In Search of Truth
Redemption is all about seeking truth. The question is whose truth? Is it my truth or yours? Is it the traditions of my forefathers or yours? Is it your religion or mine? What is truth and who defines it?
Adam and Chava knew truth. Whatever G-d said to them was the truth. They also learned what was false. False was anything that opposed G-d’s word or suggested an interpretation of G-d’s word that was not as G-d had explained.
It could not have been simpler. G-d said, “Do not eat from the trees in the center of the garden,” and He meant, “Do not eat from the trees in the center of the garden.” Along came the Nachash (serpent) to entice Adam and Chava with a novel interpretation of G-d’s words and intentions.
“G-d did not mean you should not eat from the trees in the center of the garden. Think about it. What does G-d really want from you? He wants you to be ‘like Him.’ G-d wants you to emulate Him in every way you can. Paramount among His qualities is His absolute control over all and any. Paramount is G-d’s free will. Given the inherent limitations of mortality you are limited in what you can and cannot emulate. You cannot emulate immortality but you can emulate freewill and choice; therefore, His commandment not to eat is a test of your desire and commitment to be ‘like Him. How much do you truly desire to be like Him? How far would you go to show your love and desire to be “one” with G-d? Would you even go against His express wishes if doing so meant that you would be even closer to Him than ever possible before? Think about it! Does G-d really mean that you should not eat from the trees in the center of the garden or when G-d says No He really means Yes!”
Let’s be honest. Adam and Chava would have not paid attention to the Nachash’s seduction if the tree had been unattractive and the fruit repulsive. Instead, the Torah emphasizes that the tree and the fruit were both attractive. The Nachash did not force Chava or Adam to do anything. He only provided a novel interpretation of G-d’s simple and direct commandment. The decision to listen to the interpretation and then to accept it as the truth was the decision and action of Adam and Chava. In doing so they discovered that truth is not something that can be generated from within their own intellect or emotions. There is no “gut” reality when ascertaining the absolute truths upon which G-d founded the universe. Truth must come from outside of their being. Truth must be taught. Truth must be received and accepted. Truth demands trust; truth demands discipline; and truth demands commitment.
The inner perspective on truth is fraught with the dangers and pitfalls of personal desire and need. On the other hand, an outer perspective on truth (meaning, outside the human experience) is removed from narcissism or any other personal bias or motive. Its only demand is the simplicity of personal discipline and commitment. I do not suggest that discipline and commitment are simple to accomplish; however, they are simple in their expectations. It does not ask for our rationalization or understanding. It assumes trust and on that basis demands discipline and commitment.
The Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil proved to be exactly that. Good is truth and evil is falsehood; truth is good and falsehood is evil. Listening to G-d is good and truth and not listening to G-d is evil and falsehood. The seductiveness of elaborate interpretations as to what we think G-d really meant is a poorly disguised excuse for simply doing what we want and is the proverbial Nachash doing what he has always done best.
Following the episode of the Garden of Eden humankind entered the first phase of its journey toward redemption. Somehow humanity had to return to the simplicity of truth. Somehow they had to find out what it was that G-d wanted from them and to then do it.
G-d provided three tools for learning about truth. Prophets: There were always a handful of individuals who by virtue of their desire and commitment to know truth were granted the gift of prophecy.
Mitzvos: Through the medium of prophecy humanity was given the Seven Mitzvos given To The Sons of Noach. The Seven Mitzvos were intended to frame reality in absolute truth granting perspective and direction to the entire human experience. They were to be the moral compass for the post Gan Eden society.
Longevity: Prophets and prophecy must be trusted if they are to be effective conduits for teaching G-d’s will. Absolute truths need time to validate their divinity. Therefore, G-d granted the post Eden world great health and longevity in order for humanity to witness the efficacy of His mandated truth and the trustworthiness of His prophets.
This first stage toward redemption provided the necessary direction and time for the seekers of truth to find it. Unfortunately, most of humanity elected to ignore the lessons of Gan Eden and to create their own version of truth. They ignored the teachings of the prophets, did not even take the chance to find out if the Navi might be telling the truth, and redefined human redemption as the ability to create G-d in the image of man rather than discovering in what manner they had been created in the image of G-d.
After 1500 years G-d decided that phase one had failed and it was time to streamline the process of redemption. It was time to clean house. “Only Noach found favor in His eyes.” “Build a Tayvah (ark / box) and wait for My instructions.” Noach was the chosen Navi and along with his father Lemech and grandfather Misushelach he prophesized the end of the world. They people did not trust him and chose not to believe him. Unfortunately for them, by the time they knew that Noach had told the truth, they were over their heads without a lifesaver in sight.
