Friday, July 12, 2013
Recently, I reread an article, written a number of years ago, about distinguishing whom to believe when confronted by charismatic teachers or authorities with contradictions to those basic beliefs inculcated in our youth from our parents. The writer was in a dilemma when moved by the facts presented by these authorities, and it very nearly shook his foundations. He somehow persevered, and learned some of the seemingly incontrovertible facts were, in the end, not persuadable enough to abandon his childhood faith. His house still stood unharmed, even though the memory of the quake still frightened him.
The writer went on to explain that he could never tell the difference between the truth of a fact or a lie, that no one could. This was based upon the idea that when Adam and Eve fell from grace they had sacrificed their divine ability to differentiate between what were true facts and what were false. They had been reduced to the more deficient ability of differentiating what was morally good from that which is morally evil. My husband agreed by saying, “You cannot read another's mind and know their intent because that is God's domain.” We may read body language and darting eyes, but in the end how can we know with certainty unless other facts come forward to prove the authority wrong, especially in matters of faith.
It is not hard to see what is morally corrupt, such as the murder of another human being, but even this ability is diminishing when the butchering of babies is called sacred ground by the prominent politician Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and the increasing number of religious zealots who believe that blowing yourself up and taking innocent lives with you is a holy act. These acts and beliefs tear at the very center of knowing the difference between good and evil, ripping it asunder. Evil is good, and good is evil, and the world whirls in the terror of chaos looking to popular figures to gain some footing. Morality is no longer a fixed standard but is gaged by consensus of opinion. Determining what is truly good and evil has become even more of a crucial barometer to make our way in the world than ever before. But can we determine what is a lie and what is the truth? If we have difficulty in knowing something as basic as what is good or bad, how can we ever know the truth?
Made in the Image of God
On the sixth day of creation, “A mist ascended from the earth and watered the whole surface of the soil. And YHWH God formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life; and man became a living being.” (Gen 2: 6-7) This is the first mention of the four letters of the name of God, YHWH, or the Eternal One. Out of respect, the name is pronounced Adonoy or Hashem, which means The Name. YHWH means that God formed man from his compassionate or merciful personality, tempering His judgment toward man. Man was meant to be special, unique above all the creatures, because he can use his speech and intelligence to serve God. He was created to be an open vessel for the divine. And, God breathed a divine soul into Adam.
God then gives Adam one commandment, a singularity, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, you must not eat thereof; for on the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.” (Gen 2:16-17) At this point, God recognizes the need for Adam to not be alone, and Eve is fashioned from Adam to cleave to him, to be a helpmate, to be a partner in every sense of the word. She is also an open vessel for the divine, to be filled and emptied into the world to bless it.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did not perceive their nakedness as being wrong. This divine endowment of being free from their appetites or desires in what the Talmudic sage Sforno says, “they used all their organs exclusively to do God's will,” prevented them from being aware of their desires. Therefore, there was no reason to cover their nakedness. They were innocents, wholly and completely in God's will. The great scholar Rashi said, “there had not been put into him (Adam) the drive toward evil until his eating from the tree.” Eve, having been a part of Adam, would have enjoyed this same freedom, the same innocence, and operated under the same law given to Adam when he was placed in the Garden of Eden.
The Three Characteristics of the Fall
There is no telling how long the couple lived in the Garden in this pure state. Some believe it was the same day Adam was created. However long it was, it was at least long enough for the serpent to become familiar with Adam and Eve. He watched and lurked on the perimeter of the couple until he saw the perfect moment to approach Eve without Adam. Some sages say he had a desire for Eve and this was the reason he approached her, to tempt her away from Adam, and for this reason he slithered onto the scene. “Now the serpent was cunning beyond any beast of the field that God had made.” (Gen 3: 1) The word cunning is used to emphasize this creature's ability to speak, to use words that would tempt and twist meanings. Now, the serpent used many words to entice Eve, or what Rashi said, “he increased words upon her.” It means that the serpent went beyond casual questions and a simple conversation, that he was able to lure them toward death. Does this tactic sound familiar? It should if you watch the news shows where one guest will try to out talk the other in an attempt at winning by sheer number of words and volume. They don't really say anything of value, just talk long enough that they prevent the other from speaking.
