In Bereshis 2:15 Adam is placed in Gan Eden to work and guard it. Guard it from what or whom?
The Ibn Ezra says - in his initial explanation - to guard it from animals so they don't enter and sully the garden:
ולשמרה מכל החיות שלא יכנסו שם ויטנפוהו
The Seforno says - if I understand correctly - to guard the fruit/trees? from rotting
ולשמרה. שלא תפסד בהתכת הליחות השרשי הנתך בחום הטבעי וזה כי אותם הפירות הנכבדים היו מולידים תמיד תמורת מה שנתך בלתי עפוש
The Ramban on verse 8 and 11 says - based on the Medrash that it refers to the sacrifices - since the word to guard is used in reference to the sacrifices.
לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ אלו הקרבנות שנאמר (שמות ג יב) תַּעַבְדוּן אֶת הָאֱ-לֹהִים הדא הוא דכתיב (במדבר כח ב) תִּשְׁמְרוּ לְהַקְרִיב לִי בְּמוֹעֲדוֹ
But all the other commentators explain that since there was nobody to guard it from, it refers to keeping the Mitzvot; the commandments they were instructed.
לְמֶהֱוֵי פְּלַח בְּאוֹרַיְתָא וּלְמִנְטַר פִּקוּדָהָא
"To work in Torah study and guard the commandments"
Ibn Ezra - second explanation:
ויש אומרים כי כן פירושו לעבוד מצותו והמצוה לא תעבד
"Some say that it means to do the commandments and [ensure] the [prohibitions] don't get done".
The Ohr HaChaim summarizes:
לעבדה אלו מצות עשה ולשמרה אלו מצות לא תעשה
"To work: the [do] positive commandments, to guard: [to not do] the prohibitions".
(See all the above in Hebrew here.)
Verse fifteen tells us that the Eternal One took Adam and placed him there in Gan Eden with the task: L’avdah (לעבדה) Ul’shomrah (ולשמרה), which is often translated as ‘to work it and keep it’. The point I want to make is that l’avdah doesn’t necessarily has to refer to tilling the earth, because after the sin of Adam and the cursing of the ground, one reads in Bereshit/Genesis 3:23: “Thus Adonai Elohim sent him from Gan Eden to till the ground (la’avod - לעבד), from which he was taken.” Therefore the reason that man was placed in Gan Eden could probably be better understood as: “to keep the service”, that is, man is placed in the garden as a servant to serve Him, just as priests also kept watch (shamar) over the service (avodah) of the house (Beit Hamikdash) of G-d as shomrim and avadim (watchmen and servants)*.
Broadly speaking, there are two views about this serving and maintaining.
The first meaning of avodah seems to focus primarily on serving G-d, in a manner prescribed by Him; ‘to work with it and to take care of it’. This is probably the reason that some Targumim such as the Targum Jerusalem on the Pentateuch reads something like: “And Adonai Elohim took Adam and made him dwell in Gan Eden; and set him to do service in the law, and to keep it.”, the Targum Neofiti and Pseudo Yonathan read: “to labor in the Law and observe its commandments.” They refer to working out G-d’s instruction and keeping His directions, i.e. “to serve according to His Word, and keep it.” According to the Zohar ‘to serve’ refers to the positive commandments (obligations) or mitzvot aseh, and ‘to guard’ to the negative commandments (prohibitions) or mitzvot lo ta’aseh; which in turn are actions in order to maintain the Word of Adonai.
A second meaning can be found in Yeshayahu/Isaiah 19:21, where service is linked with sacrifices and bringing gifts; which can be seen as worshipping G-d. But apart from the literal sacrifices and bringing of gifts, there might be a more spiritual meaning which could add to my answer: We sacrifice something by giving something up because it is prohibited/forbidden to us, and we make a gift to the other by doing what is asked of us or because we’re grateful for what the other has done for us, has given us or purely for the fact that the other is part of our life (out of love); it is therefore true that if we are unable to make a spiritual offering/sacrifice from within ourselves and thereby break a prohibition or fail to do (neglect) a commandment, man must bring/make a literal sacrifice at the Temple. Serving and keeping thus seems to revolve around “inaction” and “doing”; i.e. to leave that which is forbidden and to do that which is commanded; i.e. to ensure that no transgression is committed and to work with what is required of us.
How does this all help us understand the story of Adam and Chavah? Well eventually they will break the commandment given to them, they ate me’etz hada’at tov warah although G-d instructed them not to. So they didn’t kept their task.
To sum things up: They had to guard themselves from breaking the instructions given, and protect themselves.
- When these words are used together, without exception they have this meaning and refer either to the Israelites ‘serving and guarding/obeying G-d’s Word, or, more often, to priest who serve G-d in The Temple and guard it from unclean things entering it. P.s. the term ‘put’ is often used for the dedication of something in the presence of the Lord.
The conclusion is to fear God and keep His commandments. This is the whole of "man" or Adam. Adam was placed in the "garden" to work and keep His commandments. Therefore, the "garden" must be God's commandments.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 JPS (13) The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole man.
"Eden" means "delight, pleasure". Happy is the man ....whose delight (Eden) is in the law (garden) of the LORD. This is a spiritual place where man knows and walks with God in the "garden" of working and keeping His commandments.
Psalms 1:1-2 JPS (1) Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful. (2) But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in His law doth he meditate day and night.
Thank you for reading.
It strikes me that “shomer” in this context can only mean to stand guard, protect and defend. The question then has to be, “From whom?” The traditional rabbinic gloss of mitzvot strikes me as political in nature (i.e., keep the flock following the Halacha). We read in this parsha that there are others on the planet other than Adam and Eve (e.g., the future wife of their son and the strange male creatures with whom the women are told they should not fornicate). Those are the logical suspects (other than animals who could damage the plants, etc., in the Garden). There is another option: although we are uncomfortable admitting it, Genesis acknowledges that there are other gods (but the Hebrew god is the best, strongest, etc.). Perhaps those are the ones who could damage (destroy?) the Garden and whom Adam must guard against. Fascinating as well that God needs a human partner - God cannot guard it himself.