and the Messianic Age
From The Vision of Eden: Animal
Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism
by Rabbi David Sears
In the second chapter of Genesis, the Torah describes
the Garden of Eden, an idyllic environment in which
the first man and woman, and with them all living beings,
could enter into communion with God. Formed of the dust
of the Earth but imbued with a Divine soul, Adam and
Eve lived in this wondrous place of luxuriant trees
and plants, together with all the species of animals.
The animals of Eden were neither predatory beasts of
the wilderness nor the domesticated animals with which
we are familiar; they were awesome beings possessed
of beauty and wisdom, which, like Adam and Eve and the
first ten generations of humankind, peacefully subsisted
on vegetation alone. Their mode of existence was not
something to be shunned or pitied, as it is today. Indeed,
sea-creatures and fowl were deemed worthy of receiving
the first explicit Divine blessing, given on the fifth
day of creation (Genesis 1:22). The other animals were
created on the sixth day, together with Adam and Eve,
and they received a separate affirmation of Divine favor
The dignity of animals is borne out by a number of sources.
The Talmud states that God conferred with the souls
of all animals prior to creation, and they readily agreed
to be created as such, even choosing their own physical
forms. This teaches us that they were deserving of
God's consideration, and that they were given to understand
their destiny in positive terms. Another testimony to
the worthiness of animals is their connection to angels.
Although angels are incorporeal spiritual beings,
their forms as envisioned by the prophets were often
those of animals. This suggests that in their spiritual
source, animals occupy an exalted rung - an inference
supported by the fact that the Torah uses animals to
symbolize the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
Animals, too, serve their Creator. The Talmud tells
how Rabbi Elazar Ben Arach caused his master Rabbi Yochanan
Ben Zakkai to share a mystical vision with him in which
they heard the wondrous song of all creatures, bringing
to life the words of the Psalmist: "Praise God
from the Earth: sea giants and all the depths, fire
and hail, snow and vapor, storm wind that fulfills His
word; mountains and all heights, trees and all cedars;
animals and all beasts, creeping things and winged fowl..."
This is the theme of the Sabbath and Festival prayer
"Nishmas kol chai" ("The souls
of all living things shall praise Your Name..."),
as well as the Perek Shira ("Chapter of
Song"), an ancient rabbinic work mentioned in the
Talmud and much favored by the Kabbalists. Thus,
the Torah confers dignity upon the animal kingdom, and
does not define it merely in utilitarian terms. Animals
belong in the Garden of Eden because they, too, are
an integral part of God's world that, in the words of
the Mishna, "He created solely for His glory."
Back to Eden
Eden is the biblical paradigm of the original state
of accord between God, man, and nature. It represents
a state of harmony and peace that, since the hour its
gates were closed, the world has never known. Eden is
our spiritual home, and the longing to return to it
is deeply buried within the human psyche. Perhaps the
animal rights and vegetarian movements, while seeking
to redress ethical or ecological wrongs, derive their
emotional fuel from a deeper source. Aside from the
reasons given in the previous chapter, human beings
feel a special kinship with animals and nature because
they remind us of this "Paradise Lost."
Throughout history, the attitude of Western civilization
toward nature has been one of struggle and dominance.
Its animating myth has been that of the hero, whose
very reason for being is conquest. In biblical terms,
this attitude is symbolized by the Tower of Babel; in
contemporary cultural iconography, by the spaceship.
At the same time, there always have been countervailing
attitudes that expressed distrust of human artifice,
idealizing the "noble savage" and advocating
a return to nature. What is the root of this basic ambivalence
that human beings feel toward human productions? Despite
all our achievements - or indeed, because of them -
we are haunted by the sense that there is something
lacking in our approach to life, something amiss in
human nature itself.
