In the previous letter – “Renewal in the Midst of Mourning” – we began to discuss prophecies which reveal that the process of renewal which leads to a full return to the path of the Torah will also lead to a full return to the Land of Zion. Another prophecy reveals that those who witness our full return to the Land will then say:
"This very Land, which had been desolate, has become like the Garden of Eden!" (Ezekiel 36:35)
As we discussed in an earlier stage of our series, the above prophecy of Ezekiel is alluding to the idea that our complete return to the Land in the spirit of the Torah will enable us to return to the ideal state of the Garden of Eden. A return to the “Garden” is therefore the ultimate goal of our “spiritual renewal” – our rededication to the path of the Torah.
In the previous letter, we discussed one meaning of the following prayerful words which were written by the Prophet Jeremiah following the destruction of the First Temple:
“Renew our days as of old” (Lamentations 5:21).
In this letter, I will discuss another meaning to the above words. The Hebrew term for the phrase “days of old” is kedem – a term which also means “the east.” The term kedem first appears in the Torah in the following verse regarding the location of the Garden of Eden:
“Hashem God planted a garden in Eden, in kedem, and placed there the human being whom He had formed.” (Genesis 2:8)
kedem” – The Garden was
planted in the east of Eden
With this understanding of the term kedem, we now have another meaning to the words, “Renew our days like kedem.” With these words, we are asking Hashem to fulfill the following request:
Renew our days like the days when the human being dwelled in the Garden in the east of Eden.
The words, “Renew our days like kedem,” appear towards the end of the Book of Lamentations. We chant the Book of Lamentations on the night of Tisha B’Av, the Fast Day which concludes the period of our mourning for the Temple and for our exile. It is also our custom to conclude the Book of Lamentations by chanting all together, “Renew our days like kedem!”
In order for Hashem to help us renew our days like kedem, we first have to do our part. We first need to engage in the process of renewal which will lead to our return to the path of the Torah. In what way does a return to the path of the Torah enable us to return to the ideal state of the Garden of Eden? The beginning of the answer can be found in the two-part mission given to the human being in the Garden:
“Hashem God took the human being and placed him in the Garden of Eden to serve it and to guard it.” (Genesis 2:15)
“To serve it and to guard it” – This two-part mission reveals the altruistic purpose of the human being’s creation. And the following ancient teaching reveals that this two-part mission expresses the altruistic purpose of all the mitzvos in the Torah:
The mission to “serve” the Garden represents mitzvos aseh – the mitzvos of the Torah which call upon us to engage in actions which nurture and elevate the world, including ourselves. And the mission to “guard” the Garden represents mitzvos lo sa’asay – the mitzvos of the Torah which prohibit actions which damage and degrade the world, including ourselves. (See “Tikunei Zohar” 55)
The Book of Genesis reveals that the first human couple forgot that the human task is to be caretakers who serve and protect the Garden; instead they began to view themselves as the owners of the Garden who were free to exploit the Garden for their own selfish gratification. They therefore ate from the forbidden fruit, and as a result, they were exiled from the Garden (Genesis, Chapter 3). The above teaching from “Tikunei Zohar” indicates that our return to the holistic path of the Torah will enable us to fulfill the original two-part mission that was given to the human being in the Garden. Through this process of renewal, we will find the way to return to the ideal state of the Garden of Eden.
Our renewal and return is not just for our sake. In Part 2 of this letter, we shall discuss, with the help of Hashem, a Tisha B’Av teaching which reveals that our exile from the Land of Zion is connected to the exile of humanity from the Garden of Eden and that our return to the Land of Zion is connected to the return of humanity to the ideal state of the Garden of Eden.
Have a Good and Renewing Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed the following vision of the messianic age – a vision which reminds us of the harmony and shalom within the Garden of Eden:
“Then a wolf shall live with a lamb, and a leopard shall lie with a kid; and a calf, a lion cub, and a fatling will be together, and a small child will lead them. A cow and a bear will graze and their young will lie down together; and a lion, like cattle will eat hay. A suckling infant will play by a viper’s hole; and a newly weaned child will stretch his hand towards an adder’s lair. They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain, for the earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed.” (Isaiah 11: 6-9)
2. The approaching Shabbos is the Shabbos before Tisha B’Av. It is known as “Shabbos Chazon” – the Shabbos of Vision. This is because the haftorah – portion from the prophets – that we chant on this Shabbos opens with the following words: “The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem” (Isaiah 1:1).
The haftorah concludes with the following verse which has a reference to “tzedakah” – a term which refers to righteousness and to the sharing of our resources with those in need:
“Zion shall be redeemed through justice, and those who return to her through tzedakah.” (Isaiah 1:27)