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Yoni Mozeson
Yoni Mozeson

When Man drives God away

One of the most mysterious and haunting verses in Parshat Bereishis is surely the one right after Adam and Chava ate from the forbidden fruit: 

וַֽיִּשְׁמְע֞וּ אֶת־ק֨וֹל ה’ אֱלֹהִ֛ים מִתְהַלֵּ֥ךְ בַּגָּ֖ן לְר֣וּחַ הַיּ֑וֹם וַיִּתְחַבֵּ֨א הָֽאָדָ֜ם וְאִשְׁתּ֗וֹ מִפְּנֵי֙ ה’ אֱלֹהִ֛ים בְּת֖וֹךְ עֵ֥ץ הַגָּֽן׃

 “And they heard the sound of God’s voice moving about in the garden at the breezy time of day; and the man and his wife hid from God among the trees of the garden.” (Bereishis 3:8)

To add another layer of mystery, instead of explaining the verse, the Midrash seems to launch into a science lesson about the speed of sound and light. How does this clarify the underlying message of this verse? 

The Midrash continues to delineate how Adam drove God away from His natural and preferred home on Earth.  This process began with Adam but continued with others throughout the early Parshiot of the book of Bereishis. 

This, of course, is a difficult theological notion. If God is everywhere, beyond time and space, how can the Midrash depict God as an entity that can be driven away?

Disconnecting from God at the speed of sound. 

Perhaps the Midrash chose to discuss the speed of sound and light because they provide a theological snapshot of God’s new relationship with Mankind. By its very nature, sound waves travel outward from the source of the sound and can be detected by our ears. That means that the sound waves are detached from their origin. In a similar manner,  when you look at a star you are simply seeing the light emanating from the star that has traveled great distances until it reaches you. But it is unlikely that the star is in the same spot in the sky where you saw it.  How does this relate to God? Adam and Chava heard the voice of God traveling. The sound waves were traveling, disconnected from their source. Once those sound waves reached them, they realized that the entire nature of their communication with God had fundamentally changed.  God’s presence had distanced itself from them.  A commentary on Eliyahu Rabbah called Meorei Ha-Aish says that God’s relationship with them had previously been  “פה אל פה” two people speaking together – up close and personal. Now it was more distant. The Torah’s description of sound waves was a scientific representation of a metaphysical reality. All this is captured in the words:

יִּשְׁמְע֞וּ אֶת־ק֨וֹל יְהֹוָ֧ה אֱלֹהִ֛ים מִתְהַלֵּ֥ךְ בַּגָּ֖ן 

They heard the sound of God moving about in the garden.(Bereishis 3:8)

God’s presence is now calibrated to Mankind’s actions 

What Adam and Chava realized was that although God is everywhere,  they cannot feel God’s presence as intensely as they once could. By eating from the Tree of Knowledge they had created a new paradigm in the world. Instead of Mankind sharing space with God in the garden of Eden, God’s presence is now calibrated to Mankind’s actions. 

The commentary, Yiffei Toar, says that what Adam was feeling was that God was not moving away from them, rather God was decreasing (His השגחה) – the intensity of His divine relationship with them. 

What exactly did they hear

Perhaps another sign of their distance from the presence of God,  the Midrash says that they could not directly sense that God was approaching. Rather they heard sounds announcing that God was coming. The Midrash has 2 opinions about that announcement:

אַל תִּקְרֵי וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶלָּא וַיַּשְׁמִיעוּ שָׁמְעוּ קוֹלָן שֶׁל אִילָנוֹת שֶׁהָיוּ אוֹמְרִים הָא גַנְבָא דְּגָנַב דַּעְתֵּיהּ דְּבָרְיֵה. דָּבָר אַחֵר שָׁמְעוּ קוֹלָן שֶׁל מַלְאָכִים אוֹמְרִים ה’ אֱלֹהִים הוֹלֵךְ לְאוֹתָן שֶׁבַּגָּן

“Don’t read the word as ‘they heard’ rather, ‘it was announced.’ They (Adam and Chava) heard the voice of the trees that were saying ‘Here is the thief who deceived God.’ Another opinion is that they heard the voice of the angels saying “God is approaching those people in the garden.(Midrash Rabbah 19:7)

Either way, instead of the idyllic Garden of Eden, they felt very alone in a more hostile environment. Even the trees could sense God’s presence more intensely than they could.

What it takes  to restore the relationship

The Midrash mentions that Adam was the first of seven who each diminished God’s presence in the world (Adam, Cain, the generation of Enosh, the generation of the flood, the generation of the Tower of Bavel, the generation of Sodom, and lastly, the generation of the Egyptians). Likewise  there are seven great people who helped restore God’s presence to the world:

כְנֶגְדָן עָמְדוּ שִׁבְעָה צַדִּיקִים, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן, אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב לֵוִי קְהָת עַמְרָם משֶׁה

As opposed to (those who provided a force for good to bring God closer) and they are Avraham, Yitzchak,  Yaacov, Levi, Kehas, Amram and Moshe.” (Midrash Rabbah 19:7)

A commentary to Midrash Rabbah, Imrei Yosher, explores the relationship between those who damaged the relationship with God and those who restored the relationship. One might approach this task by lining up those that lived at the same time. For example, Moshe was the great moral leader who was capable of “correcting” the immorality of Egypt. Similarly, there can be a match based on circumstances that each was tested with.  Avraham obeyed the simple instruction from God to sacrifice his son, ignoring all the rational voices telling him that this was wrong. While Adam disobeyed the simple instruction from God not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and listened  to Chava instead. However, the Imrei Moshe stays true to the pattern presented in the Midrash. If the Egyptians were the last of the seven entities to diminish God’s presence, then this damage was restored by Avraham who was the first in the world to bring God’s presence closer.  Indeed there was a huge clash of morality as soon as Avraham and Sarah stepped foot on Egyptian soil. As we discussed (in Midrash Tanchuma Parshat Lech Lecha https://youtu.be/Ip4CZs47ej4) the law in Egypt was that a beautiful woman is the property of the Pharaoh. Pharaoh and his court learned the hard way that God’s morality superseded their depraved morality.

Another interesting contrast based on the Imrei Moshe is Yaakov and the generation of the Tower of Bavel. Yaakov voluntarily brought his descendants into exile in compliance with God’s wish. While the Tower of Bavel rebelled against God because פֶּן־נָפ֖וּץ they wanted to “prevent God from  scattering them”  (Parshat Bereishis 11:4). Finally, Amram, the father of Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, took back his wife after separating from her. Amram and his wife decided to bring more children into the world despite the despair of the Egyptian bondage. This selfless act repaired the damage of Cain, who selfishly murdered his brother, thereby preventing the birth of billions of people 

The lesson in all this is that just as it only takes one or two individuals to distance God’s presence from the world, The Midrash proves that it takes only one great  person to restore it.

About the Author
After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at www.mindprintmarketing.com. We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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