These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PCJE] Bereshit: The Nature of Creation

Posted on October 20, 2014 by Binyamin Cohen

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Night Seder Chevrutas Binyamin Cohen and David Wallach
join together to reflect on this week's parshah.

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 9.51.44 AM

בְּרֵאשִׁית ב:ט

וַיַּצְמַח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, כָּל-עֵץ נֶחְמָד לְמַרְאֶה, וְטוֹב לְמַאֲכָל וְעֵץ הַחַיִּים, בְּתוֹךְ הַגָּן, וְעֵץ, הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע

  1. “The Lord God made grow out of the ground every tree that is pleasant to look at and good to eat, [including] the Tree of Life in the middle of the garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.”

This verse is the cause of probably the most infamous incident in the entire Torah: what is generally called the Sin in the Garden. Some of the biggest questions to be asked about this whole episode is why would God create this situation, and what then was his ultimate plan? These are very big questions, and their answers help us to understand the fundamental nature of Creation.

Before delving into these questions, we must first review some facts from the Sin in the Garden story. First of all, it is never explicitly mention that God becomes angry with the Man and his Wife. The typical phrase to indicate God’s anger in the Torah is חרון אף, His “nostrils flare”. While it is usually assumed that God is furious over Man’s sin, this phrase is not found here. In fact, it is not found in the entire Book of Bereshit; the first time God actually gets angry is with Moses. This lack of anger gives us an indication of how God felt about the incident. While lack of evidence is not itself evidence, God’s explicit anger is often mentioned, and its absence here may indicate that the events were not displeasing to him, or at least did not anger him. We can extrapolate that he therefore intended, or at least allowed for them to happen.  But why then did God prohibit Man from eating from the Tree of Knowledge?

Moshe David Cassuto says that God is like a parent, and the Man and his Wife are like his children. Remember that at this point they are a matter of hours old, even though they physically were adults. God created this situation in order to let his children choose the course of their lives, the course of human existence. To reach this point, we must reread (or re-punctuate rather) our verse: rather than being the Tree of Life that is in the middle of the garden, we should read, “the Tree of Life-Within-the-Garden”.  Eating from the Tree of Knowledge would, like the Snake says, open their eyes, make them “like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4), give them a sense of right and wrong, a sense of morality, and also give them free will to act on that morality. And ultimately, as borne out by the punishments, lead to mortality.  With this new reading, the Tree of Life Within the Garden can be read as the opposite: it grants him immortality but ignorance, life but no free will.

God prohibited eating from the Tree of Knowledge because God wanted a world of free will. God did not want to choose for them, but he did have a plan. His plan was for a world of free will. He led them to this choice because it is human nature want things that are prohibited. His intention for creation was for a world of morality, mortality, and free will, all things that stemmed from the Tree of Knowledge. Nevertheless, He gave Man a hand in dictating how His creation would unfold, gave Man a tactile impact on the course of creation, by choosing the Tree of Knowledge. God needed his children to “choose” free will. Rabbeinu Bechaye posits that the two trees, of Life-In-The-Garden and of Knoweldge of Good and Evil, were one in the same. One tree, with two different possibilities. The choice was Man’s to choose: which aspect of the tree would he choose, which Creation would he live in? Ultimately, regardless of Man’s choice, God’s plan for world included free will, mortality, and morality. How could this be? How could Man’s choice be free but also guided by God?

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (38b) discusses the events of the sixth day of creation, hour by hour. The Sages say that Man ate from the tree, was judged, and was banished from the Garden, in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth hours of the day; that is, the last three hours of creation. Therefore, the very last acts of creation was Man’s choice. Creation could not be completed without Man’s choice, Man’s free will; it is part of the very fabric of the universe. The very act of defying God’s instruction created free will, created the universe God wanted, completing Creation.

What does this mean for us? Our lives are full of choices: each moment of our life is like the Tree(s) in the Garden. Each moment has multiple outcomes, many options. Just likes Man’s choice define his, and ultimately our existence, each of our choices in each of our moments defines our “micro-existence”. Until now we have argued that God wanted Man to make a specific choice; he had the free will to choose, but the outcome was determined. But the Baal Shem Tov explains something important about the expulsion. God places a spinning fiery sword outside the Garden (Gen. 3:24). If God really wanted Man to not be able to return to the life of the Garden, He could have built an impenetrable wall around it, or removed it from the world. However, He left the spinning sword. The nature of the spinning means that there are many split seconds when Man could potentially pass it, and re-enter the Garden. All he has to do is figure out how. We too have spinning swords. We too can figure it out.

Based on Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah commentary, “Rebuilding Ourselves, Rebuilding the World: Lessons from the First Exile”, by Rabbi Yehuda Willig, and Neima Novetsky’s Chumash class. With thanks to Rav Mike Feuer.