Parshat Bereishit: Exile from Eden –– the Loss of Innocence
|ג וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי אוֹר; וַיְהִי-אוֹר.||3 And God said: ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.|
|ד וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאוֹר, כִּי-טוֹב; וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים, בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ.||4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.|
We can understand darkness existing without requiring any source or the need to be created. Indeed, dark requires no source in order for it to be manifest. Not so light. We cannot conceive of light without a source be it a match, a candle, the sun whatever. And yet, the light G-d calls into being has no generative source. It is preternaturally incandescent – a light that has no physical ignition and which has no capacity to ignite other lights. As well, it seems – prior to being divided by G-d – to have co-existed in a simultaneity with darkness. Hence the darkness that pre-existed light was not merely an absence of light, but something very real in its own right.
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יז וּמֵעֵץ, הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע–לֹא תֹאכַל, מִמֶּנּוּ: כִּי, בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְךָ מִמֶּנּוּ–מוֹת תָּמוּת.
|17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’|
ד וַיֹּאמֶר הַנָּחָשׁ, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה: לֹא-מוֹת, תְּמֻתוּן.
|4 And the serpent said unto the woman: ‘Ye shall not surely die;|
|ה כִּי, יֹדֵעַ אֱלֹהִים, כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְכֶם מִמֶּנּוּ, וְנִפְקְחוּ עֵינֵיכֶם; וִהְיִיתֶם, כֵּאלֹהִים, יֹדְעֵי, טוֹב וָרָע.
|5 for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.’|
Contrary to popular understanding, Adam and Eve were evicted from Eden not because they ate from the Tree of Knowledge but, rather, lest they eat from the Tree of Life. Clearly man had been a priori created as mortal. Immortality would have required them to eat the no less forbidden fruit of the Tree of Life.
One must question what their punishment would have been had the serpent offered Eve a fruit from the Tree of Life – two eternities on earth?
But my primary question is how could Adam and Eve have sinned by eating from the Tree of knowledge if they did not YET know the difference between good and evil?
I would suggest that learning to know good from evil was not what is meant here. Rather it is learning the CONSEQUENCES of good and evil. Prior to eating the fruit their only reason for doing good was because G-d said so, and because he was specific about what is good, i.e. to not eat, and what is bad, i.e. to eat from those two trees.
Nevertheless neither Eve nor Adam were in any position to understand the nature or consequences of doing either. There was nothing consequentially obvious about disobeying. The threat of death meant nothing to Adam and Eve as there was no precedent for it. And, indeed, such a threat made no sense to begin with, as only eating from the Tree of Life would have meant immortality. Hence death was an empty threat.
Only after partaking of the fruit could they understand the consequences. And yet, the consequence of being mortal was hardly any consequence at all. Clearly they were destined to die at some point. That was why they were forbidden to eat from the Tree of Life, the consumption of whose fruit would have rendered them immortal.
So, indeed, what were the consequences of eating from the Tree of Knowledge?
The answer is – NOTHING. What Adam and Eve learned is that in this world there are really no rewards for good behavior and no punishment for bad. Rather, the penalty for transgressing G-d’s prohibition was something far more consequential than a fine, flogging, incarceration or execution.
The penalty for partaking of the fruit of knowledge was LOSS OF INNOCENCE. The consequence of original sin was for Adam and Eve – and for all their progeny for all time – the loss of that childlike innocence with which we are all born and which, sooner or later, we all lose. This is truly the moment of eviction from Eden. It is the one loss that can never, ever be regained.
However, the loss of innocence can be mitigated by way of the choices we make. Being good is its own reward and being evil is its own punishment. Justice plays no role. Being good is its own reward because it provides a simulacrum of that original Eden-childlike innocence. Being bad is its own punishment because it moves us further away from the innocence for which the human being longs.
I have written in previous years that the two creation stories featured in Parshat Bereishit are not in conflict. The first is the cosmology of creation, the second is its mythology (or midrash if you will) and not meant to be read as history or science. These allegorical legends, like Greek myths, have a didactic purpose, cautionary tales which we can see playing themselves out everywhere from our pettiest personal lives to the global arena.
