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D’var Torah: Parashat Bereishit

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In this week’s D’var Torah for Bereishit, the Chief Rabbi explains why real paradise is to be found just east of the Garden of Eden.

When were the good old days?

Every time we return the Sefer Torah to the ark we recite the verse from Eicha, “Hashiveinu Hashem Eilecha Venashuva – Return us to you Hashem and we will return, Chadesh Yameinu K’Kedem – Restore our days as of old.” Which period of history are we referring to? Which glorious moment is it which we hanker after at this time?

The Midrash, in Eicha Rabbati, transports us back to a passage in Parashat Bereishit. It is the exact moment when Adam and Eve had just left paradise. The Torah tells us that Hashem established ‘Kruvim’ – angels with fiery, swivelling swords to guard the entrance into the Garden. Where were they situated? “Mikedem L’Gan Eden – East of Eden.” Outside of paradise.

It is that same word ‘Mikedem’ – “Chadesh Yameinu K’Kedem.” ‘Kedem’ means ‘east’ and it also means ‘times gone by’. That is because at the earliest part of the day the sun rises in the east. Isn’t that remarkable? We are going all that way back in time but stopping short of actually going back into paradise itself. Surely that is the ultimate utopia that we should long for?

Instead we prefer a period when we are outside of paradise with all the challenges of this world. That, I believe, is the whole point.

Our Sages refer to the time when Adam and Eve were in paradise as a period of “Nahama Dekisufa – They were eating the bread of shame.” This is because they didn’t need to do anything to earn or deserve that which was delivered to them – it was provided on a silver platter. As a result, miracles seemed normal. Everything was ordinary and nothing was special. There was no sense of fulfilment and no genuine feeling of happiness. It was only once they were outside of the garden, in the real world, facing the challenges of life, that they could actually achieve success and gratification.

This is a sentiment which we convey to a bride and groom under the ‘chuppah’. “Sameach T’Samacah Rei’im Ahuvim – Please Hashem give this loving couple lots of joy.” “K’Samechacha Yetzircha” – In the same way as you gave joy to Adam and Eve, “B’Gan Eden Mikedem.” And many mistranslate this to mean ‘when they were in the Garden of Eden in days gone by.’ But actually, it means Mikedem L’Gan Eden – ‘East of Eden’ – when they were outside of paradise.

That is the reality of the life that the bride and groom will have. They will have to work at their relationship. They will have to exist in a world with numerous challenges. Once they are able to appreciate that and to succeed, the fulfilment they achieve will be second to none. That is the ‘bracha’ we give to them under the ‘chuppah’.

So now we understand the meaning of “Chadesh Yameinu K’Kedem.” The ‘good old days’ – are actually, achievable right now. We embrace this world, we grapple with its issues and we strive to overcome the challenges. And once, please God, we will do that, our joy will be second to none.

Shabbat Shalom