For Noach and his family the lesson was profoundly simple. Absolute truth comes from outside the human experience and imposes itself on reality. If truth was a product of the human experience than humanity should have been able to save itself and exert control over nature. Instead, the man-made gods proved to be nonexistent and it was the heavens above and the deep waters below which proved to be absolute and truth. The crazy old man who had spouted foolishness for 120 years while building his ridiculously large box was floating into the future while they drowned in their own man- made reality.
Emerging one year later from the Tayvah, Noach and his sons were expected to raise a brave new world order founded on trust in prophets, prophecy, and commitment to the taught word of G-d. The Seven Mitzvos were the guideposts and all of human experience was theirs to mold and direct. Unfortunately, humanity fell back into the clutches of heir own Nachash and once again began to define truth from within rather than imposing it from without. Noach, Shem, and Ever remained the prophets in contrast to the dynamism, charisma, and narcissism of Nimrod. He unified humanity within the shadow of his great Tower proclaiming loudly and clearly that absolute truth was the product of the human experience. Nimrod became the new-age prophet proclaiming his dominance over nature by virtue of his hunting and oratorical skills while attributing to himself the trappings of divinity.
Avraham knew differently. Unimpressed by Nimrod’s posturing, Avraham became the lone voice in the search for truth and in opposition to Nimrod. Knowing that truth had to be external to his inner search, Avraham connected with his illustrious grandfathers and connected to the transmission of absolute truth from G-d to humanity. Avraham received, accepted, and then taught.
The third phase toward redemption had begun. The streamlining of redemption was underway. No longer would humanity have to seek out the prophets, learn to trust, and do as they had been taught. Instead, G-d had decided to give His Torah to humanity through the medium of Avraham and his descendents so that absolute truth would be forever available. The criteria remained the same. Prophets would receive and teach and the masses would have to trust and commit; however, instead of a frame of Seven Mitzvos, G-d would eventually present a lifestyle of 613 Mitzvos. Instead of one or two individuals attempting to describe the consequences of either living or not living by the truth, the world could see the product of truth in the being and society of a nation, the children of Avraham and Sarah.
Through trial and tribulation Avraham taught the absolute truth. “There is a single G-d Who created the universe for a purpose. That purpose can only be realized through humanity’s devotion and commitment to G-d’s will as taught through the medium of His Prophets. It demands discipline and devotion. It demands that we ignore the enticements of the Nachash to justify our own wants and desires by redefining the truth and instead subjugate ourselves to the prophets / teachers who teach His truths.
Contrasted with Pharaoh and then Avimelech, Avraham illustrated that without imposing outside truths the most unethical and most ethical end up doing and justifying the same evil. Both Pharaoh and Avimelech forcibly took away a woman to satisfy their own lust. Both ignored the uniqueness and respect due to every human reducing nobility and purpose to the value of some object. Granted, Avimelech wanted to do the right thing and Pharaoh could have cared less; however, in the end, both had done the same thing. Rather than seek truth from a prophet, both presumed to define truth and both failed dismally. Of course, Pharaoh asked Avraham to leave while Avimelech invited him to stay.
In contrast to what G-d expected from humanity is the story of Sodom. It is the story of corrupt judges and corrupt citizens. It is the story of beauty beheld and evil exposed. It was a place described as “like Gan Eden” founded on the values of desire and want. Good was bad and bad was good. Evil was rewarded and righteousness punished. Such a place was beyond redemption and had to be destroyed. Forever after the scar of its existence would mar the Promised Land as a reminder of the ruin and destructiveness inherent in human-made truth.
Finally the ultimate test: “Take your son, your only son… Yitzchak, and bring him as an offering…” Take everything that I have taught you. Take everything that your human intellect and emotion proclaims as absolute and true and offer it up to me in trust and devotion. Ignore what everyone else will say. Ignore the impossibility of the promise that through you will the world be blessed. Do as I say and ignore the Nachash within you. Truth is only what I say not what you think.’
Ignoring the Nachash within, Avraham and Yitzchak ascended the mountain together. For Avraham it tested his faith in G-d Himself. For Yitzchak it tested his faith in his father, the prophet who had taught him truth for 37 years. For the world it was the greatest display of the meaning of truth and the process of redemption. It transcended all considerations and emotions and returned the world to its first inception as G-d’s handiwork. Could two generations, father and son, parent and child, completely embrace the process of truth with trust and commitment? Could they prove that redemption was possible? History has proven yes. Avraham and Sarah had done their job. Redemption was possible. Sarah could die in peace and Avraham dispatched Eliezar to find a wife for Yitzchak. The process had to continue.
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.