The Tree of Knowledge
The Torah understands this spiritual lack or confusion
as a consequence of the first sin. Human nature is
not inherently evil: Adam and Eve were endowed with
every manner of physical and spiritual perfection, possessing
only the slightest deficiency in order to have free
will. Even in contravening the Divine will, they
only wished to serve God. (According to the "Alter"
of Novhardok (1848-1919), one of the outstanding proponents
of the Lithuanian Mussar movement, the rationale by
which Adam and Eve were persuaded to eat the Forbidden
Fruit was that by internalizing evil and then overcoming
it, they might sanctify God's Name to an even greater
degree - a task that proved to be far more difficult
than they had imagined.) Their transgression was
not a willful act of rebellion, but the result of confusion
and misjudgment. In psychological terms, the Serpent
that tempted Eve represents ego: the illusion of self
as an entity independent of God, seeking sensory gratification
and power. The ego and its associated traits were
not always innate tendencies of human nature, but existed
only in potentia; they were acquired when Adam and Eve
heeded the advice of the Serpent and ate the Forbidden
Fruit. We have been spiritually divided ever since.
The Tree of Knowledge represents the conflict between
good and evil, produced by our estrangement from God.
In a broader sense, it also represents dualistic thinking:
seeing things in "positive versus negative"
terms, without any sense of their underlying unity.
This dualistic consciousness is actually an extremely
warped mode of being. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit
of the Tree of Knowledge, this produced an existential
split between the imaginary "self" built of
our egoistic hopes and fears, and the essence of mind
that is the Divine soul. Thus, Adam and Eve immediately
became self-conscious, and sought to hide from God.
For most of us, this existential split characterizes
the way we commonly think and feel. Although we suffer
greatly from it, we may hardly know that we have a problem.
However, there is a rabbinic principle that "before
God creates a sickness, He creates the cure."
In this context, this is reflected by the fact that
before the Torah mentions the Tree of Knowledge, it
mentions the Tree of Life (Genesis 2:9) - for the Tree
of Life bears the power of spiritual healing (tikkun).
It can rectify the dualistic state of mind associated
with the Tree of Knowledge by awakening the perception
of the Divine Oneness within the very plurality of Creation.
(Thus, the Tree of Life is associated with the Torah,
and its mystical dimension in particular; as stated
in Proverbs 3:18, "She is a Tree of Life to those
who grasp her.") It is significant that both trees
are described as standing in the "center of the
Garden." This suggests that they are interdependent
and share a common purpose.
If the original Divine intent in creation was to confer
the ultimate good to His creatures, why did God
create the Tree of Knowledge? In truth, it was not created
merely as a temptation for Adam and Eve to overcome,
but its fruit was meant to be their Sabbath food. If
they had waited the remaining two hours until the onset
of the holy day, they would have received permission
to partake of this tree, as well. First, they would
have eaten from the Tree of Life, and then partaken
of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, thereby attaining
an even higher spiritual state. Their perception
of the essential unity of all Creation would have extended
into the realm of multiplicity and dualism; thus, they
would have gained a more vivid knowledge of the Divine
Unfortunately, the first man and woman had no way of
anticipating the nature and extent of the damage their
transgression would cause. The Zohar states that as
a result of eating the Forbidden Fruit, thirty-nine
curses were brought upon creation, including the
mortality of all living beings, the difficulty of earning
a livelihood, inequity between the sexes, and the pain
of childbirth and child-rearing. The greatest punishment
of all was estrangement from God, resulting in our distorted
perception of the world and ourselves. This condition
of estrangement is enforced by the Cherubim, the angels
that guard the gates of Eden, wielding "revolving
swords of flame" (ibid. 3:24). Rabbi Nosson of
Breslov (1780-1844) states that these are the mental
confusions that eclipse the soul's knowledge of its
own essential nature.
The Messianic Age
However, the original state of Divine favor and bliss
that Adam and Eve had known in the Garden of Eden and
the mutual harmony that existed among all creatures
was not lost forever. The Prophets assured all humankind
that a time was coming when God would fulfill all the
blessings He had given His works at the very beginning
of creation. Then the Thirty-Nine Curses (lamed-tes
klallos) will be transformed to the Dew of Illumination
(tal oros). That is, not only will we regain
the state of Adam and Eve before the first sin, but
also everything we formerly had experienced as "negativity"
will now serve as a lens through which to perceive God.
