There have been many attempts by those in the secular and non-Jewish religious world to figure out the EXACT LOCATION of Gan Eden. Certainly, there is discussion even within our tradition about the question of whether Gan Eden is or was ever a physical place. People of all faiths have tried throughout history to find it.
What’s interesting, though, is that NO ONE in Tanach is trying to get back to Gan Eden. Avraham, Moshe, David, nobody tries to get there. Everyone is trying to get to Eretz Yisrael.
But if Gan Eden was such a special place, why doesn’t anyone try to get back there?
And I’ll ask one more question: We read every Shabbos, even more often, whenever we place the Torah back in the Aron we conclude with the phrase:
Hashiveinu Hashem Elecha V’Nashuva Chadesh Yameinu K’KEDEM. Return us to the “Days of Old”.
And where does this come from? It’s one of the final psukim in Eicha. The simple pshat is we are asking Hashem to bring us back to the Good Old Days.
But the Medrash in Eicha Raba says something very interesting:
חדש ימינו כקדם, כאדם הראשון כמד"א (בראשית ג') ויגרש את האדם וישכן מקדם לגן עדן,
Renew our days like KEDEM. What is Kedem? Like Adam HaRishon.
At first that seems reasonable: We are asking Hashem to bring us back to the days of Adam & Chava. The idyllic existence of the Gan Eden.
But there’s a problem: The pasuk that the medrash quotes is talking NOT about when Adam & Chava were living in Gan Eden. Rather, it says just like the pasuk teaches: And Hashem Kicked Adam and Chava OUT, and placed MIKEDEM, to the EAST of EDEN.
The simple explanation is that this is referring to when Hashem placed ANGELS as guards MIKEDEM, at the entrance to Gan Eden, but that doesn’t seem to be how the medrash reads the pasuk. Rather, it refers to when Hashem kicked out Adam & Chava and placed THEM MIKEDEM, to the east of Gan Eden.
If that’s true, though, WHY WOULD WE ASK HASHEM “CHADESH YAMEINU K’KEDEM!? Return us to the time and place AFTER WE WERE KICKED OUT OF GAN EDEN?!
I heard a beautiful pshat attributed to a number of sources: I heard it most recently from my good friend Rabbi Phillip Moskowitz:
EVERY story in Breishis, is NOT a narrative of beginnings. They are narratives of NEW Beginnings.
- After the world is destroyed, Noach plants a vineyard
- Avraham & Sarah overcome the hardships in their family, struggles to start their own family, move to Eretz Canaan to begin anew.
- Yitzchak needs to re-emerge from the Akeida, struggle to start his own famile, and raise his children.
- Yaakov’s whole life about challenge, running from his brother, challenges with his children. Each time trying to start again after tragedy.
- Yosef: Rebuild his life in Mitzrayim.
And that brings us, of course, to Adam & Chava: Two people born into this unique, utopia, and within the first few HOURS – at least according to the gemara – THEY MESS IT UP and THEY ARE THROWN OUT.
And what is the FIRST THING THEY DO AFTER THAT SIN?
- V’HaAdam Yada es Chava Ishto, they begin to build a family.
- They overcome the adversity THEY CAUSED, their own mistakes, and they BEGIN AGAIN.
Chadesh Yameinu K’Kedem is NOT a request to go back to EDEN because Hashem doesn’t expect perfection. He doesn’t expect us to get it right every time. Rather, our job is to learn that even after failure, even as we experience adversity, we have the ability to begin again. It’s the resilience, the grit to begin anew that defines us as human beings.
As Elie Wiesel writes: “God gave Adam a secret – and that secret was NOT how to begin, but how to begin AGAIN.”
So, our goal ISN’T to try to get back to EDEN. We’re not searching for perfection, for utopia. We DO try, though, to get back to KEDEM, to be ready to BEGIN AGAIN.
I’ve seen a few times, driving on the highway, billboards of an orthopedics group that deals with sports injuries, and their slogan is “BE WHO YOU WERE!”
And while I understand the messaging their trying to give over to their potential patients, I think that phrase is not a Jewish message, and probably not really a healthy message for most of us.
Life is NEVER about going back to the Good Old Days. We can never go back to any time that once was. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t really want to go back to once was either. That’s not life.
Life is about taking each experience, using it to grow, and preparing to be CHADESH YAMEINU K’KEDEM, to be people who are not going back to the beginning, but rather people who are ready to BEGIN ANEW.
We all went back to “regular life” this week. Hopefully we were able to implement some of our new ideas for the new year. And, at the same time, inevitably, we’ll mess up. We’ll make mistakes. Because that’s what the human being was hard-wired to do.
But, in those moments, let’s not waste our time worrying about how we can get back to Eden, how it would be great if everything was nice and easy and utopian. Let’s spend more time thinking about how we can be Chadesh Yameinu K’Kedem. How we can worry less about the past and prepare ourselves for a future where we are always ready to begin again.