Biblical Places & Things
Interpretations and Descriptions From The Sages
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Garden of Eden, also called Paradise. Torah informs us that G-d planted a delightful place in the east and was the abode of Adam and Chavah before they were driven out as a result of their sin [The word Eden means delight.] In the east of this delightful place, He also planted a garden containing all kinds of trees. (Rashi)
This does not mean that G-d brought trees from elsewhere and planted them here. Rather, before He commanded that the earth give forth plants and trees, He decreed that this place would be a perfect garden. He explicitly said, "Such a tree will grow in this place, and such in this." It was well arranged, not like other places, where trees and plants grow haphazardly.(RaMBaN)
G-d also commanded that the trees in this garden always have foliage and be filled with fruit. These trees would never grow old, nor would they require any attention like ordinary trees.
This teaches that the east wind is the best of all. Fruit that grows on an eastern slope is better, satisfying the heart, and calming the mind. The air on that side is better, since it is the side toward the Gan Eden.(Bachya)
The Talmud teaches that the entire world is a sixtieth of this garden, and that this garden is a sixtieth of the delightful place [known as Eden].(Taanit, Chapter 1)
Because Gan Eden was the abode of man in his state of innocence, it became the dwelling place of the upright in the hereafter. According to Jewish tradition, there is a celestial as well as a terrestrial Gan Eden, the earthly one being only a copy of the sublime heavenly Paradise.
Nachmanides [RaMBaN], in his commentary on Bereishit 4:13, says that the narrative of Eden has a double meaning and that its prototype is in heaven.
The Prophet Yechezkel refers to Eden as the Garden of G-d (Yechezkel 28:13).
Midrash says that before creating the universe, Hashem brought into existence seven concepts which are essential for the functioning of the world:
(Gemara Nedarem 39a)
- 1. Torah
- 2. Teshuvah
- 3. Gan Eden
- 4. Gehinnom
- 5. Kesai HaKavod
- 6. The Beit HaMikdash
- 7. The name of Mashiach
(See Targum Yonatan; Tikunei Zohar, pp. 44, 64. Also see Bachya; Imrei Shefer)
Tree of Life. The Hebraic concept of the Tree of Life that was in Gan Eden was considered to be Torah. Even today in Jewish synagogues the poles upon which the Torah scrolls are placed are called "Tree of Life."
In Mishlei 3:16-18 the poet says of wisdom, "Length of days is in her right hand;...She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her," a passage which clearly alludes to the primitive conception of a life-prolonging tree. (Jewish Encyclopedia)
The Tree of Life was very large, having deep roots, a thick trunk, and much foliage.
Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The second one was called the Tree of Knowledge, since it sharpened the intellect and made one's eyesight more acute. It also had a delicious taste.
v2:9 seems to indicate that both trees were in the precise center of the garden. There is a number of ways in which this can be explained. One possibility is that both trees actually had a single trunk that was in the precise center of the garden. It then divided into two trees, each with different characteristics. Others say that only the Tree of Life was in the exact center of the garden. It was surrounded by the Tree of Knowledge. The branches and fruit of the Tree of Knowledge covered the Tree of Life so that the two appeared as one tree. (Bereishit Rabbah)
Some identify the Pishon with the Nile (Rashi). Others say that it is the Ganges or the Indus (Josephus, Abarbanel). Rabbi Aaron Marcus identifies it with the Karun, which flows through Iran into the Persian Gulf (Keset HaSofer 121a). He also notes that the flow of these rivers could have been changed drastically by the Great Flood. (The Living Torah, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan)
After watering 'Eden, the river leaves it and flows underground to re-emerge in four different places as four new sources (for the word rashim does not mean "branches"). Might this not give us the reason why it has never been possible to identify the sources of the Nile?(Call of The Torah, Rabbi Elie Munk)
This river has ten tributaries, and is extremely wide. At its narrowest point, it is eight miles broad.
It is told that Cyrus, king of Persia, sent special people to survey this river. They discovered that it has 440 tributaries.
Some identify this with India (Josephus, Antiquities 1:1:3; Targum Yonatan). Marcus, however, identifies it with an area on the Persian Gulf. (See Bereishit 10:7, 10:29, 25:18, 1Shmuel 15:7). Significantly, there is a city Havelian on the upper Indus river, between Kashmir and Pakistan. (The Living Torah, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan)
A gem identified as either crystal (Rashi to BaMidbar 11:7) or pearl (Ibn Ezra)
Josephus identifies it with the Nile (Antiquities 1:1:3). Rabbi Aaron Marcus says that some identify it with the Amu-dar'ya, which flows from Afghanistan into the Aral Sea in Russia, and once flowed into the Caspian Sea(Keset HaSofer 61a, 62a). He says that it also might be the Qezal Owzan River, which flows northward through Iran into the Caspian Sea, or the Khabur, a tributary of the Euphrates flowing through Syria. (The Living Torah, Aryeh Kaplan)
This is usually considered to be the Tigris. The exact geographical location of 'Eden is not known for "it is not revealed to any mortal" (Midrash Hagadol). It is generally thought to be in the Middle Eastern region, near the equator. The Torah mentions four regions in this passage. All the abundance and all the richness of the choicest products of each of these regions could be found in Paradise. (Call of Torah, R' Elie Munk)
Known as the Euphrates. This fourth river is the largest of them all and that encompasses the Holy Land. In the book of Daniel, however, the Tigris is called "the great river" (Daniel 10:4). This would appear to indicate that the Tigris is larger than the Euphrates.
All the rivers asked the Euphrates why its waters do not make a loud noise like theirs do. The Euphrates replied, "I have no need to make my voice heard. The advantages and benefits of my waters are known to all."
The Hebrew name for the Euphrates, Perat, coming from the word Parah, meaning "fruitful.". Everything that it touches becomes fruitful. It is said that if an orchard is watered by the Euphrates, the trees can mature in thirty days. If its water is used for a field, grain can grow in three days. People who drink its water become healthy, and the people who live in this area have many children and large families.(Berachot; Bereishit Rabbah)
These four rivers have not changed their course since they were created. Therefore, when one sees them, he should say the blessing:
Baruch atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha-olam oseh maaseh v'reishit
Blessed are You, O Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Maker of the work of creation.
Fig Leaf. It is believed that since it states Adam and Chavah sewed together fig leaves to make their covering that it was of the fig tree that they had eaten from also. (Tosefot, Sanhedrin 70b)
Only the fig tree whose fruit he had eaten (cf. Rashi) opened it branches to Adam and welcomed him.
Yalkut MeAm Loez [Torah Anthology], Rabbi Yaakov Culi, Book One - Beginnings