Rivers of Eden

Irene Bleiweiss (IBLEIWEI@fcc.gov)
Thu, 27 Mar 1997 09:40:25 -0500

Hashem has directed my attention to the discussion of the rivers flowing
from/to Gan Eden ( Bereishith 2:10-14) and I am trying to understand it on
each of the 4 levels (PRDS) that Moses taught after receiving the Torah.
I have made some progress with levels one and two but need help to get
any further. Here's what I have so far:

Text: "A river issues forth from Eden to water the garden, and from
there it is divided and becomes four headwaters. The name of the first
is Pishon, the one that encircles the whole land of Havilah, where the
gold is. The gold of the land is good; bedolach is there, and the shoham
stone. The name of the second river is Gihon, the one that encircles the
whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Hiddekel, the one that
flows toward the east of Assyria; and the fourth river is the Euphrates
(P'rath)." (Artscroll Stone Chumash)

Level 1: A description of rivers that water Gan Eden, from which we
can hypothesize the garden's location. R Aryeh Kaplan has a good map
in his Living Torah showing possible locations of the rivers and garden
as well as commentary that some of these rivers may have changed
because of the flood. Also commentary with differing views as to what
types of stones are being referred to.

Rabbi Kaplan in his book Waters of Eden also relates the rivers to
mikvah. He cites the Talmud for the teaching that this river is the spiritual
source of all water in the world. (Bechoros 55a). Before Hashem
placed man in the Garden, he established the river as a link between the
Garden and the outside world. So Rabbi Kaplan explains that even
though man has been expelled from the garden the link with Eden
remains through mikvah -- man has the ability to connect with his ultimate
source, even in his fallen state, and to grow towards G-d's goals.

Level 2: (with the gracious help of a rabbinical student) A description of
ways of acheiving reward in the present world according to Netziv in
the Haamek Davar, based on common shared roots of river names and
other concepts. Pishon = spreading out, generosity. interpreted as
chesed (mercy) in relationships between people. Gihon =
stomach/snake interpreted as humility. Hiddekel = sharp, light, swift.
Interpreted as leadership by motivating others to be swift. Para =
multiply. Interpreted as doing good deeds & mitzvot. Relationship of man
to G-d.

Can anyone help me get further? Maybe by providing a story or
reference source that illustrates a point to be learned on the 3rd or 4th
level? Maybe by explaining the significance of the gems and why gold is
so especially emphasized? Maybe by explaining any symbolism of the
rivers' layout (dividing and encircling)? Is there any significance in the
repeated use of "name" ( I find 3 uses of "name" in the English and at
least 5 "shin-mems" in the Hebrew and think that the names could be
referring to Hashem and the 4 rivers might relate to the 4 letters in the
name of G-d?) Maybe someone could explain why it is said (Rashi?) that
the 4th river is the most important even though it is given no attributes or
geographical description?

I hypothesize that because we sometimes refer to the world to come
(Olam Habah) as Gan Eden that perhaps this might be a discussion of
forces flowing toward Olam Habah.

I also hypothesize that the goodness of the gold is referring to the
purpose for which we use wealth rather than the gold's purity i.e. not
whether it is 14 karat vs. 24 karat. So I view the "Pishon" segment of the
parsha as telling us that when we are generous in our dealings with
other humans (e.g. through charity) we find ourselves blessed with
wealth (more gold and precious stones too). But I have no source for
this -- it is just my own theory-- and I don't know what the reference to
"Havilah" might stand for.

I appreciate all comments (public and private) that can help me learn
more. My current Hebrew skills are minimal (yes, I'm working on this) so
I'd also appreciate responses that translate important words/concepts.

Irene Bleiweiss
Washington, D.C. USA