The Forbidden Fruit Syndrome
Recently, the Haredi press has been dominated by one story – The New York Times article which unfairly singled out Haredi schools that were underperforming in basic secular studies and stated, without evidence, that many Haredi families were a drain on society due to alleged unemployability of the graduating students of these schools.
Sadly the article was made possible with the co-operation of a small number of ex-Haredi youth who, disaffected with the system of education they had undergone, had left the community.
Chanoch la-na’ar al pi darko. “Educate a child according to his way” (Proverbs 22:6). I had, perhaps hastily, jumped to the conclusion that the disaffection had stemmed from a monolithic education which left no room for less academic youth unable to cope with hours of Talmud each day. However, I connected with a prominent rabbi in the Haredi community in New York, a senior member of the Hamodia staff, who assured me that vocational courses were on offer and that, at least in his opinion, the problem stemmed from the most familiar of all phenomena – the lure of the forbidden.
Many Haredi communities are technophobic. In these communities, ownership of a smartphone other than for business – and even then only with extensive filters – is a cardinal sin almost on a par with adultery, immorality and murder. Thus it becomes the forbidden fruit. And, as the saying goes, “stolen waters are sweetest”. Some discover the smartphone and are thoroughly seduced by its lure. Since it is the “forbidden fruit” it is sweeter than honey. Addictively so to some, albeit a minority. They become estranged from the close, safe community in which they grew up, a community which is a utopia for those who are conformist by nature and who appreciate its fervently Torah-true value system. For this disaffected minority, it is a paradise lost, a paradise which for them never was.
Of course this phenomenon is as old as humankind. It started with Adam and Eve in Gan Eden.
The Garden of Eden was a paradise. But it was a closed paradise. The first human couple were given just one commandment – not to eat of the fruit of one tree. But just as if we are told not to think of, say, a favorite song, we find it hard to think of anything else, so Eve, tempted as she was by the nachash (serpent), was unequal to the task entrusted to her. While freewill was not removed, the stakes were weighted. Meanwhile, regardless, G-D had His ‘masterplan’ for the world. Had Adam and Eve not succumbed in this fashion, it would have been realized in another way.
What was this masterplan? Or, from a human perspective, we might talk in terms of a whole host of potential plans. G-D is limitless and his plans are limitless. He has given human beings free moral choice, albeit that He knows what we will choose. According to our choices, His masterplan will unfold. This is particularly true on a cosmic level.
Paradise Ever Elusive
Our rabbinic sources aver that had Moses led the people into Erets Yisrael, the Temple would have been built never to be destroyed, we would have suffered no exile, and the desired destiny of the world would have been fulfilled. But the chet ha-meraglim, the sin of the spies (Numbers 13 and14) thwarted that potential outcome. Later in Jewish history, Kings Hezekiah and Josiah could have brought about a similar fulfilment but likewise failed ultimately.
So we have had two exiles, the first a brief seventy years, the second 2,000-plus years and still counting. Gan Eden has yet to be rediscovered. Our consolation – and G-D’s “consolation” if we can think in those terms – is that the longer our exile lasts, the more we shall eventually appreciate the era when “every person will sit under their own vine and fig-tree and none will make them afraid” (Mica 4:4).
But In Microcosm – A Paradise Exists Right Here Right Now!
Notwithstanding our nation’s long exile, and notwithstanding the world’s near six-thousand-year exile from the eternal garden where Man first emerged, we Am Yisrael are given a weekly foretaste of Paradise in time – and a yearly taste of it in space.
Shabbat, where the faithful Jew rises above the material world to an exalted spiritual realm with the help of his neshama yeteira, his additional soul, is termed me’ein olam haba, a sublime trace of the world-to-come.
And for seven days every year, we are bidden to enter G-D’s sacred space. The sukkah, where we ethereally greet our greatest ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David, affords us a scent of Gan Eden.
For sure, it is something we have worked hard to achieve. The spiritual awakening of Elul, the renewal of our allegiance to G-D on Rosh haShana, the intense teshuva and consequent cleansing on Yom Kippur has enabled us to achieve the reward of basking in the shelter of the Shechina on Sukkot.
Moreover, best of all, Sukkot provides us with shining hope. If we can achieve a taste of Gan Eden on a microcosmic level by the gargantuan effort of spiritual ascent on Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur, we can and will – eventually – despite the constant lure of the forbidden fruits, despite the temptations that have beset us ever since Man’s creation, eventually overcome and regain our paradise lost.