Human Nutrition in the Garden

"I have given you every seed-bearing plant that is upon the surface of the entire earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; to you it will be for food." (Genesis 1:29)

Dear Friends,

Rabbeinu Bachya Ben Asher is one of the classical biblical commentators. In his commentary on the above verse, Rebbeinu Bachya states that the human body originally had the ability to regenerate itself; thus, the human being - a unity of body and soul – had the potential to live forever. Rabbenu Bachya explains that the food given to the human being in the Garden was blessed by the Creator with powerful life-giving nutrients which were able to replace whatever vitality the human body loses in the course of each day. As a result, the human being would not experience the process of aging and the progressive weakness associated with that process. After explaining the biological factors in more detail, Rabbenu Bachya cites the teachings of the work "Sefer Hamegaleh" regarding the human diet in the Garden. The following are excerpts from these teachings of the "Sefer Hamegaleh" which were translated by Yaacov Dovid Shulman:


The first human being was blessed that his food, which came from the fruit of the earth and its produce, had the ability to replace any bodily degeneration in any aspect of his size and form. A human being therefore should have lived eternally, for it gave him the ability to replenish his strength.

...This blessing was found in the food of the first human being before he sinned. And this ability will in the future return for humanity, and humanity will return to its original way of being.

[In the next passage, the Sefer Megaleh then begins to explain how an allusion to this future diet is found at the end of the verse which describes the human diet: "I have given you every seed-bearing plant that is upon the surface of the entire earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; to you, it will be for food."]

The verse alludes to this matter, for the second half of the verse is in the future tense: "To you it will be for food." …The first half of the verse, phrased in the past tense, speaks of the past. But the second half of the verse speaks in the future tense, for it alludes to the future days. At that time, the Holy One, blessed be He, will strengthen the ability (of food) to replenish the human body. We will digest food so perfectly that no waste shall remain, and the food will completely replace any sort of bodily deterioration.


The above commentary has discovered in the words "to you it will be for food" a hopeful message for the final stage of human history: Just as the nutritional qualities of the food in the Garden gave us the potential to live forever, so too, the nutritional qualities of the food in the future age will enable us to regain this potential.


Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

Related Teachings and Comments:

1. The above teachings indicate that the vegetarian diet in the Garden provided the human being with all his nutritional needs; thus, from a nutritional perspective, there was no need for the human being to eat meat. The vegetarian diet continued after the human being was expelled from the Garden until the great flood. Although the nutritional quality of the vegetarian food had declined after the expulsion, it was still healthy enough to enable the human being to live hundreds of years; in fact, the Torah records that during the period between the expulsion and the great flood, some people lived to be over nine hundred years old! (For some examples, see the Book of Genesis, chapter 5.)

2. As we discussed in the previous letter of this series, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch made the following observation regarding the vegetarian food that the human being ate before the flood. "It must be, then, that such food was available everywhere, and the earth's climate must have been different than it is today. The fossilized remains of tropical plants, discovered in the far north, attest to this. Only after the flood was it permitted for the human being to kill animals and to eat animal flesh. For the flood also destroyed the very nature of the earth." Rabbi Hirsch adds: "Perhaps for this reason it was necessary to permit animal flesh." In other words, due to changes in the climate, vegetation was no longer plentiful in certain areas of the earth.

3. The Sforno, a classical biblical commentator, discusses the effect of these weather changes in his commentary to Genesis 6:13. The Sforno explains that the great flood also caused an additional decline in the nutritional quality of the earth's produce; thus, after the flood, the human being was permitted to supplement his diet with meat (commentary to Genesis 6:13). The Malbim, a noted biblical commentator of the 19th century, has a similar view.

The Sforno later points out, however, that the Creator will begin to heal the earth and its produce when the messianic age arrives, as it is written, "The new earth which I will make" (Isaiah 66:22). When this healing process begins, writes the Sforno, "there will be a general improvement of the elements, vegetation, and living creatures, including their length of days." (Commentary to Genesis 8:22)

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