In the case of the Tree of Knowledge myth, the eureka moment is when Adam and Eve have the horrible realization that there are no material or quantifiable consequences to transgression. Mankind has irretrievably lost its innocence and its belief that one should do the right thing not for fear of punishment, or lust for reward, but simply because it is the right thing to do.
בֶּן עַזַּאי אוֹמֵר, הֱוֵי רָץ לְמִצְוָה קַלָּה כְבַחֲמוּרָה, וּבוֹרֵחַ מִן הָעֲבֵרָה. שֶׁמִּצְוָה גּוֹרֶרֶת מִצְוָה, וַעֲבֵרָה גוֹרֶרֶת עֲבֵרָה. שֶׁשְּׂכַר מִצְוָה, מִצְוָה. וּשְׂכַר עֲבֵרָה, עֲבֵרָה:
Ben Azai says: … the reward for a mitzvah is another mitzvah, and the reward for a transgression is another transgression. — Pirkei Avot 4:2
Professional safecrackers, embezzlers, thieves – even murderers – understand very well that there are rarely any personal consequences for their criminal activity other than self-enrichment. The likelihood of prosecution by human authorities is no greater, and perhaps lesser, that the likelihood of being socially honored and celebrated. Indeed the greater the crime the greater the likelihood of adulation and honor, and the winning of a coveted title and propulsion into the ranks of aristocracy. As they say, behind every great fortune is a great crime. I would argue not EVERY great fortune, but certainly a great many.
Not only does society often reward criminal activity and punish good intentions, but apparently even G-d can embrace the wrongdoer while rejecting the one who does right. There is no greater example than the legend of Cain and Abel about which I wrote last year (and which is attached at the end of this essay.)
With regard to Ben Azzai’s dictum, I would suggest that the reward of a mitzvah being another mitzvah, and of a transgression being another transgression, refers not so much to the individual who performed the mitzvah or committed the sin. Rather it refers to the generating of mitzvahs and transgressions by others who are inspired to emulate one’s positive and negative actions.
Each righteous or evil act is a pebble upon the water that has enormous ripple effects. We all have our heroes. How they behave inspires how we behave.
Hence, when we see someone wicked doing very well for himself, even if there is no causal relation between his criminal activity and his success, we will infer such a causal relationship. And if we see a righteous person suffering, we may draw the instinctive conclusion that there is no reward for doing good, so why bother to even start.
If anything, reward and punishment do not redound to the individual who did the positive or negative deed, but rather to society as a whole. A society in which good deeds are the norm will benefit from those deeds. Likewise, a society the behavior of whose members is predominantly negative, will be affected accordingly. However there is no necessary cause and effect relationship vis a vis the individual who performed the original act. As far as Torah is concerned there is only one stipulated exception – the Fifth Commandment to honor one’s parents. The reward in this case is ostensibly long life. (Parenthetically, the word kabed – to honor – does not necessarily mean to obey.)
History is replete with grand examples of both bad actions going unpunished and good ones going unrewarded. Yet none come to mind whereby evil was not only crowned with success, but where it served as a cosmic paradigm shift that mutated the norms and values of the entire world.
None that is, until the case of Germany and World war II.
Indeed, Germany is the story of the Tree of Knowledge writ universal. Here we have a people who bit into the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and emerged with a total loss of national innocence and the clear understanding that there is no price to pay for evil.
One is hard put to think of a more successful country, one with a higher standard of living, than Germany. Germany segued effortlessly and seamlessly from industrialized mass murder to industrialized commercial and material success, often with the same helmsmen manning the rudders of productivity and innovation.
Yes, not only did Germany get off scot-free, it has become the envy of the world, its recent history all but forgiven and forgotten.
Germany’s post-war success should, upon even minimal reflection, disgust any basically un-evil human being. But it doesn’t. So much so, that riding in the same brand of automobile as Hitler’s appears to be a requirement for almost every Jewish dentist.