The meaning of human history, in all its agonies and
ecstasies, will be revealed. We will understand how
the political, interpersonal, and existential conflicts
we have suffered have been, in truth, "birth pangs
of the Messiah" - birth pangs of enlightenment.
The Jewish people, chosen to bear witness to God's existence
and Oneness, will no longer suffer exile, misunderstanding,
and persecution, but will return in peace to the land
of Israel. And with their political redemption, a religious
renaissance will begin to flower: prophecy will return
to the world, heralding the spiritual redemption of
Isaiah describes a future world in which the peace
and joy of Eden will be restored. Indeed, the prophet
speaks as if the Divine promise had already been fulfilled:
Truly God has consoled Zion,
Consoled all her ruins;
He has made her wilderness like Eden,
Her desert like the Garden of the Lord;
Gladness and joy shall abide there,
Thanksgiving and the sound of music
Each level of Creation will be elevated in a continuous
process of spiritual ascent. According to one Midrashic
opinion, all animals will become kosher (ritually pure);
in any case, they all will become spiritually perfected,
regaining their status prior to the sin of Adam. Moreover,
all animals will share what we presently consider human
intellect and wisdom. To a limited extent, this has
already happened. The Talmud cites several cases in
which the animals of tzaddikim refused to violate
Torah laws, although these laws apply only to humans.
Indeed, the cow that demurred from working on the Sabbath
inspired a Roman farmer to embrace Judaism. This convert
later achieved renown as the Torah sage, Rabbi Yochanan
As in Eden, animals during the Messianic age no longer
will be carnivorous. Not only will war between nations
cease, but even animals will desist from preying upon
one another. "And a wolf shall dwell with a lamb,
and a leopard will lie down with a kid, and a calf and
a lion cub and a fattened ox will flock together, and
a small child shall lead them. And a heifer and a bear
will graze together, their young will lie down together,
and a lion, like the ox, will eat straw. A suckling
babe will play at a viper's hole, and over an adder's
den an infant will stretch forth his hand. They will
do no harm or damage in all My holy mountain, for the
knowledge of God shall fill the Earth as the water covers
the sea" (Isaiah 11:6?9). Although Maimonides understands
this prophecy strictly as allegory, Abarbanel and other
authorities interpret it in the literal sense.
The key that opens the Gates of Eden is teshuvah:
return to God. In a hidden way, each one of us, every
day, goes through the moral scenario implicit in the
biblical account of the Garden of Eden. We are constantly
faced with the challenge to trust God, and not rely
upon our own guile; to heed the Torah and the tzaddikim,
and not follow our own desires; to be patient, and not
impulsive; to refrain from taking what belongs to others;
not to listen to gossip or evil speech; and if we fail
in some way, not to blame our associates or circumstances,
but accept responsibility for our own actions.
Having engaged in teshuvah, we also must engage
in tikkun: spiritual repair of the damage we
have done. However great its extent, this damage may
be fixed through Torah study and observance of the commandments;
through meditation and prayer; through acts of kindness
and charity; and through using the things of this world
in order to serve God thereby. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
taught: "Ultimately, everything can be transformed
to the good," even the worst moral failings.
We have the power to make this world a Garden of Eden,
to spiritually benefit all creatures, and to fulfill
the Torah's directive to "know God in all our ways,"
if we but will it.
 Chullin 60a, with Rashi,
 Cf. Mishneh Torah, Yesodei HaTorah
2:3. The Zohar I, 101a, 144a, and III, 68b, states that
the "bodies" of angels are formed of air or
fire, whereas Pardes Rimonim 24:11 (51a) describes
the angel as a composite of the four elements, even
asserting that "an angel is like a physical body
in comparison to the sublime level of the tzaddik."
However, this does not mean to ascribe actual physicality
to the angels. In general, the angelic realm is a spiritual
analogue of physical nature, whereas human souls occupy
an altogether higher rung; cf. Yerushalmi Shabbos
2:6; Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 70 (137a);
Likkutei Moharan II, 1:1.
 Genesis, ch. 49.
 Chagigah 14b, citing Tehillim 148,
acc. to Maharsha.
