Sunday, April 16, 2006

Adam and Eve: Is Gan Eden Really Our Goal?

Adam and Eve have a relationship with God that is completely unlike anything that we can understand; they do not understand God’s acts, all they know is God as creator.  After Adam and Eve eat the fruit of Etz HaDa’at Tov u’Ra they can appreciate what God has given them.  The breaking of God’s command now gives them a frame of reference upon which to compare what they have.  A new relationship with God has been formed.

“From the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you shall not eat for you will surely die” Genesis 2:17.  In the next verse, God creates Eve (well woman, she’s not called Chava until 3:20) yet Adam does not know how to understand what God has told him.  When Eve speaks to the snake she understands the verse differently; “lest you die” (3:3).  

Look at what the snake replies to Eve: “You will not die immediately.  For God knows that on the day you eat from it, your eyes will become open and you will become like Gods; knowing good and evil” (3:4-5). The snake is telling her, ‘If you choose this tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, you will not die yet, but it will make you like God, a creator”.  Choose knowledge and you’ll understand God in a different way – a better way – but you will eventually die.  Knowledge is better than eternal ignorance.  

At the end of Chapter 3, God punishes Adam and Eve as well as the snake.  These “punishments” do not really seem like punishments.    God placed two trees in the forest the Etz Chayim and the Etz HaDa’at Tov u’Ra, while he only commanded them not to eat from the latter it seems that there was a choice to be made: eternal life or knowledge?  They choose knowledge and God “punishes” them for not appreciating life – now anytime Adam and Eve (and the rest of humanity) bring life into the world it will hurt, to remind them that life needs to be appreciated.  

Is Gan Eden supposed to be the pinnacle of existence?  It is an existence of bliss but one without the understanding of that bliss.  There was no frame of reference, no understanding of how good they had it.  The rabbinic literature is full of references of getting back to Gan Eden but is it really something that we should want?  The answer is yes, but…  That’s what the snake taught Eve, you’ve got it great here, but knowledge is better.  And once you understand what you’ve lost you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to get it back.  It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

1 comment:

Greg said...

Interesting post; I have gone back and forth on this issue, whether or not Gan Eden is what we are aiming for, of if it represents some preternatural state of existence that is beyond our reach as mortal beings. The latter approach would mean that most of Genesis up to Abraham would be considered as a kind of background, a primer on the characteristics and essence of Man and his history. The culmination of the Abrahamic path to God ends in the Temple (with the Kohen Gadol as the prototypical Adam/Man). But it could be that the garden state is what we are striving for.