Parshat Bereishit: Forbidden love

One of the most fascinating and difficult portions of the Torah is the opening portion of Genesis.

bereishit 88 (photo credit: )
bereishit 88
(photo credit: )
One of the most fascinating and difficult portions of the Torah is the opening portion of Genesis - and especially those passages which deal with the creation of the human being and the sin of the forbidden fruit. There seem to be two very different accounts of the primordial creation of the human being, the first in Chapter 1 of Genesis and the second in Chapter 2. Additionally, the story of the forbidden fruit interrupts the second account of creation. The Bible describes the formation of a human being, quoted above (Genesis 2:7), immediately after which we read that the human being has been planted in the Garden of Eden, where there is the Tree of Life as well as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God commands the human being that he may not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, lest he die. At this point in the narrative, the second story of creation continues, with Eve being formed from Adam's rib or side. And then begins Chapter 3, wherein the first couple eat the forbidden fruit and are banished from the garden. Why the two accounts of human creation, what is the significance of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, and why is the story of human sin in the midst of and also following the second act of creation? The text is certainly difficult, but undoubtedly the answer to these textual questions will teach us volumes about the essential human personality and the great challenge which the human being must overcome. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, in the work published posthumously, Family Redeemed, brilliantly suggests that there are two fundamental aspects of the human beings described in these two chapters of human creation. Chapter 1 of Genesis sees the human being very much within the backdrop of God's general creation of the world. This aspect of the human being could almost have evolved from Darwin's Origin of Species; he is "Homo Natura," natural human, part and parcel of the world of nature. He may very well be created in God's image, which undoubtedly provides him with special stature. But he is still seen as an indivisible part of the natural landscape which includes the orbs of the heavens and the creatures of the earth. Chapter 2 of Genesis sees the human being as apart from the natural world, the individual who must till the land and extract its hidden treasures. He may have as his base the very physical earthly dust, but he is endowed with the Divine breath of life which grants him transcendence. It is precisely at this point in the narrative, when "Homo Persona" enters the scene - personal human rather than natural human, individualized human rather than generic human - that we are told of the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Rabbi Soloveitchik suggests that the fruit of these two trees represents the deepest desires of the human being, who recognizes his unique powers within and even beyond the natural universe. He reaches out for eternal life and he wishes to taste of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. But unlike Rabbi Soloveitchik, I do not believe that this second tree bears the fruit of omniscience; God would not forbid the human being from attempting to master knowledge. This second tree yields fruit of knowledge of good and evil, two categories which I believe represent ultimate values. The human being himself reaches out for moral autonomy; he wants to decide for himself what is good and what is evil. He desperately resents any higher authority - God or any Divinely based halachic (religio-legal) system - instructing him as to what is good and what is evil. In this sense, Homo Persona is post-modern man, wishing to subjectively decide what is good for him and rejecting any objective definition for good and evil. Hence, the Almighty commands upon the individual the most important instruction of all: you dare not eat of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, you dare not assume yourself to be the ultimate arbiter of what is good and what is evil. As Sigmund Freud so wisely suggests in Civilization and its Discontents, when it comes to self-justification and subjective rationalization, every human being is a genius. The human mind is capable of finding a hundred justifications for doing what his basest instincts urge him to do; if he assumes the right to make his own moral decisions, he will lose forever the possibility of eternal life and redemption. The area in which the human being is the most vulnerable is the sexual one. Hence, after God creates Adam, He creates from his very being Eve, who is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. The goal of the human being is to find his/her ultimate completion in the form of a spouse, the one individual to whom he must cleave physically, emotionally and spiritually; together they will become one being and form children as partners with God in creation. Human potential which allows for submission to the ultimate authority of the Divine will result in sanctity and sensitivity, devoid of shame and embarrassment. Sexual expression within the context of love and marriage will produce the family stability which is the bedrock of a moral and productive society. This is the vision of the Garden of Eden. Tragically however, the serpent - symbolizing the phallic symbol of evil - tempts the human being to subjectively decide what is good or bad for him/her. Once the human rejects a Higher Law rooted in Divine objectivity, he/she forfeits the eternal life promised by the garden. Man and woman have brought upon themselves alienation and exile from living under the wings of the Divine presence. The rest of the Bible provides us humans with the Torah, our Tree of Life, which will hopefully train us to find our way back to Eden by redeeming ourselves as well as the world. The Sabbath, which serves as the bridge between both aspects of the human being, provides us each week with the picture of the world of Eden as it ought be. Our challenge is to utilize the spirit of the Divine within ourselves to repair the very human sin of trying to displace the Divine and decide morality for ourselves. Shabbat shalom The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.