Yet, the success of Germany is hardly the worst thing to emerge from the global realization that there is no penalty to be paid, and certainly no assurance of failure.
The biggest consequence of Germany’s actions 75-80 years ago was a gradual, and then rapidly radiating, nihilism and degeneracy that have become the new norm, at least for Western society. In other words, a universal loss of innocence.
Today, terminating in utero babies is considered not only a norm, but a virtue. We learned this form the Germans, who considered it a folk imperative to eliminate defective GERMAN human beings wholesale (let’s not even talk about Jews.) It is fair to ask ourselves whether Roe v Wade would have been conceivable had Germany not paved the way for the cavalier elimination of nettlesome infants and the wholesale, industrialized elimination of all human beings it viewed as sub-prime.
Genocide has been a multinational phenomenon ever since the Shoah. Cambodia, Rwanda, the Balkan massacres are but the biggies. Dozens of small holocausts have taken place since 1945, causing barely a ripple of disgust.
Today Iran openly and proudly declares its genocidal intentions, as does Hamas. And yet Germany takes the lead in pushing to do business with the Mullahs of Iran while funneling funds to the chartered genocide promoters in Gaza.
The world not only looks the other way, it gets on line. And not just gentiles. The loss of innocence is such, the abject nihilism so embedded, that more and more Jews are joining the amen chorus whose ultimate goal is the annihilation of the Jewish nation.
When it comes to crime, the greatest irony is that Germany – ostensibly out of a sense of guilt – has been leading the world in progressive punishment. Yes, the death penalty for murderers and rapists is to be shunned, but not the death sentence for unborn infants. The more progressive criminal justice becomes, the worse the statistics and the nature of violent crime; from local street crime to the horrors perpetrated by drug cartels. And we just accept all this as normal.
Social values are turned on their head as society lionizes reprobates and creates social justice movements in their honor; celebrating vandalism, looting and rioting as the necessary price to pay for civic progress.
Ever since the end of World War II our language and our art have rapidly degenerated and degraded, pushing us all into degeneracy. The loss of civil speech is something which unites all of western society. Common discourse is so expletive-laced that we no longer notice. What passes for music and poetry in this era of rap would have been considered criminal less than a century ago. It is disgusting. And its perpetrators get reviewed as “artists” on the front page of the New York Times.
As for the visual arts; forget about aesthetics. Ugliness is virtually a requirement for any work to be taken seriously. And the works of narcotic-induced suicides who lacked any native talent, routinely sell for tens of millions and hang on walls that would shudder with disgust, if walls could have feelings.
Mutual respect among ordinary human beings no longer exists. The opinions of others are not only rejected out of hand, they are silenced. The fascism of the Third Reich has mutated into the fascism of the academy and the media, and of dinner parties in Manhattan.
Cancel culture is today’s norm. No one seems too bothered by it, and its chief practitioners are a media that would have us believe their role model is Benjamin Franklin rather than Josef Goebbels or Josef Stalin. The punishment for not toeing the line is ostracism, unemployment and isolation with extreme prejudice. There is no court of appeals.
It goes without saying that respect for parents or elders or teachers is an anachronism, and not a quaint one either. And G-d, of course, is dead, replaced in Jewish theology by a euphemism called tikkun olam.
If all this sounds post-apocalyptic that’s because it is. The physical landscape may not look that way as a vapid, greedy, aimless humankind crowds its life with needless material baggage, rendering it incapable of seeing the situation for what it is – a total exile from Eden, an irretrievable loss of innocence, a belief that there is no punishment or reward for our actions, and a lack of awareness that our deeds are their own punishment and reward.
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CAIN AND ABEL: What happens when a father plays favorites
והאדם ידע את חוה אשתו ותהר ותלד את קין ותאמר קניתי איש את אדוני
“And Adam knew his woman Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain and she said;’I have acquired a man with G-d’.”
Most of us go through life with a child’s Bible story concept of the story of Cain and Abel. We recall that Cain brought an offering of vegetables, and according to the Midrash not especially good produce. Abel, by contrast, sacrificed a nice fat sheep. G-d preferred Abel’s offering, resulting in Cain’s jealous fit – during which he murdered his younger brother.
