Assuming the Torah’s account of the Garden of Eden is literal, I’m wondering where the Garden was located, whether it exists anywhere in the world today, and if Mankind will ever return to the Garden.
While the Torah’s account of Creation, the Garden of Eden, and the story of Adam and Eve surely has many levels of simultaneous meaning, including the symbolic, metaphorical and esoteric, which may even be the main levels of meaning of the text, it nevertheless would appear that there is a literal level of meaning as well.
Thus, the Torah’s seemingly geographical description of Eden should offer at least a general indication of its location, which appears to be Mesopotamia: “And a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it separated and became four heads. The name of one is Pishon; that is the one that encompasses all the land of Havilah….And the name of the second river is Gihon; that is the one that encompasses all the land of Cush. And the name of the third river is Hidekel (Tigris); that is the one that flows to the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Prat (Euphrates)” (Gen. 2:10-14).
This indicates that the Garden of Eden was generally in the Middle East, and possibly near the very fertile region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Interestingly, our sources teach that G‑d actually formed Adam’s body in the Land of Israel, breathed life into him there, and only afterward placed him in the Garden. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 38a,b) relates that G‑d gathered earth from the four corners of the globe to fashion Adam’s limbs, earth from Babylon for his torso, and earth from the Holy Land for his head. This took place in Jerusalem, on Mount Moriah, on the spot of the altar of the future Temple (Rashi, Gen. 2:7 from B.R. 14:8). Since the head is the superior part of the body, this indicates that the Holy Land is the most elevated land. Yet the fact the torso with its vital organs is related to Babylon indicates the importance of that land, and its aptness to cradle civilization and Eden.
This raises an intriguing question. While it’s understandable that G‑d would create Mankind in the Holy Land, why did he then remove them to the Garden, in Babylon?
One possible answer is that G‑d brought Mankind into the world in a place that would instill within them the greatest potential for achieving spiritual perfection, the Holy Land. However, it was inappropriate that the “training ground” for realizing that perfection be the Land of Israel, precisely because of its elevated status. Rather, after having been formed with the substance of perfection, Mankind was placed in the Garden, which was also infused with great spirituality, to perfect themselves, after which time they would have been fit to enter the Holy Land forever.
This is comparable to the Jews receiving the Torah outside of Israel, where all their needs were miraculously provided for, such that if they had thereby perfected themselves in that realm, they would have entered the Land of Israel in a state of eternal redemption.
However, Adam and Eve failed the task and trial of self-effected perfection and were thus banished from Eden. This initiated the much more circuitous route to redemption, to the return to Eden and then to the elevated spiritual state of the Holy Land, which humanity is still traversing.
After banishing them, G‑d barred the entrance to Eden: “And He drove the man out, and at the east of the Garden of Eden He placed the cherubim and the blade of the revolving sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life” (Gen. 3:24). On this verse, Rashi explains that the sword frightened them from re-entering the Garden; and on Ex. 7:11 he seems to add that this revolving sword was actually a spinning ring of fire.
Accordingly, this revolving, sword-like, spinning ring of fire placed a portal of death between Mankind and Eden. And from then on, the metaphysical plane of Eden, which had been infused in an earthly location, was removed from the physical realm, leaving its former place nothing other than ordinary, mundane geography. For this reason, “Eden” is not to be found anywhere in the world today.
So where is Eden?
It was removed to the other side of the revolving, sword-like, spinning ring of fire – i.e., on the other side of death. And that is the spiritual realm we call Heaven, or Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden. It is to this spiritual realm that the souls of the righteous enter to dwell until the time of Resurrection, when perfected souls will be removed from Eden and return to perfected bodies that are brought to life in the Holy Land, as was Mankind at its inception.