 Chullin 64b.
 Avos 6:11; also cf. Yalkut Reuvaini, Bereishis
25b (top), citing Koheles Rabbah. The term "glory"
specifically refers to Divine revelation, as the Ramban
states (ad loc.) on the verse, "Please allow me
to behold Your Glory" (Exodus 33:18).
 Zohar III, Emor, 107b, et al.
 Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 66 (98a); Ramchal,
Derech Hashem I, 3:8; Nefesh HaChaim,
1:6. Concerning the lofty status of Adam before the
first sin, see Avodah Zarah 5a; Eiruvin
18b; Yerushalmi Shabbos 2:6; i 2:5; Bereishis
Rabba 8:10, 12:5, 21:1; Bamidbar Rabbah 4:8;
Zohar I, 37b; Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 54
(95b), Tikkun 57 (91b), Tikkun 66 (96a),
Tikkun 67 (98a); et al.
 R. Yosef Yoizel Horowitz of Novhardok, Madreigas
HaAdam, Maamar 1: B'tekufas HaOlam,
 R. Chaim Vital, Sha'ar HaPesukim, Bereishis
 According to one Midrash, even the Serpent was
not created with an evil nature, but was influenced
by the accusing angel euphemistically known as the "Samech-Mem";
see Yalkut Shimoni I: 95. The trait that made
the Serpent susceptible to evil was its cleverness (Genesis
3:1). If not for the sin, the Serpent would have benefited
humankind materially and spiritually, as stated in Sanhedrin
59b; also cf. R. Gershon Henich Leiner of Radzin, Sod
 Likkutei Halachos, Orach Chaim, Hilchos Tefillin
 Yalkut Reuvaini, Bereishis, 35b, citing
the Ari z"l; Nefesh HaChaim, I:6,
 Concerning the soul as essence of mind, see Sefer
Baal Shem Tov, Vayeilech, note 6, citing Nesiv
Mitzvosecha; Ohr HaGanuz L'Tzaddikim, Mattos,
citing the Baal Shem Tov; Teshu'os Chein, Tzav;
Likkutim Yekarim 161; Likkutei Moharan
I, 35:1, 234; ibid. II, 114. Concerning the existential
division of self and soul, see Derech Hashem
III: 1; Likkutei Halachos, Yoreh De'ah, Orlah
4:2; ibid. Choshen Mishpat, Sh'luchin 5:1. Citing
a teaching of the Ari z"l, R. Shneur Zalman
of Liadi discusses this conflict in terms of an "animal
soul" (nefesh ha-bahamis) and Divine soul
(nefesh Elokis) in Likkutei Amarim-Tanya,
section I, esp. ch. 1, 6, 9, et passim.
 Megillah 13b.
 The Torah describes both trees as standing in the
center of the Garden. How was this possible? One answer
is that from a common trunk and root system, they separated
into two trees: the Tree of Knowledge below, and the
Tree of Life above (Rabbeinu Bachaya on Bereishis
2:9). This symbolizes the concept that dualistic reality
devolves from the Divine Oneness and is inseparable
from it. According to other sources, the Tree of Life
was surrounded on all sides by the branches of the Tree
of Knowledge (Yalkut Reuvaini, Bereishis 33b,
citing Asarah Ma'amaros). This indicates that
within every appearance of dualism, the Divine Oneness
is present (cf. Likkutei Moharan I: 33). From
either point of view, however, the dualistic aspect
of the Tree of Knowledge is subsumed within the transcendent
unity expressed by the Tree of Life. Their central position
in the Garden indicates their primacy in Creation, due
to the higher consciousness they confer.
Alternately, R. Kalonymus Kalman HaLevi Epstein of Cracow
(1751- 1823) opines that the term "Tree of Knowledge"
does not indicate any particular tree, but a mentality
of attachment to physical desire as an end in itself;
see Ma'or VaShemesh, Bo, s.v. "V'kachah
 Midrash HaGadol, Bereishis 3:24.
