As we mentioned in a previous letter, we are called upon to emulate the righteous ways of Abraham and Sarah; thus, the stories about them which appear in the Torah have a relevant message for our own lives. It is therefore fascinating that the Torah reveals to us that Abraham planted an "orchard" - a garden of fruit trees - in the Promised Land:
"He planted an orchard in Beer-sheba, and there he proclaimed the Name of
the Compassionate One, God of the Universe." (Genesis 21:33)
Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher was a Sephardic sage and biblical commentator of the 13th century, who also cited kabbalistic insights. In his commentary on the above verse, he points out that the Hebrew word “vayita” - he planted - appears only twice in the Torah at the beginning of a sentence. The other place that this word appears is in the following verse:
"Vayita Hashem Elokim gan b'Eden" - "The Compassionate and Just One planted a garden in Eden..." (Genesis 2:8).
This garden was also an orchard of fruit trees, as the next verse tells us: "And the Compassionate and Just One caused to sprout from the ground every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food." There are therefore two verses in the Torah beginning with the word vayita - the one which mentions the Divine planting and the one which mentions Abraham's planting; moreover, just as the Creator planted a garden of fruit trees in Eden, so too Abraham planted a garden of fruit trees in the Promised Land. Rabbenu Bachya explains that the similarity between the two verses hints of a deep connection between the two gardens. (Commentary to Genesis 21:33)
How are we to understand this connection? I believe that an answer can be found in the following teaching of our sages: Abraham is to do a tikun - fixing - for the failure of the "Adam" - the first man/woman (Genesis Rabbah 14:6). I would therefore like to suggest that through the similarity between the two verses, the Torah is revealing to us in a subtle way that Abraham is seeking to recreate the Garden that the Adam lost.
In what way is Abraham's Garden to become the Garden of Eden? The human being was placed in the Garden "to serve it and to guard it" (Genesis 2:15); however, the human being soon lost the awareness of this Divine mandate. Instead of viewing himself as the custodian of the Garden, he began to view himself as a god who was the owner and sovereign of the Garden; thus, the human being ate from the forbidden fruit. Abraham realized that the way to return to the Garden of Eden is to first rediscover the original Divine mandate: to serve and protect the Divine creation. In order to serve the human beings within the Divine creation, Abraham planted an orchard with a variety of fruit trees. As the Talmud states, this orchard enabled him to give nourishing fruits to weary and needy travelers (Sota 10a - Rashi).
Yes, "He planted an orchard in Beer-sheba, and there he proclaimed the Name of the Compassionate One, God of the Universe." Abraham desired that all human beings should find their way back to the Garden of Eden. He therefore nurtured his guests spiritually, as well as physically, as "he proclaimed the Name of the Compassionate One, God of the Universe." Abraham taught his guests that the God he served was the Compassionate One, and that the way he served the Compassionate One is through emulating the Divine compassion. Just as the Compassionate One planted fruit trees to nurture life, so too, he planted this orchard to nurture life. And through proclaiming the Compassionate One as "God of the Universe," he helped them to realize that the Compassionate One was not just his God, but their God, as well. In this way, they would begin to understand that they too had a mandate to serve the Divine creation through emulating the Divine compassion.
Abraham desired that all humankind will recognize the Compassionate One as the God of the Universe. In the following prophecy which we chant this Shabbos in honor of the new Moon, we find a Divine promise that Abraham’s goal will be realized in the messianic age:
“It shall be that at every New Moon and on every Shabbos, all humankind will come to bow before Me, says the Compassionate One.” (Isaiah 66:23)
A Good and Sweet Shabbos,
And a Good Month,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. The following kabbalistic teaching is from the Sephardic sage and commentator, known as Tzeror Hamor, who lived during the expulsion of the Jews from Spain: Abraham strived to do a tikun for the sin of the first man and the first woman who ate from the forbidden fruit of the tree. They sinned through selfish eating, and Abraham did a tikun by enabling others to eat. They sinned through a tree, and Abraham did a tikun through a tree. (This teaching is cited in “Sha’arei Aharon” – an anthology of commentaries on the Torah, and it is found in the commentaries on Genesis 23:19.)
2. According to the 18th century sage, known as the Vilna Gaon, Abraham provided food for others to eat in order to do a tikun for the Adam who sinned through eating the forbidden fruit. (Cited by “Sha’arei Aharon” in the commentaries on Genesis 21:33)
3. The following teachings are from "The Juggler and the King" by Rav Aharon Feldman - a noted sage of our era. This work, published by Feldheim, is an elaboration of the Vilna Gaon’s interpretations of the hidden wisdom of our sages:
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.