Yet this is hardly the narrative one finds in Genesis.
After some time, Cain brought of the fruits of the earth
an offering to G-d (4:3).
Able then copycats his older brother:
And Abel too brought from the first of his flock and of their fat, and G-d turned to Abel and his offering. (4:4)
Based just on these two verses, one can conclude two things:
Cain took the initiative in terms of acknowledging G-d’s bounty, while Abel took his cues from his elder brother’s action.
- In a non-carniverous world, when consuming flesh was forbidden for all creatures, it was Abel who violated the ethos by killing a sheep, while the agrarian Cain had obeyed G-d’s ruling by bringing a strictly vegetarian offering.
Where did Abel get the idea that it was okay to kill a lamb, and that this would actually find favor in G-d’s eyes?
It appears Abel was not merely a copycat. He was a revolutionary, even a provocateur, who took it upon himself to violate convention and spill blood in order to appeal to the A-mighty.
Thus it is especially puzzling that G-d acknowledges Abel’s offering while ignoring that of Cain.
Not surprisingly, Cain is crestfallen: … And Cain was very upset, and his countenance fell. (5:5)
Yet, contrary to our childhood Bible story recollections, Cain did not immediately murder his younger brother. Rather G-d only now notices Cain and his depressed mood:
And G-d said to Cain: ‘Why are you upest? And why is your expression so downcast? (4:6) If you pull yourself together won’t it be lifted up? And (but) if you do not improve then sin is sprawled in the doorway desiring you, but you can overcome it (4:7)
Verses 4 and 6 are cryptic to say the least. What motivation is G-d giving Cain to enable him to lift his spirits? If anything, G-d sounds like the classic authoritarian father, utterly insensitive to his unhappy child, telling him “Boy get a grip or things will only be worse for you”.
G-d offers no explanation as to why Abel’s offfering was acknowledged while Cain’s was ignored. He makes no attempt to lift Cain’s flagging spirit.
Cain, in his misery, and with no one else to turn to, reaches out to his brother Abel.
“And Cain spoke unto Abel his brother …” (4:8)
The big mystery here is what was the content of the brothers’ conversation. The Torah offers no clue. But clearly whatever it was,it served as the straw that broke the camel’s back, pushing Cain over the top from simple misery into outright fury.
“….And it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him”. (4:8)
Now let us return for a moment to Genesis 4:1. Eve was impregnated by Adam, but she views G-d as her true partner, whereby Adam merely served as a biological conduit. Understandably, therefore, Cain (and most likely Abel) is raised to view G-d as his father. The relationship is filial in a very direct sense.
For whatever reason, G-d favors Abel. Hence Cain attempts to win favor with his father (G-d) – as every rejected child does – by presenting him with a gift. The favored child, noticing his sibling’s attempt to win a sign of love, goes for an end-run, cutting his brother off at the pass – thereby adding insult to injury when father, yet again, gives the cold shoulder to the rejected child while showering affection on the favorite. What’s more Abel has the nerve to break the rules by making a gift that violates normative behavior, knowing he can, and will, get away with it.
And then, in a final blow to the rejected son’s already battered ego, G-d as father tells Cain to get his act together, or else.
Hoping against hope for a word of sympathy from the favored brother, Cain approaches Abel. We are not privy to the conversation. Yet, from the terrible outcome we can readily surmise that Abel did nothing to assuage his brother’s pain. If anything, it appears he may have poured salt on Cain’s wounds, resulting in the world’s first recorded case of fratricide.
What we have here, clearly, is a cautionary tale. A demonstration of what happens when a callous parent plays favorites. When a child in pain is given a dressing down rather than a warm embrace. When a favored child, knowing he can get away with anything, aggravates his siblings emotional wound.
It happens all the time. The pattern is classic. And, while fratricide is rarely the outcome, there often ensues a lifetime of pain and estrangement, of being lost perpetually in the emotional wilderness of Nod.