By Rabbi Aron Tendler
In the beginning G-d created differences, separation, and the possibility of
conflict. In the beginning, G-d created goodness, freewill, a serpent, and the
possibility of sin. In the beginning G-d seemed to have set us up for the
distinct possibility of failure.
This notion of "being set up" by G-d is not the typical or desired image
that we want to have of how Hashem deals with us. We would like to believe
that G-d created an even playing field on which to play the game of choice,
rather than handicapping us with the inevitability of failure. We would like
to believe that we are capable of perfection rather than accept the reality
of, "There can not be a completely righteous man who never does wrong". From a
theological point of view we are more comfortable blaming ourselves for our
own failures rather than blaming Hashem for orchestrating the events leading
up to our failures. Yet, the story of Adam and Chava in Gan Eden, the serpent
and the tree of knowledge, a delectable fruit, hard labor, and the sweat of
our brow, appears to have been a set up. Why did G-d do this to us?
The Torah is trying to teach us a lesson about ourselves, our relationship
with each other, our relationship with G-d, and about reality. As individually
created beings we crave the right to do as we please. As independently created
beings we desire to be self-centered and self-serving. As intelligently
created beings we rationalize the primacy of human need over divine
instruction and command. That is why the story of Gan Eden is predicated on
the human's inability to adhere to the single divine commandment "not to eat
of the fruit of the forbidden tree in the center of the garden". So long as
Chava and Adam were ignorant of the tree's uniqueness and purpose as "the Tree
of the Knowledge of Good and Bad", they did not desire to taste the forbidden
fruit. However, from the moment that the "Nachash - serpent" informed Chava of
the tree's purpose, woman's agile and aggressive intellect rationalized why
they didn't have to listen to G-d's commandment.
Knowledge is potentially dangerous because it opens up for us the vista
of possibility. Never show a child the possibilities of T.V. and he will be
perfectly content to play within the limits of his own imagination. Never
advertise the advantages of microwave technology and we are content to warm-up
leftovers in the oven. Never know what the Jones's are doing and we would be
content to stay home on vacation and drive a 12 year old car. The blissful
ignorance of what could be protects us from the desire to rationalize what
The fact that Chava "then gave Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit"
revealed the social desire of the human to share with each other both the good
and the bad. Although independently created, "it is not good for the human to
dwell alone". We crave being with each other and sharing with each other.
Chava wished to share her experience with her helpmate and Adam wanted to
follow Chava's lead and be accepted by her. However, Hashem's intent was for
each of us to share with each other the joy and discovery of His reality and
goodness as manifest within the limitless boundaries of nature, not to seek
out new avenues for self expression and sharing. If we had simply "worked and
safekept the garden" we would have been content and happy. Our need for loving
social engagement would have been satisfied by challenging each other to
better comprehend G-d and His purpose for creating the universe. We could have
engaged each other in an eternal adventure of spiritual discovery and sharing
that would have exhausted every human craving and desire. The world was His
garden, and we were His chosen guardians. Within the limits of a single
restriction we were granted carte-blanch to revel in G-d's magnificent world.
It was truly "a reflection of the world to come," when the righteous will be
engaged in the eternal adventure of spiritual and intellectual discovery.
The story of Gan Eden is the story of reality. It reveals the magnificence
and responsibility of being created "in the image of the G-d". It stages the
challenges to human potential to grow within the limitless boundaries of G-d's
world, or be restricted to the pitifully limited reaches of our own desires.
We were offered the choice between the freedom of G-d's beneficence, or the
prison of providing for ourselves by the sweat of our brow. We could have
raised our children with ease and joy in a paradise setting by modeling for
them devotion to Hashem and the endless benefits to be had by listening to His
commandments. Instead, we chose to be independent of G-d and struggle with our
own inadequacies. G-d did set us up. He wanted us to see our shortcomings
and confront our rationalizations. He wanted to humble us so that we recognize
that true fulfillment is to be found in simply listening to each and every
It was never intended for us to live in Gan Eden. It was intended that we
make our world into a Gan Eden. In spite of the sweat of our brow and the pain
of child rearing, we acknowledge and praise our dependency upon G-d's
benevolence and love. Man might be destined to sin and fail, but he is equally
capable of Teshuva and success. The serpents of the real world are both within
us and outside of us. As individuals, and as a society we are challenged to
recognize the freedom of discipline and the imprisonment of unbridled desire.
Selfishness, self-centerdness and ego are "the most cunning of all G-d's
creations", and it is our mission to channel passion into devotion and desire
into service. The ultimate test of our success or failure in our relationship
with G-d will be whether we hide in shame or stand proud when we hear the
"sound of G-d walking in the garden".
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.