The Torah introduces the creation of the universe, not once, but twice. In chapter one:
“In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.” (Gen. 1:1)
And in chapter two:
“These are the chronicles of heaven and earth when they were created; on the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.” (Gen. 2:4)
If we examine these two verses, the most prominent difference between them is the name used for God. The first chapter uses the name 'Elokim,' expressing the Divine attribute of Justice. This aspect of creation is also called Gevurah or ‘Strength,’ as the ability to meet the strict standards of unmitigated justice provides strength and legitimacy. If we can measure up to the attribute of Justice, we deserve to live.
The second chapter uses a combination of two names for the Creator, “Hashem Elokim.” The Torah precedes the name Elokim with the Tetragrammaton. This ineffable Divine name signifies the trait of Rachamim or ‘Mercy.’ It indicates that the world did not deserve to exist solely on the basis of its own merits. Creation of the universe required that the attribute of justice be tempered with a measure of mercy.
Why this change in God’s name? The Midrash explains that a fundamental shift took place during the creation process:
“Initially, God intended to create it with the attribute of Justice. But then He saw that the world cannot exist [with only Justice], so He gave priority to the attribute of Mercy, and joined it with the attribute of Justice.” (Pesikta Rabbati 40)
The combination of two opposing traits, Mercy and Justice, is the basis for the middle path that allows the universe to exist. The admixture of Mercy permitted free choice, and the possibility that evil desires may rule over us. It created a reality in which human frailties and foibles are tolerated.
When did this compromise become necessary? And why not create the world from the start with both attributes? Did not God know that our world could not exist according to unmitigated justice?
Corresponding to these two Divine aspects of creation, we may classify all mitzvot as positive and negative commandments. At the heart of positive commandments are the attributes of love of God and Mercy. The negative commandments, on the other hand, are based on awe of God (Yirah) and Justice. According to the Zohar, Adam was instructed concerning both types of mitzvoth in the Garden of Eden. Man was placed in the Garden “to work it and watch over it” (Gen. 2:15). “To work it” refers to the positive commandments, while “to watch over it” refers to the negative precepts.
In the Garden of Eden, however, there was an underlying unity encompassing both of these Divine attributes. There exists an inner bond between Justice and Mercy. While all negative precepts are based on Awe, the actual command to feel awe and reverence for God is itself a positive one (see Deut. 10:20). Deep within the attribute of Awe lies hidden the attribute of Love. Love concealed within Awe, and Mercy concealed within Justice. This form of Justice, containing a hidden measure of Mercy, was the original master-plan for creation.
The Tree of Knowledge also combined two opposing qualities, knowledge of good and evil. Adam could not grasp how one tree could encompass two contradictory traits. In truth, this combination is the very foundation of our world. The universe could not exist without combining Justice with Mercy. Adam’s sin was in separating between the two, thus transforming the Garden of Eden into a broken, disjointed world.
What about the original plan for the world, to exist exclusively by Justice? This level of creation will be attained in the future, as the world is repaired. Thus, there is a tradition that in the future the Halacha will be decided according to the more stringent opinion of Beit Shammai. Since the universe will return to the original design of Justice, the term “Gan Eden” refers both to the past and the future. The Garden of Eden was the pristine, integrated world that existed before Adam’s sin, and is also the future place of reward.
In our divided reality, deed and reward are separated in time and place:
“Today [this world] is for keeping the commandments; and tomorrow [the world to come] is for receiving their reward.” (Eiruvin 22a)
In the Garden of Eden, on the other hand, there is no dichotomy between action and reward, no confusion between good and evil, and no division between Justice and Mercy. In the future, the universe will return to the Divine attribute of Justice, with Mercy concealed within, thus uniting all apparent opposites.
(Adapted from Shemuot HaRe’iyah 8, Bereishit 5690 (1929))