are suggested by Resh Lakish, a sage of the Talmud, and he states, “If it is in the Land of Israel, its entrance is at Beth She’an” (Tractate Eruvin 19a). Rashi explains that he suggested Beth She’an because its fruits are the sweetest of all the fruits in the Land of Israel. The Beth She’an valley is in a region of Northern Israel south of Lake Kinneret.
Regarding the original Gan Eden, which is now hidden from us, Maimonides writes:
“Gan Eden is a fertile and rich place, the finest part of the earth. It has many rivers and fruit trees. Hashem will reveal it to humankind in the future and also show them the way to reach it, so they will enjoy it. It is possible that marvelous plants of great benefit, pleasant and very sweet, grow there, other than those plants that we know.” (Introduction to Perek Chelek, Tractate Sanhedrin)
As we discussed in Part 1 and Part 2 of this letter, our return to the holistic path of the Torah leads to our complete return to the Land of Zion, and our fulfillment of the Torah in the Land of Zion leads to our return to the ideal state of Gan Eden. According to the above teaching cited by Maimonides, we will also return to the original Gan Eden. We therefore have many blessings to look forward to when we begin the process of renewing our commitment to the path of the Torah.
Step-by-step, mitzvah-by-mitzvah, we can reach the goal of our journey.
Have a Good and Comforting Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Insights and Comments:
1. As the Prophets of Israel remind us, we need to renew our relationship with Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, in order to be able to return to the ideal state of Gan Eden. The parsha – Torah portion – of this Shabbos has the following three mitzvos which guide us in our relationship with Hashem:
A. “I am Hashem, your God, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 5:6 – This verse first appears in Exodus 20:2.)
Maimonides, in his classical work, “The Book of Mitzvos,” cites this verse as the source for the mitzvah to believe in the One Creator of all existence (Mitzvah 1). This verse, however, speaks of Hashem Who redeemed us from the bondage of Egypt. If this verse is the source of the mitzvah to believe in the One Who created the world, then why does it emphasize the redeeming role of the Creator?
This is to teach us that the Creating One is the Redeeming One!
According to Rabbi Isaac of Corbeil, a leading 13th century sage, this verse calls upon us to not only believe that Hashem redeemed us in the past, but to also believe that Hashem will redeem us in the future. In his classical work on the mitzvos, known as “Sefer Mitzvos Katan,” he states that the obligation to believe in the coming of the Messiah is rooted in the words, “I am Hashem, your God, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt” – for the Exodus from Egypt is a testimony to the ongoing Divine providence in history that is leading us to the ultimate redemption of the messianic age.
In the messianic age, we begin to return to the ideal state of the Garden. The teaching of Rabbi Isaac of Corbeil therefore leads to the following insight:
Our journey back to the “Garden” begins with the awareness that Hashem is leading us there.
B. “You shall not have other gods before Me” (Deuteronomy 5:7 – This verse first appears in Exodus 20:3.)
This is a prohibition against all forms of idolatry. As the classical commentator, Ramban, explains in his commentary on Exodus 20:3, the worship of human beings is also a form of idolatry.
It is therefore forbidden to make any human being – including one’s self – into a god.
C. “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One! (Deuteronomy 6:1)
Maimonides writes in his “Book of Mitzvos” that the above words contain the mitzvah “to believe in the Unity of Hashem; that is to say, to believe that the Creator of all things in existence and their First Cause is One” (Mitzvah 2).
The awareness that the Creator of all things in existence and their First Cause is One can lead us to the awareness that all creation is one.
The non-Jews on our mailing list who correspond with me have indicated that they have adopted Jewish beliefs regarding Hashem; thus, they are striving to fulfill the above three mitzvos.
2. On Shabbos, the chanting of the parsha is followed by the chanting of the haftorah – a portion from the Prophets. Each of the haftorahs which we chant on the seven Shabboses after Tisha B’Av conveys a message of comfort. This Shabbos is known as Shabbos Nachamu – the Sabbath of Comfort, as the haftorah of this Shabbos opens with the following words:
“Comfort, comfort My people – says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1)
This haftorah also has the following verse which refers to the future spiritual enlightenment of all humankind:
“The Glory of Hashem will be revealed, and all flesh together will see that the mouth of Hashem has spoken.” (50:5)
3. A couple of years ago, I shared with the members of our music list an mp3 recording of my chanting a Gan Eden blessing (in English.). The words are sung without the accompaniment of musical instruments.
If you would like to receive a copy of this recording via e-mail, please send me your name and e-mail address.