‘Objectively Subjective’ Parashat Bereishit 5783

The last thing that G-d creates during the six days of creation is man. Adam was the pinnacle of creation, a human being that G-d fashioned with His own Hands and with His own Breath. He was utter perfection. The Talmud in Tractate Chagigah [12a] teaches that Adam stood “from one end of the world to the other”. The Talmud in Tractate Bava Batra [58a] describes Adam’s heels as “the orbs of the sun”, asserting that “compared with Sarah, all other people are like a monkey to a human being, and compared with Eve, Sarah was like a monkey to a human being, and compared with Adam, Eve was like a monkey to a human being”.

Not only was Adam a perfect physical specimen but his intellect was qualitatively superior to ours. The Rambam, writing in the “Guide to the Perplexed [Chapter 3]”, describes Adam’s perception of the world before he sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. The Rambam teaches that Adam saw the world in binary terms. Everything was either “true” or “false”, either a “1” or a “0”. Murder, idolatry and mixed dancing were “false” while procreation, reciting Grace after Meals and giving to the JNF were “true”. There was no guesstimating. Adam was a spiritual automaton. He was simply incapable of sin. After eating from the Tree of Knowledge, “true” and “false” were replaced with “right” and “wrong”, black and white were replaced with an infinite number of shades of grey. In the words of the Rambam[1], “Man can no longer see the Truth but is enslaved to a blurred vision of the world. We view the outside through a clouded lens of personal bias. No longer able to see clearly, we stumble in search of the absolute Truth of G-d. The religious seeker, after the fall of Adam and Eve, is forever locked in this search.”

This begs a question: How could Adam have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge[2]? Why did he not look at the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, immediately understand that it was false, and put it down and walk away? When a computer program crashes or exhibits unexpected behaviour, it is most often caused by either “garbage in garbage out” or by encountering of a use-case that the programmer never considered.

Adam’s programmer was G-d A-lmighty. His input data was well-defined and every possible use case had been taken into account. Adam’s behavior seems inexplicable. The best answer I had seen to this question is given by Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, who lived in the UK and in Israel in the previous century, serving as the Spiritual Counsellor (Mashgiach Ruchani) of the famous Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Beraq. Writing in his magnificent “Michtav M’Eliyahu”, Rabbi Dessler suggests that G-d created Adam late on Friday afternoon and that all He wanted was for Adam to keep the one commandment He had given him – not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge – for the few hours that remained until sunset. Then G-d could declare victory and the world would permanently enter the Messianic Age. Adam, cognizant that he was a spiritual computer program, felt his mission was too banal. He was incapable of failure. What kind of victory would that be? But if he could raise the bar by making his choices more difficult, then his victory would be much more significant and G-d’s name would be sanctified even more greatly. What Adam did not understand was that by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, he had placed himself in a condition from which he could not escape. He was destined to bumble his way through the fog, blindly crashing into walls in an endless search for G-dliness.

In the forty years since seeing Rabbi Dessler’s solution, I had not seen another solution that I have found more intellectually satisfying. A conversation I had earlier this year with a close friend, R’ David, opened up another avenue. On the first Day of Creation, after G-d has created light, the Torah tells us [Bereishit 1:4] “G-d saw that the light was good, and G-d separated between the light and the darkness.” On each subsequent Day of Creation, the Torah describes how G-d saw that what He had created on that particular day was good. How does G-d “see”? And how can G-d create something that is anything but “good”? One can only but imagine G-d marveling at the recently-created light and saying to Himself, “That really came out nicely, didn’t it?”

Let us take a step back and try to understand the concept of “creation”. How does an infinite G-d create something external to Himself? If G-d is truly infinite, how can there remain physical – or metaphysical – volume for anything other than G-d? Lurianic Kabbalistic thought answers this question via the concept of “tzimtzum” – “contraction”. G-d willingly contracted His presence in order to leave room for creation of the universe[3]. While tzimtzum leaves room for things that are not G-d, it does not completely leave a Divine vacuum. Everything in our universe contains some amount of G-dliness, a spark of the Divine, as it were, in order to continually sustain its existence. The Lurianic explanation of creation offers us a novel understanding of the concept of G-d “seeing” that something is “good”. When G-d “sees” something, it means that the object of His sight is independent of Himself, necessitating His contraction in order for it to exist. When G-d sees that something is “good,” it means that that object, while being separate from G-d, still contains G-dliness.

Let’s continue down this path. While everything contains a spark of the Divine, the spark can be revealed in one of two ways. In some cases, the spark is readily accessible and a simple physical act will release its spiritual energy. For instance, the Divine spark in an apple is accessed when a blessing is made on the apple and the apple is eaten. The spark in a lulav (palm branch) is accessed when the lulav is waved on Sukkot. The spark in a stone is accessed if that stone is built into the wall of a synagogue. These objects are the metaphysical equivalent of a free radical[4]. Their energy is readily accessible and they are called “mutar” – literally, “freed”. Other objects have a Divine spark that cannot be accessed. They remain forever imbued with holiness and any attempt to extract this holiness is forbidden. These objects are called “assur” – literally “tied down”. Their holiness is accessed by leaving them alone. Examples include certain sacrifices and property of the Holy Temple (Beit HaMikdash).

Here is where my conversation with R’ David comes in. R’ David was making a point about the difference between a subject and an object and the halachic ramifications of this difference. When the snake convinces Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of Knowledge, the Torah tells us [Bereishit 3:6] “The woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom”. Just as G-d “saw” the light was “good”, so, too, Eve “saw” that the fruit was “good”. She understood that the fruit, while forbidden, was “good”, containing a spark of the Divine. The question was how to access its holiness. Was it by eating the fruit? By looking at it? By somehow learning from it? Eve’s mistake was by looking at the fruit as the subject. The fruit was not the subject – she was the subject. The fruit was “assur” – a permanently anchored object. She could spiritually elevate herself with the Divine spark inside the fruit only by not eating it.

The message of the Tree of Knowledge is that forward motion is relative. The difference between taking a step forward and not moving is the same as the difference between not moving and taking a step backwards. Either way you end up one step closer to your goal.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5783

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, Geisha bat Sara, Hila bat Miriam, Avraham Menashe ben Chana Bracha and Batya Sarah bat Hinda Leah.

[1] As paraphrased by Rabbi Tuvia Berman

[2] I learned the “Guide for the Perplexed” in my second year in Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh with another student my age. When our Rabbi found out, he soundly scolded us, warning that the Rambam often asks very good questions while providing less than satisfactory answers. This was one such example.

[3] According to Rabbi Yehuda Léon Ashkénazi, better known as “Manitou”, the act of tzimtzum was the consummate act of kindness. Mankind’s mission is to emulate G-d by doing the same – to contract our own needs and desires in order to accommodate the other.

[4] A free radical is an atom or molecule containing one or more unpaired electrons in the valency shell or outer orbit and is capable of independent existence. The odd number of electron(s) of a free radical makes it unstable, short lived and highly reactive.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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