The serpent used the ploy of the Evil One: Pleasures are from God, therefore, they are meant to be enjoyed. One would be a fool to believe that you are commanded to restrain yourself, “you shall surely not die.” (Gen 3: 4) The second ploy was rationalizing that Eve would become like God with this knowledge and therefore separate herself from God, be independent and omniscient “you will be like gods.” (Gen 3: 5) The serpent's intentions were for them to die by tricking Eve into violating the commandment given to her and Adam “to not eat of the tree.” (Gen 2:17)
Something happened in that moment as Eve gazed at the tree while she listened to the serpents words rushing at her. She became ensnared in the spell of the many words and was trapped. “And the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and that it was passion for the eyes, and that the tree was desirable for awareness, and she took of its fruit and ate . . .” (Gen 3: 6-7) The scholar Ramban says there are three characteristics to what happened to Eve. First, she saw that it was good for eating. What did she think about the tree before? Did she deem it poisonous or that the fruit was bad? Perhaps she believed that even if she touched it she would die. Some scholars say this is why she amended God's commandment, that in her mind she believed just touching it would kill her. But as she gazed at the tree she was convinced that the fruit was sweet and she became even more tangled in the words of the serpent.
Rashi disagrees and says that Eve thought it would be good to be like God, just as the serpent claimed. When she added the words “and you shall not touch it,” she violated God's law through detraction, she had assumed God's position by declaring her own law. The serpent knew at that point he had her. If she could touch the tree and not die, surely she could eat of the tree and not die. Eve was convinced before ever taking a bite of the fruit. This is the meaning of she “saw that it was good for eating,” not saw in the sense of visual acuity but that she knew it was good for eating. Appearance became important, whereas before it was not even considered because they were nescient beings, or ignorant of anything more important than using their senses for serving God's will.
The second characteristic was “that it was passion for the eyes . . .” meaning that temptation came through seeing. Consider all the deadly sins that surround us through gazing at something: Lust, gluttony, jealousy, etc. At this point we see the slide toward becoming a slave to the yetzer hara, or the evil urge. The eyes now would be looking for what is passion for the body, the eyes recognizing those things that would please us, and not for what is good for the soul. The fruit that appeared good, or tempted her, overwhelmed her innocence, the light that illuminated everything in the Garden dimmed to her, and all she could see was the fruit and how it tantalized her eyes, awakening in her a passion for it.
The third characteristic was “that the tree was desirable for awareness . . .” The Ramban says, that “passion is attributed to the eyes and desire for the intellect.” He goes on to explain that “through the fruit a person would have the capability to want and desire something or its opposite, which he did not have before eating the fruit.” Rashi says the phrase, “and you will be like gods,” means that the serpent convinced Eve that she and Adam would be “fashioners of worlds,” a part of the heavenly host possessing the same creative abilities as God. Somewhere in the back of Eve's mind, the lies the serpent so artfully told her were attributed to God. In just a few moments, God went from the just and merciful creator to a jealous and self-serving liar. The serpent had told her that God wanted to keep the ability to fashion worlds to Himself and had denied that ability to them with his commandment.
Adam Changes his Aim
The eating of the fruit was a fait accompli before the first bite. But she hands the fruit to Adam and he eats it, without protest, without question. I've always found this curious, but the sages say that because they were one flesh, cleaved to each other, once Eve had successfully convinced herself Adam became convinced. Now they both realized they were naked. They took leaves from a fig tree and sewed them together to cover themselves. Rashi teaches that the very thing that brought them to ruin, a tree, was the very thing that would correct it, covering their shame by leaves of a tree. The scripture reads “they sewed together a fig leaf and made themselves aprons.” (Gen 3: 7) The act was futile. They knew God would know they were ashamed of being naked because they covered themselves. When they heard the breath of God moving through the Garden they hid. God asks the question, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9) not because he's curious and wandering about looking for them, He wants to hear where they are spiritually, to give an accounting, to repent. It's the very question we should ask ourselves all the time. What ensues is almost embarrassing for Adam. But how many times have you heard your children blame someone else, or societies' criminal element blame someone else for their crimes, or prominent politicians claim ignorance or blame other politicians? The answer is legion.
The very first thing they noticed or became aware of was that they were naked. Their entire attention was focused on the body, their sexual organs. R' Hirsch says that, “this shame awakens the voice of conscience that reminds us we are not meant to be animals.” Their focus was directed toward the morality of nakedness, of eating, of experiencing bodily pleasures. Innocence was freedom, and now they were slaves to their bodies, and must judge between what is good and bad for their body and mind. It was now impossible for them to continue to live in the Garden, for their focus was elsewhere, turned in the opposite direction from where God first directed.
