In Verse 2:15 "Gan" (garden) is a masculine noun and "le'Avdah u'LeShamrah" (to till it and to keep it) are feminine inflections... I was told, the Zohar would explain it as follows: a) le'Avdah = all 248 positive mitzvos; b) u'LeShamrah = all 365 negative mitzvos. The Zohar would seemingly derive this meaning from the next 2 verses (2:16-17), which indeed describe commandments ("eat" and "do not eat"). But still, it seems odd. And why the feminine inflections? Could someone please give me the actual source and/or give me some additional information? Thanks!

  • 3
    How do you know גן עדן is masculine? – Double AA Oct 9 '17 at 21:46
  • How is the Zohar relevant? Don’t get into Kabbalah - it’s an excellent question even on a simple reading of the pesukim. +1. – DonielF Oct 11 '17 at 2:07

The statement in the Zohar in question, is the following passage in Tikkunei Zohar:

תיקוני זוהר תקונא עשרין וחד ועשרין דף סב עמוד א

ויניחהו בגן עדן לעבדה ולשמרה לעבדה בפקודין דעשה ולשמרה בפקודין דלא תעשה

And he placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and guard it. 'To work it': with positive mitsvot, 'and to guard it': with negative mitsvot.

Perhaps the Tikkunei Zohar was indeed motivated by the interpretation of גן as masculine, and therefore seeks out a different object for 'guard' and 'serve' (perhaps in the Tikkunei Zohar's interpretation it refers to Torah).

However, importantly, the verse is understandable without resorting to derush. For example, Ibn Ezra (Ecclesiastes 2:5) writes that the word גן ('gan'; garden) can be either masculine (as in Song of Songs 4:12), or feminine as in Genesis 2:15. Similarly, Isaiah (1:29) refers to גנות, although as Ibn Ezra points out, the word also appears as גנים (e.g. Song of Songs 4:15).

R. Isaac Abravanel (Genesis ch. 2) similarly asserts that the term גן can be either masculine or feminine, and that in our verse it is feminine.

Alternately, Radak (to our verse) considers the possibility that in our verse גן is masculine. Accordingly he suggests that 'to work it' refers to the ground (אדמה which is feminine) from which the garden grows.

Alternatively, like Ibn Ezra, Radak proposes that גן in our verse is feminine, noting that the word also appears with the feminine ה at the end, as גנה.

Ramban (Genesis 2:8) (perhaps basing himself on Radak) writes the same two explanations.

Ramban claims that Hazal noted this grammatical issue. Specifically, for example, Genesis Rabba (16:5) says that the verse is a reference to sacrifices (קרבנות).

For more interpretations of 'to work it and to serve it', see here. Perhaps some of these explanations (such as the Sifrei there) were similarly intended to address this grammatical point.


It is also possible to understand the expression “בגן-עדן” to mean “as a guardian of time or pleasure”. גן is the root for הגנה which means to protect (in a positive sense) or to defend (in a negative sense). The pleasure is that associated with his wife which was mentioned in the previous chapter (Bereshit 1:27). So the feminine connotation is referring back to his wife.

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