Thursday, January 04, 2007

Gan Eden and Olam HaBa: Immortality and Omniscience

Back in April I wrote a post entitled Adam and Eve: Is Gan Eden Really Our Goal? I argued that the planting of the two trees inside the garden and the subsequent eating of the Etz HaDa'at Tov u'Ra was equal to the choosing of knowledge over life. And thus when God expels Adam and Chava from the garden they are forced to remember how tough life is an eternal remembrance of that choice.

I'd like to revisit that discussion.
God purposely planted the Paradise for man, who was called upon to cultivate and guard it. Man is encouraged to build, to plant, to beautify his life, to enjoy his life as much as he can. 'And the Lord God planted a garden eastward, in Eden, and there He placed man whom He had formed; and the Lord God made grow out of the ground every tree delightful to the eye and good for food...' (Gen. 2:8-9). But two horrible fears haunt man steadily, trailing him like an everlasting shadow: the fear of nihility, of nonbeing - death - and the fear of ignorance. Man wants to live and to know. He is eager to lead an intelligent, enlightened, inextinguishable existence. His greatest aspiration, his most fascinating dream is to defeat death and to grasp the mysterium magnum, the great mystery of creation. God did plant the garden with trees pleasant to look at and delightful as far as taste is concerned. And in the middle of the garden grew the two mysterious trees representing the two basic aspirations of man: to live and to know. Yes, God planted the garden in Eden in order to place there the man whom He formed, for man is entitled to desire, to quest, to long for and be fascinated by something great and wonderful - immortality and omniscience.

Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik Family Redeemed p. 10-11
The Rav would have likely amended my conclusion by stating that God was punishing Adam and Eve not because she ate of the tree - it was only a manifestation of the desire for immortality and omniscience - but rather because she chose one of those desires over the other. We live in a world where immortality is out of our reach, we will never be able to find that "Fountain of Youth" to give us immortality. Likewise, we will never be omniscient. Despite our best efforts to record all of human intelligence - as the encyclopedia was originally intended by the French after the French Revolution of 1789 and wikipedia - we will never be omniscient.

An interesting side point: How does this fit in with the Rambam? Rambam realized that there can never again be the combination of immortality and omniscience as there was in Gan Eden. In describing Olam HaBa he speaks about the immortality of the mind because - well for one thing, his Aristotelian foundation - but also because he cannot fathom that Gan Eden was anything more than a dream. I believe that the Rambam would argue - not that creation did not happen - but rather that Gan Eden was not the earth that we understand. It was not a physical place, you cannot go to the spot where it was. Omniscience, by definition for the Rambam, excludes a physical body because God is omniscient and if/when people become omniscient we cannot have a body either.

I'd like to point out that I don't believe that the Rambam would suggest that the human mind could, in Olam HaBa, achieve the same omniscience that God has, but rather that during our lives we strive for that goal. We do everything we can to achieve that omniscience because we have an eternal desire for what was lost in Gan Eden - immortality and omniscience.


tmeishar said...

This is a fantastic post! I will be linking to it...

Dov said...

you might want to change the title from 'immorality' to 'immortality'!

Natan said...

Ack! That's what I get for typing too fast.