The history of the Jews has not been an easy one by any stretch of the imagination. Persecution, forced conversions, slaughter, discrimination, ridicule -- all generations have experienced these things to some degree. But in His kindness, G-d allows the Jews a period of time during which they can rebuild and restore themselves after each tragedy. For example, Columbus set sail and discovered America at around the same time as the Spanish Expulsion. (In fact, he sailed during the very same week that the last of the Jews left Spain.) His discovery of America eventually gave the Jews another opportunity to escape the oppression in Europe.
I recently learned about the history of Spanish Jewry in school, and I decided to read The Disputation of Barcelona. It is the written account by Ramban (Nachmanides) of the debate between himself and an apostate named Pablo Christiani in the summer of 1263 in Barcelona. It was held in front of King James I of Aragonia and other Christian nobles. Debates such as these were common in mediaeval Europe, where Christians, seeking to prove the validity of their religion, forced prominent Jews to participate. The Church would then declare that the Christian had won the debate, although it was usually obvious that that was not at all the case. It was as a result of this that Ramban had to leave Spain. The Church published their own version of the debate at Barcelona, but the only surviving account of the event now is that of the Ramban (translated into English by Rabbi Dr. Charles B. Chavel). Although it is only 42 pages, it is a fascinating read, and I would recomment it to anyone (and especially to those who have doubts about the truth of Judaism). You can purchase it here, or try finding it in your local Jewish library or bookstore.
One of the things that I found very interesting was what he said about mankind's original immortality:
"Behold, the first man lived 930 years. Scripture explains that he died because of his sin and that had he not sinned, he would have lives many more [years] or [perhaps] forever. All of us, gentiles and Jews, admit that the sin and pubinshment of the first man will be voided in the era of the Messiah. If so, death will cease from all of us [ordinary mortals] after the coming of Messiah. As far as the Messiah himself is concerned, death is completely inoperative against him. Thus, it is fitting that Messiah live for thousands of years or [even] forever."
So according to this, man had the potential to live even longer than a millenium, if not forever. But because the first man, Adam, sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, his life was cut short and he could no longer be immortal.
Ramban went on to explain, in answer to the king's question about the whereabouts of the Messiah:
The answer is clearly written in Scripture. The first man was placed in the Garden of Eden, which is upon the earth. When he sinned, it is stated, And the Eternal G-d sent him forth from the Garden of
Eden. If so, this one, who is free from the punishment of man, abides there in the Garden of Eden.
What Ramban is saying is that since Adam's sin and punishment had no effect on the Messiah, he could both be immortal and dwell in the Garden of Eden. Adam was only expelled from it as a punishment for eating from the Tree of Knowledge.
The Yalkut Me'am Lo'ez, a commentary on the Torah by Rabbi Yaakov Culi (1689 - 1732), has a fascinating explanation of why exactly Adam was banished from the Garden of Eden for his sin. He was punished thoroughly for that sin -- his stature was reduced, his beauty was diminished, he had to work hard for his food, etc. In all, Adam was given ten curses. What I found interesting though was that this commentary connected the curse of mortality to the curse of being banished from the Garden of Eden.
One of the trees that as in the Garden of Eden was the Tree of Life. G-d never forbade Adam from eating the fruit of that specific tree, and according to the Yalkut Me'am Lo'ez:
"G-d would have not minded if Adam had eaten from it and gained immortality; creation was originally set up in such a manner that no creature would die. It was only after Adam sinned that he was banished from the Garden of Eden so that he could not gain immortality by eating from the Tree of
(p. 278, The Torah Anthology - Genesis I 1.)
G-d wanted Adam to be able to live forever, and Adam did indeed have that opportunity. Not only was G-d watching over him to make sure no harm came to him, but Adam was also permitted to eat from the Tree of Life, which would extend his life. Therefore, when G-d wanted to curse Adam by making him mortal, He also had to banish him from the Garden of Eden, so that Adam would not be able to prolong his life by eating from the Tree of Life. The Yalkut Me'am Lo'ez shows that Adam's expulsion from the Garden of Eden was because of his curse of mortality, which was the punishment for his sin. It was a direct, logical result.
Going back to what Ramban said about the Messiah's immortality, we can apply the Yalkut Me'am Lo'ez's explanation to it. The Messiah can reside in the Garden of Eden, because he is supposed to be immortal.
And when the Mashiach comes to gather our scattered nation and redeem us, we will also have the gift of immortality that we were originally meant to have and would then logically be permitted to experience being in the Garden of Eden.