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The Days of the Mashiach and Gan Eden

Author: Eli Ehrman, Tevet 5769/Jan 2009

Talk given by Eli Ehrman on the occasion of the Yahrzeit of his father Rabbi Dr A. Z. Ehrman Z"L

How does the concept of Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) fit in with the other major categories of reward that God promises humanity? There are five such categories as specified by the Rambam in his "Introduction to Perek Chelek". They are:

  1. A good life full of blessings
  2. The days of the Mashiach
  3. Gan Eden
  4. Olam Haba, the world to come after we die
  5. Techiyat Hametim, the general resurrection of the dead at the "end of days"

It seems at first as if Rambam did not know what to do with Gan Eden – how to make it fit into a general picture. Is Gan Eden a promise at all? I propose that the answer is that the relevance of Gan Eden at the beginning of the Torah is surely an indication that it is part of the overall goal of humanity. This is supported by imagery such as that of the Keruvim, who guard the entrance to Gan Eden after the expulsion, being represented on top of the Holy Ark holding the Luchot Haberit and on the Parochet. I argue for a unifying of all three of the first categories; they relate to the world of nature as we know it and are mentioned countless times in the Tanach. The days of the Mashiach and Gan Eden are one. There is a physical side as well as a material side. In the days of the Geulah, the curse of "By the sweat of thy brow shall you eat food" shall be removed (as shall "and he will rule you" by which Eve was punished). Our daily needs will be found in plenty and we will be able to devote ourselves to Knowledge of God. Thus all the promises of the Jewish people in their land, where a good world full of peace and justice, a world as full of the knowledge of God as the waters fill the sea, with the direct Presence of the Shechinah in the Temple in Yerushalayim constitute one complete image which expresses Gan Eden. The first category of general blessing is also part of this promise but this is often missed because it is stressed during a period in History when there was still a hope that we would never need to experience the horrors of the Exile; a time when it the best path was one of continuous and gradual improvement that eventually fulfilled all aspects of the Geulah.

The other side of the argument I present is that once we understand that the Geulah includes a life of easy access to the fulfillment of our physical needs, we can see that the course of recent history is one in which this promise comes closer and closer to fulfillment. We, as Jews who are both Zionist and Religious live our lives in a context of belief that the world we live in is one in which the Messianic promises are gradually being fulfilled. We focus on this clearly in the context of the return of the Jewish people from Exile to the land of our Fathers. Just as we see this aspect of the days of the Mashiach, we should focus too on the fact that the progress of technology and economics is another aspect of the fulfillment of prophecies made in the dawn of our history.

Again, as modern Religious Zionists, we do not understand the fulfillment of the promise of return to our land as a passive experience. For us it is a religious obligation to actively bring it about. Therefore, we should again apply this activism in a broader sense to all aspects of the Geulah. The Geulah is an obligation as much as gift. The progress of technology need not lead to a world of Gan Eden for all the inhabitants of the Earth. Instead it could lead to a "Hell on Earth", as those who control the wealth find themselves less and less in need of other human beings, as machines start to provide the same services. We must understand the process and actively fight to make the potential granted to us mature into the days of the Mashiach as presented to us in our sources.

On the night of this talk we remembered my father, Rabbi Dr. Zvi Ehrman Z"L who devoted his life to bringing about all aspects of the Geulah. His vision was of a Jewish people living in their land in peace exemplifying the social justice that our sources define.