Re. the Tree of Life as alluding to the mystical dimension
of Torah, see Sha'arei Orah, Gate 5, 61b; Zohar
III, Naso, 124b-125a (Rayah Mehemnah); Tikkunei
Zohar, Tikkun 55 (89a); Sefer HaTanya, Iggeres
HaKodesh, Epistle 26; Likkutei Halachos,
Yoreh De'ah, Sefer Torah 3:10.
 R. Chaim Vital, Eitz Chaim, Sha'ar HaKlalim 1;
Pardes Rimmonim 2:6; Ramchal, Derech Hashem I, 2:1,
K'lach Pis'chei Chochmah 2; Likkutei Moharan I, 64:1
(also note ms. version in appendix of some editions,
where R. Nachman first used the term chesed and subsequently
changed it to rachmanus).
 R. Chaim Vital, Sefer HaLikkutim, 3 (pp.
25-27); Be'er Mayim Chaim on Bereishis
2:9, 2:16, 2:17; et al.
 Derech Hashem I: 3:6.
 Adam, Eve, and the Serpent each received ten curses,
while the earth received nine. These correspond to the
39 forms of constructive activity forbidden on the Sabbath;
cf. R. Yaakov Zvi Yolles, Kehillas Yaakov, Erech
Lamed-Tes Malachos; for additional sources, see
 Likkutei Halachos, Netilas Yadayim Shacharis
4:12; ibid. Birkhas HaShachar 3:2.
 Rabbeinu Bachaya, Bereishis 2:15.
 In Hebrew, the number 39 is spelled with the letters
lamed-tes. When transposed, these letters spell
the word tal, meaning "dew."; cf. Zohar
III, 243b; Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 48 (85a),
Tikkun 64 (95b); Likkutei Moharan I, 11:4,
38:7 (end). The word arur ("cursed")
that the Torah uses in connection with the Serpent is
phonetically similar to ohr, meaning "light."
 Sanhedrin 97a-98b; Sotah 49b; Derech
Eretz Zutah 10; Midrash Tanchumah, Noach
3; Zohar III, 67b, 124b, 125b (Rayah Mehemnah),
153a; Maharal, Netzach Yisrael,
ch. 36; Sichos HaRan, 35, 220; also note Likkutei
Moharan II: 2, with Parparaos L'Chochmah,
 Zechariah 8:22, 23; Isaiah 2:2-4; Jeremiah 3:17;
Shemos Rabbah 23:11; Avos D'Rabbi Nosson
35:19; Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim
11:4 (end), 12:5; Ramchal, Maamar HaIkkarim,
"BaGe'ulah." Concerning the return
of prophecy, see Joel 3:1, 5; Maimonides, Igeres
Teiman (p. 30); Likkutei Moharan II, 8:5;
R. Kook, Arpelei Tohar, 40; Orot, 34-35.
 Midrash Shocher Tov, Tehillim 146.
 Literally, "son of a cow"; see Pesikta
 Abarbanel on Hoshea 2:18, citing Isaiah, op cit.;
also cf. Mahari Kara, Metzudas David, Radak,
ad loc.; Malbim, Chazon Yeshayahu, ad loc.; Likkutei
Halachos, Choshen Mishpat, Nezikin
2:6; R. Kook, Chazon HaTzimchonut V'HaShalom,
 Likkutei Eitzos, Hischazkus 36, citing
the principle in Yoma 86b that through the power
of teshuvah, one may retroactively transform
former wrong deeds to spiritual merits by using them
as a means to bring about the good.
 Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 231,
citing Proverbs 3:6. The concept that the Garden of
Eden is the hidden spiritual "essence" hidden
within the confusions of this world is suggested by
Sefer HaBahir 31; Zohar II, 150a; Likkutei
Moharan II: 119, with Parpara'os L'Chochmah;
et al. The Zohar Chadash (Midrash HaNe'elam)
17b, states, "Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai taught in
the name of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai: The Holy One,
blessed be He, called the Garden of Eden the 'nut garden'
[in the Song of Songs], because just as a nut is enclosed
by a series of shells and the fruit is within, so, too,
the Garden of Eden is concealed in world beyond world,
and it is within
" This teaching has profound
metaphysical implications, as well.
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