Shabbat candles: 5:49 p.m.
Torah: Genesis 1:1-6:8
Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5-43:10
The story of Adam and Eve is laden by centuries of commentary, but what is it really about? We are told that Adam and Eve first acquire language [Genesis 2:20] and then form the first marriage [Gen. 2:24]. But they lacked one thing more for the establishment of civilization: consciousness.
The allegory of the Tree of Good and Evil relates how Adam and Eve become fully conscious. God has forbidden them to eat the fruit of the tree. The serpent then speaks to Eve, telling her that if she eats the fruit, “You will not surely die, for God knows that on the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and bad [Gen. 3:4].” Eve then evaluates this piece of information. She looks at the tree and its fruit, using her senses and intelligence to decide whether this information is correct. She decides that this alternative source of information can be trusted. She acts, eating the fruit, and giving the man some too. They then become fully conscious, making aprons to cover their nakedness. God, of course, has been watching, and for their disobedience, the man, the woman, and the serpent receive “punishments.” But are they really punishments?
Eve will bear children in pain. This is because, being conscious, humans can imagine what the future may bring. Fear has now come into the world. Animals have no smart phones or calendars. They can’t plan for or imagine what might happen if they give birth, go for surgery, or take a flight to Hawaii. Because of Eve’s decision, women due to have babies know that it will hurt and anticipate their pain.
But wait! Before Eve receives her “punishment,” fear has already come into the world, just from having left the animal state. Adam has already said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden and I was afraid because I am naked, so I hid [Gen. 3:10].” From this we see that consciousness can’t exist without fear. It’s an either-or proposition.
Adam’s “punishment” is that he has to work for a living, unlike the animals, whose food is provided by God. We might think that we’d prefer a world in which we don’t have to get up each morning and go to work but we know it would be perfectly boring. Would we ever exchange the great gifts of being fully human: the ability to grow intellectually, spiritually, and morally, to be all that we can be? Would we ever give up art, science, philosophy, music, learning, beauty, and human achievement to return to the animal state? Surely not.
The serpent’s “punishment” is to be despised. Who or what might the snake represent? The serpent is an alternative source of knowledge. Perhaps it is that non-intellectual, deeper knowing that some call “women’s intuition.” In our scientific society, non-intellectual sources of information are generally disparaged. In the story, the serpent’s information is, in fact, correct. According to the teaching that everything is controlled by God, why would God create a situation in which Eve is challenged to disobey His command? Perhaps God wants Adam and Eve to take responsibility for their decision. God has clearly planned for humanity to become conscious, but only if we agree to take responsibility for our choice.
Here is a detail that is often overlooked: God commanded us not to eat the fruit before we became fully conscious, before we knew right from wrong. In a certain sense, we can’t be held fully culpable for eating the fruit. However, God made sure that we could take responsibility for our choice.
Thank God that Eve ate the fruit! We owe her a great debt. We couldn’t be simultaneously in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden, Paradise) and be fully, gloriously human. As soon as we became conscious, we had already left the Garden. Far from being angry, God gives the humans the gift of a suit of clothes and bars the way back into the Garden, sending us the important message that the way to experience re-union with God is never to go back to an imagined, idyllic past, but always forward, stepping eagerly into life, taking responsibility for our choices, traveling on that wondrous human path that leads back to God.
Barring the way back into the Garden describes the “hole” all of us human beings experience in our hearts: that feeling that we used to be smarter, happier, and more whole. The feeing that something is missing within us is a precious gift from God. It propels us into life to seek that union with God that we feel we have lost; before we received the blessing of the dance of choice that we engage in with God. The Eternal has dignified us, expressing unbounded love for us, and great confidence that we are worthy of the tremendous power of choice and the ability to be responsible for our choices.
May we express our love and gratitude to God by living up to the faith God has in us, and choosing to walk that path of spiritual and moral growth that surely leads back to reunion with God.
Rabbi Jill Hausman recently celebrated her fifth anniversary as rabbi and cantor of the historic Actors' Temple in Manhattan.