The Priestly Blessing at the Western Wall.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
This Shabbat, we will begin a new cycle of reading the Torah; a yearly cycle in which we read the entire Torah and attempt every week to learn something from it which is relevant to our lives. When we read Parshat Breishit, we will return to the starting point which occupies billions of people. How did it all begin? How and when was the world created? Why do people sin? These lofty questions are indeed existential and profound ones and it is difficult to cover them all in one Shabbat. But throughout the years, through deliberate learning, one can discern the answers provided for us by the Torah. This week, we will attempt to get the answer to the bothersome question: Why do people sin? What is the “flaw” that causes each and every one of us to be unable to live up to our expectations of ourselves? One of the amazing stories we will read this week is that of “the original sin of Adam Ha’rishon.”
The story of this sin acts as a symbol and example of every kind of sin.
This is what happened. When G-d created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He allowed them to enjoy and eat from every tree in the Garden.
The Torah describes it in words that show that it was indeed attractive and enjoyable, “And the Lord G-d caused to sprout from the ground every tree pleasant to see and good to eat.”
But this pleasure came with a restriction.
There were two trees in the center of the Garden: The Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge. As opposed to the permission given to Adam and Eve to eat from all the trees of the Garden, they were forbidden from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. And here the snake enters the story.
This same snake, which represents evil, tempted Eve into tasting the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.
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She looked at the tree, “And the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, and the tree was desirable to make one wise,” so she tasted it and gave Adam to taste from it as well.
This is the story of the original sin which had such difficult ramifications: Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden and punished in various ways, the most severe of which was death.
When we read this primordial story and try to find the answer to the question of why people sin, we must search for it in the words of the snake, since he was the one who tempted Eve into sinning and tasting from the Tree of Knowledge.
How did he do it? What was the trick he used that led him to successfully “trip” Adam and Eve? Let’s look at what the snake said to Eve as it is told to us in the Torah: “You will surely not die. For G-d knows that on the day that you eat thereof, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like angels...” (Genesis 3:4-5) What was the snake actually claiming? How did he persuade her to sin? One of the basic, existential experiences that man undergoes is dealing with limitations. Everywhere man turns, he faces restrictions: places he cannot enter, things he cannot touch, concepts he cannot understand. All human relationships are affected to a certain extent by the tension created by limitations. A couple, even if they are close and love each other very much, will still have issues where they do not understand each other, of the most personal areas, of internal pain that the other cannot grasp, despite his best intentions. This is a fact that we deal with despite our best efforts, though there are ways of dealing with it.
One way of dealing with limitations is by accepting the situation. There is nothing we can do about it; this is reality and we have to make peace with it. Another way is by understanding that restrictions are in our best interests, and through them we maintain our personal status and respect. Without limitations, we would lack dignity.
There is one other way and that is with suspicion and mistrust. Why is this person setting up limitations for me? Because he doesn’t trust me.
Why is there something I cannot attain? Because G-d is not encouraging me to have it. This is the way the snake made his suggestion to Eve. He said to her: Look how good and pleasant this tree is. Why is G-d forbidding you from eating from it? This is a burning question, and the snake proposed an answer. He said to Eve – You know what? G-d does not support you! He doesn’t want you to be like Him. He is not interested in your advancement and wants you to remain primitive and ignorant. This was the snake’s answer and the cause of him becoming the symbol of evil and sin.
The main reason that people sin is that they see obligation as something that limits them, diminishes them, and restricts them. I am obligated to another, therefore I am restricted. I am obligated to G-d, poor me. This mistrust is the root of evil.
A more appeasing, honest perspective would say: These restrictions are for my own good even if I do not understand that right now. This is the path of repentance and this is the correction we can make when we read about this original sin.
A bit more trust in the other, in ourselves, and in G-d will bring us to a positive outlook on reality and will lead us to respecting the limitations we face.The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.
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