In the following introduction to this letter, we will review a “very” relevant teaching:
The term “Adam” can refer to the human being, and it can also refer to the first man/woman. In the following passage, the Torah refers to Hashem’s creation of the “Adam”:
“This is the book of the descendants of Adam… He created them male and female. He blessed them and called their name ‘Adam’ on the day they were created” (Genesis 5:1, 2).
“This is the Book of the descendants of Adam” – What “book” is this statement referring to? The commentator, Ramban, explains:
“In my opinion, this alludes to the entire Torah, for the entire Torah is an account of the descendants of Adam.”
I discussed the above explanation of Ramban with my rebbe, Rav Aharon Feldman, who is currently the head of Yeshiva Ner Yisrael in Baltimore, and who is a member of the Council of Leading Torah Sages which guides Agudath Israel of America. I asked Rav Feldman how he understands this explanation of Ramban, and he said:
“This means that the entire Torah – both written and oral – is the story of the reconstruction of humanity, from its fall in the Garden of Eden until its renewal in the messianic age.”
If the entire Torah is the story of humanity, then why does the Torah focus on the story of the People of Israel? I would like to suggest that the beginning of an answer can be found in the following Divine proclamation to our people:
“You are Adam” (Ezekiel 34:31).
With these words, the Creator is revealing to us that the story of our people represents the human story. In this letter, we shall discuss a Tisha B’Av teaching which gives us an example of this idea through revealing the connection between our exile from the Land of Zion and the exile of the human being from the Garden of Eden.
After the sin of eating from the forbidden fruit, the human being descended to a lower spiritual level and was no longer worthy of dwelling in the Garden of Eden. Before the human being was exiled from the Garden, Hashem called out to the human being and said:
“Ayeka - Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9)
With this question, explains the Vilna Gaon, Hashem is saying to the human being:
“Think about yourself and how you fell from your high level; where is your position?” (Cited in Sha’arei Aharon)
As we discussed in this series, we, the People of the Torah, were brought to the Sacred Land in order to fulfill the Torah and thereby become a social model which can serve as a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6). Through our abandonment of the Divine Teaching, we descended to a lower spiritual level, and we were no longer worthy of dwelling in the Sacred Land; thus, we were sent into exile. On the night of Tisha B’Av, we chant the Book of Lamentations which expresses mourning over the exile, and this book opens with the word, Aicha – Alas! (This is the translation of the Midrash.) The Hebrew word, Aicha, has the same letters as the Hebrew word, Ayeka, the word that Hashem spoke to the human being regarding the sin which led to exile from the Garden. (In Hebrew, two words can have the same letters, but they may not necessarily have the same pronunciation, due to the way vowels are used in Hebrew.)
The Midrash teaches that the similarity between the first word of the Book of Lamentations and the word which appears regarding the sin of the human being alludes to a connection between the exile of the People of Israel from the Land and the exile of the human being from the Garden of Eden. The following is a summary of this teaching which Rabbi Abahu said in the name of Rabbi Chanina:
Regarding the People of Israel, Hashem said:
“But they, like Adam, have transgressed the Covenant” (Hosea 6:7).
The sage then offers the following explanation of the above Divine statement:
The People of Israel are compared to Adam. Just as Adam was brought into the Garden of Eden, so too, the People of Israel were brought into the Land of Israel; moreover, just as Adam was exiled from the Garden due to the violation of the Divine mandate, so too, the People of Israel were exiled from the Land of Israel when they violated the Divine mandate. And just as Hashem lamented over the sad situation of Adam by asking Ayeka, so too, Hashem lamented over the sad situation of the People of Israel; thus, the Book of Lamentations opens with the following Divine lament: Aicha.” (Genesis Rabbah 19:9)
Within our Sacred Scriptures, the birth of the messianic age is associated with the beginning of our return to the ideal state of the “Garden of Eden” – the peaceful and fruitful garden which is described at the beginning of the Torah (Genesis 2:8-17). For example, the Prophet Ezekiel mentions that those who witness the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies regarding our return to Zion will say: “This very Land, which had been desolate, has become like the Garden of Eden!” (Ezekiel 36:35).
Another example can be found in the following message of the Prophet Isaiah regarding the messianic age:
“For Hashem will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her ruins; He will make her wilderness like Eden and her wasteland like the Garden of Hashem; joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music.” (Isaiah 51:3)
Does our return to the ideal state of the peaceful and fruitful Garden represent the return of humanity to this ideal state? An answer can be found in the following prophecy of the Prophet Micah regarding the messianic age:
“He (the Messiah) will judge between many peoples, and will settle the arguments of mighty nations from far away. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, nor will they learn war anymore. They will sit, each person under his vine and under his fig tree, and none will make them afraid, for the mouth of Hashem, God of the hosts of Creation, has spoken.” (Micah 4:2-4)
The classical biblical commentators, Radak and Ibn Ezra, explain that the peaceful and pastoral vision of “each person under his vine and under his fig tree” includes all humankind; thus, all humankind will find their way back to the ideal state of the Garden.
As we discussed in this series, most of the leaders of the World Zionist Organization believed that a true Zionist is a nationalist. The above teachings reveal, however, that a true Zionist is a “gardenist” – someone who is renewing the Garden of Eden in the Land of Zion.
Be Well, and Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. “The Juggler and the King” by Rav Aharon Feldman, is an elaboration of the Vilna Gaon’s interpretations of the hidden wisdom of our sages. The following is a summary of a related teaching from this book
Twenty generations after the Expulsion from the Garden, Abraham took up the challenge of returning the human being to Eden, of living according to the values for which the human being was created. The Jewish people are the descendants of Abraham who were given the task to complete his mission, and their story is the account of how they moved humankind toward its ultimate goal.
Each era of Jewish history represents a test for the Jewish people in the abolition of another element of the evil which has become part of the human being’s nature. These tests have often been extremely difficult; at times, the Jewish people were successful and sometimes they failed. When they failed, the only solution has been for the Jews to be placed in a situation where they would be forced to make an even greater effort, so that they might finally succeed.
The cumulative effect of all these tests will move the world towards the elimination of evil from the human being’s mentality and his society. This will sufficiently weaken the power of evil in the world to enable humankind to recognize its Creator as Sovereign. And this will usher in the Era of the Messiah, the great return to the Garden of Eden.
“The Juggler and the King” is published by Feldheim: www.feldheim.com