Moses Maimonides wrote in his Guide for the Perplexed, “On account of the change of his original aim he was sent away.” Adam's attention was now focused “to the acquisition of what was forbidden,” therefore, “he was banished from Paradise; this was his punishment.” In my article on The Tower of Babel, I discussed the measure for measure justice God employed on the Generation of the Dispersion. Here we see the very first time it is employed against a sinner. Adam's punishment was the very thing that Eve added to God's commandment, “to not touch it.” Adam followed his impulses and desires rather than obey God's Law. The punishment would be to deny him the freedom of eating everything but that one thing; the forbidden fruit. Now he would have to labor and exert himself in order to eat the meanest of foods (thorns and thistles) and constantly experience the bitterness of the forbidden fruit. He had gone from privilege, pleasure, and happiness to struggle and physical labor. He would never be able to touch the Garden again.
The Hebrew word panah, or countenance, is used to describe Adam's aim by Maimonides. He describes Adam's face as turned away, or aimed in the opposite direction. How can two walk together if one is traveling in the opposite direction? God and Adam would never walk together in freedom again, nor would Adam be able to experience the pleasure of being in the perfect Garden. The punishment of banishment was enough for Adam to see, to know his guilt, and the gravity of his situation. The loss was incalculable to him. But Adam, knowing his sin so thoroughly, named the woman given to him Eve, which means the mother of all. He would not disobey the second commandment given to him by God, to be fruitful and multiply. The naming of Eve, after their banishment, employed his former gift of naming everything. With this name he placed a higher value on human life, for he and Eve would be responsible for seeding the world, for bringing forth the Messiah to set things straight. The Aggadah, the traditional oral tales accompanying the scriptures, describes the repentant Adam as sitting in the river flowing from the Garden of Eden for over one hundred thirty years. The tradition of baptism, and the laws of washing, or Niddah, through flowing water is essentially launched in Adam's repentant act. The water came from the Garden, his former home. His focus is back on God, on washing away that sin, and on connecting to the place God created specifically for him, the Eden.
(Note: I elaborate on this in my novel The Garden of Souls.)
Jesus: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (Jo 14: 6)
Jesus is born, and the only thing existing to pull man from the mess Adam and Eve made is the Law. But John tells us that Jesus is the Word. He is the Law. During his ministry, Jesus tell his Apostles that he is “I am,” the name used by God to Moses, and he elaborates by saying He is “the way and the truth and the life.” (Note: I've elaborated on this in my article on The Opening Words of the Gospel of John.) The Hebrew word emet which means truth has an interesting breakdown with the letters. The first letter aleph is the first letter of the alphabet, or the alefbeis in Hebrew, and is simultaneously one and numberless. The first word of the Ten Commandments begins with this letter, translated as I, and means eternity. The middle letter mem together with aleph spell mother, the beginning of life. Mem is also the middle letter of the alphabet, the letter that is associated with water and mercy. It begins words like mayim, or water, mayahn, or spring, mikveh, or the ceremonial bath for purification. The last letter is tav which signifies endings or consummation, but it also is the letter that begins some of the most important things in the faith, such as Torah (the five books of Moses), teshuvah, meaning repentance or returning, Talmud, which is the entirety of the Old Testament, and tikkun, which means to repair or to redeem. Mem and tav spell death, the end of life. Jesus is giving us a hint of what is to come, of the breadth of what he is to do, and who he is. He is telling us that the past, the present, and the future meet in Him. He is simultaneously existing throughout all time. And, through His death life will begin anew for us.
Truth Becomes a Part of Us
We now have the ability to tap into something that has been denied to man since Adam and Eve were banished. We can know the Truth if we know Jesus. We can know the Truth if we read His Word. We can know the Truth if we follow His Will, but we will always be subject to the man's banishment and reduced to discerning between good and evil, and not truth and lies. Truth became objective, outside of us, standing alone until that moment when we allow the Holy Spirit in to inform our conscience, to enlighten our entire being, as the Hebrews believe, we let in the second soul. Jesus said He had to ascend for the Holy Spirit to come. The Holy Spirit is the only avenue by which we can travel in the right direction, turn our countenance toward God, and be open to hear Him speak to us. We cannot do it on our own. We are not fashioners of worlds. We cannot master something that has been removed from us. Only through God the Father, through Jesus, and the Holy Spirit can we ever hope to know the truth. There are not many ways, there is only one way. Jesus is the truth and the way and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Him.
The one truth that rises as a beacon on the horizon is that Jesus is the truth. There is none other, and believing anything else is the Great Lie. We can know that particular truth and that particular lie, and everything else leads to one or the other. Choose, but choose wisely.