The Garden of Eden is a place of mystery.
As it was said: “The Eternal God planted a garden in Eden” (Gen. 2:8). From the midrashic literature, we can understand the mystical nature of this place: “Eden is a unique place on Earth, but no creature is permitted to know its exact location. In the future, during the messianic period God will reveal to Israel the path to Eden” (Midrash Ha-Gadol on Gen. 2:8). Why are we not allowed to know its location? If we look at the well-known story of expulsion from the Eden, the reason becomes clear. In the garden there were two trees, from which the first human couple were not allowed to eat. One of them was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the other was the Tree of Life. God forbade Adam and Eve to eat from these trees. According to the serpent, if the couple eats from the Tree of Knowledge, they “will be like divine beings who know good and bad” (Gen. 3:5). Thus they ate from the tree of knowledge and the couple became aware of themselves and their surroundings. The punishment is the expulsion, and God places cherubim at the east of Eden, in order to prevent human beings from reaching the other tree, the Tree of Life, which gives eternal life to those who eat from it. The first couple were not allowed to eat from these trees, because in that way they would become divine beings. Thus the knowledge of good and evil, and eternal life, are desirable divine attributes, which were forbidden in the Garden of Eden. At the same time, we notice that much of our tradition is based on the imitation of Divine. We are to rest on the seventh day, because God rested on the seventh day of the Creation. We are to be compassionate, because God is compassionate. We are to be holy, because God is holy. But we are not able to become God, and we should not desire God’s place. The cherubim with their flaming swords represent the limits of human beings in their desire to become divine. But are we really not allowed to have a taste from the Tree of Life? Not long ago, one of my friends told me a really, really strange thing: “You know, Peter, something always in my mind. I would love to live in the Torah ark, among the scrolls. You know what I mean?” Well, I did not understand what he meant. Actually it was one of the weirdest things I ever heard. I even tried to forget these peculiar words, until a moment of confusion which made everything clear. “It is the Tree of Life for those who grasp it” (Prov. 3:18). These words from the Book of Proverbs became part of the Torah service, and the Tree of Life became a metaphor for the Torah. I would like to suggest that the Tree of Life is the Torah. From this viewpoint the Torah ark is nothing else than the Garden of Eden, and its doors are the gates of the Garden. We don’t know the exact location of Eden, because it is everywhere, wherever Jews read the Torah. According to tradition, the Garden is the source of all living water; in other words, it is a source of an endless energy. By reading the whole Torah year-by-year, it offers us the inexhaustible source of inspiration and support. On Simchat Torah, we end the yearly cycle, but at the same time we restart it. The practice of Torah reading is endless, connecting us with eternity.
By reading the Torah, we taste the Tree of Life.
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.