Our Sacred Task

Breisheet (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

After the creation of the universe and all things on the earth, God created humanity as His crowning achievement. Once the first man was created, He didn’t just set him loose to fend for himself. He specifically placed him in a literal paradise called Gan Eden (The Garden of Eden). The Torah gives us a basic description of this place, saying, “And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:8–9).

When we typically think of Gan Eden, we think of something similar to a life of perpetual vacation—a life of luxury and pleasure, free from the cares of daily life. But when Adam was placed into the garden, he was placed there for a purpose. He was to act as its caretaker and guardian, as it says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Adam had a twofold task. He was to “work” (Hebrew: avad), and “keep” (Hebrew: shamar) the garden. Although he worked the garden, he was banished from it when he quit guarding it against improper use. For a seemingly insignificant transgression, all of history has suffered.

As descendants of Adam, we carry a similar responsibility. We are all caretakers and guardians in this world on multiple levels. First, we are literally the caretakers and guardians of the earth. We must ensure that we are taking proper care of it. How are we using our natural resources? Are we being responsible when it comes to waste and recycling, etc.? But we also have spiritual responsibilities as well.

We can view Adam’s charge as a prototype of the giving of the Torah. The Torah contains both positive (“Thou shalt …”) commandments, and negative (“Thou shalt not …”) commandments. From a more mystical perspective, Adam’s instruction to work and guard the garden have deeper meanings for us. To work the garden corresponds to the positive commandments—Adam had to do something, he had to work (avad, meaning “to serve”) it. As its corollary, to keep the garden corresponds to the negative commandments—Adam had to protect against something, he had to guard (shamar, meaning “to guard”) it.

In every aspect of life, there are areas that we must both “work” and “guard.” There is always something we must be doing for Hashem. He has placed us in this global “garden,” and called us to work for Him during our days here on this earth. He expects us to love Him by loving people, obeying His positive commandments, and being caretakers of this planet we call home. But we must also guard against and refrain from certain activities. Some of these activities are innate: don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, etc. Some are less intuitive: don’t speak negatively about someone else, don’t harbor anger, don’t retaliate, etc. Some seem completely illogical and unreasonable: don’t engage in commerce on Shabbat, don’t eat meat that has not been ritually slaughtered, don’t mix meat and dairy, etc. How are we supposed to do all of these things?

When Yeshua ascended to his Father, he left his disciples the Ruach Hakodesh, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells within each one of his disciples today as well. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to help his disciples to live out the principles of the Torah so that the presence of Hashem would be made manifest in this world. Unfortunately, many followers of Yeshua do not tap into this inner strength and live defeated, unfruitful lives. But if we have truly died to ourselves and become a new creation with our resurrected Master, then we are no longer “sinners,” nor slaves to our sinful nature. “Having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). Therefore, we have this potential locked up within us if we would only seek it out.

In summary, there are activities we need to both engage in and refrain from, because each activity we engage in has the potential to either increase godliness in this world or decrease godliness in this world. Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, a literal paradise on earth, but spoiled their opportunity to remain there. It is our sacred task to work toward restoring that garden paradise by transforming our present world through our actions. We can participate in its restoration or we can continue to justify our banishment. I choose to work towards its restoration. What will you choose?