Friendly Persuasion

Bereshit—Genesis 1:1-6:8

By Jeffrey Fiskin

Published October 20, 2006, issue of October 20, 2006.
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‘And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” (Genesis 2:15) Rashi comments: “He ‘took’ him with kind words and persuaded him to enter.”

Two gentlemen walk among the clouds, philosophers obviously.

Martin: I really think you need to lighten up. It’s not all darkness.

Søren: But surely you see that before the episode with the apple—

Martin: The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Søren: That is a preposterously unwieldy phrase, and from a supreme stylist like J? I doubt it. But as you will. May we call it an apple for short.

Martin: For short, you can call it a fig.

Søren: Please. I don’t do “funny.”

Martin: Sorry. For us, “funny” has been a matter of survival.

Søren: And for us Danes, serious is a matter of life and death. May I go on? Before the episode with the apple, the garden occupants cannot have had any notion of good or evil.

Martin: As it is written, “When God created man He created him with two impulses, the yetzer ha-tov and the yetzer ha-ra, both the good and the evil inclination.” (Berachot 61a)

Søren: But that undermines the whole story. If Adam and Eve were already filled with good and evil, then they don’t need to feast on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, do they? And please, don’t start in with “In Torah, there is no early or late.” This is a story and in stories, there is always early and late.

Martin: Perhaps we are talking about awareness. Surely there is much hidden within all of us of which we slowly become aware as we grow. Søren: If we grow.

Martin: Why else would Adam have to be “persuaded” to enter the garden? I mean, “Here, how about this beautiful garden? Excellent climate, plenty of lovely pathways to explore, all you can eat and, did I mention, eternal life?” So Adam scratches his chin, looks around, thinks about it and finally says, “I don’t know, Hashem. What else can you show me?” Does this not imply that there was already a problem?

Søren: The problem is not one of good and evil, but of anxiety. The garden is a metaphor for freedom and that very freedom gives rise to anxiety and from anxiety comes wrong-headed choices. So the concept of sin is there all along. For all of us. That first bite of the apple may bring about a qualitative change, but sin is implicit in anxiety.

Martin: So you would add anxiety to Reish Lakish’s understanding that “Satan, impulse to evil and angel of death: all three are the same thing,” as wit is written (Bava Batra 16a).

Søren: Excellent. There’s some fear and trembling for you. I like that fellow.

Martin: Or was Adam just lazy? As it is written, “The first man was not to taste of anything until he had done some work. Only after God told him to cultivate and keep the garden, did He give him permission to eat of its fruits” (Avot d’ Rabbi Nathan, vers 1, xi, 23a). That, too, would suggest an inclination to evil. As it is written, “If a man works, he is blessed; if not, he is not blessed” (Midrash Psalms on xxiii, 1 (99b, § 3).

Søren: Of course all that is really necessary for Adam’s reluctance is that the garden is offered. Had it been forbidden, like the fruit, he would have strolled right in, wouldn’t he?

Martin: Of course, “the evil inclination desires only that which is forbidden.” As it is written (Jerusalem Talmud Yoma, VI, § 4).

Søren: Yes, as it is written. “…Not as if the law were given on purpose for sin to abound: but that it so happened through man’s perversity, taking occasion of sinning more, from the prohibition of sin.”

Martin: I can’t quite place that midrash. Bereshith Rabbah?

Søren: Close. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, 5:20.

Martin: There’s one other way we might consider this garden story. As the Madregat Adam suggests, Adam ate of the forbidden fruit not out of perversity, rather to challenge himself to overcome an even stronger evil impulse, for in that way he could better show his devotion to the Almighty. Søren: Sinners always have an excuse.

Martin: But, as it is written, “The world is not wont to search the most generous of the possible impulses to a dubious action…Yet whatever the world’s cynic practice, there can be no question that for the purposes of understanding any human problem, it is safer to risk the more generous interpretation” (Helen C. White, The Metaphysical Poets). Like I said, it’s not all darkness.

Jeffrey Fiskin lives in Hollywood, Calif., with his wife and children.






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