Breisheit - To Work and Protect

Now the Lord God took the man, and He placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it.
Breisheit 2:15
The Or HaChaim Hakodosh  notes an interesting language in the verse, that it says "to work it and to guard it." This commentator raises several questions.
  • Why would the Garden of Eden needed to be guarded, after all there were no thieves?
  • What is this 'work' that the Garden of Eden needs? If it needed to be worked, then who worked the Garden of Eden all these years since the banishment from there?
Working the Soul
Thus both of these concepts must appear here to convey the idea of spirituality. We need to take care of ourselves and nurture the soul, just as the land needs to be worked, sowed, and watered in order to create food. And just as produce needs to be protected from damaging elements  (pests, weather, dangerous conditions) so also we must protect our souls from those forces that can stain the soul. So today, we can look at 'Gan Eden' as the land of the soul, since the body is well taken care of. We must put our efforts into cultivating the soul and protecting the soul, and that is through the special spiritual watering: Torah learning.

The Or HaChaim brings the following verse comparing Torah to water:
My LESSON will drip like RAIN; my WORD will flow like DEW; like storm winds on vegetation and like raindrops on grass.
Devarim 32:2
Fulfilling the Positive
The different stages in caring for and raising produce to be food are mirrored in how we care for the soul.  The stage of sowing seeds comes to embody doing the positive mitzvot. This is alluded to in the verse from the Prophets.
SOW RIGHTEOUSNESS for yourselves, reap according to loving-kindness, plow yourselves a plowing, and it is time to seek the Lord, until He comes and instructs you in RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Hosea 10:12
This is not just referring to a single righteous act, but about becoming a fully righteous being. This is supported by the words of our sages in the Midrash (Midrash Tehilim 114) that for every mitzvah that one does, Hashem sows and enriches.

Work is Torah
The Or HaChaim continues explaining this verse, saying that like the work involved in cultivating produce, the work for us is in busying ourselves in Torah.  The essence of the commandment of Torah learning is in intensive study of Torah.

Protect the Torah
Protect is also related, since this refers to protecting the boundaries of the Torah. Just as in cultivating produce, we must protect the fledgling growth, so also must we protect our Torah. This is referring to upholding the negative commandments - not transgressing them.
R. Abin said in the name of R. Ila'a: Whenever there occur in the Torah the
expressions ‘take heed’, ‘lest’, or ‘do not’, they are negative precepts

Shavuot 4A
A transgression nullifies  [the merit of] a commandment but not of [study of] Torah
Sotah 21A
The Role of the Garden of Eden
The Or HaChaim continues to expound on this verse, explaining the special experience in The Garden. In those days when Hashem placed man in the Garden of Eden, He would look down and watch the actions of one who had been a Tzadik all his life. And thus when man was banished from the Garden of Eden, this experience was relationship was lost.

However the stirrings of the soul, this was not lost. Spirituality cannot be suppressed. The actions of this world are praiseworthy that even in this world we merit to eat the fruits borne in our wake, for that is the food of the soul - the Garden of Eden.

And the Or HaChaim concludes by quoting the Tikunei HaZohar.
This is the wording: Work represents the positive commandments and Protect represents the negative commandments.

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