The first human beings, Adam and Eve, weren’t born. They were the direct “hands-on” creation of God Himself, and they knew it. Jewish tradition teaches that Adam possessed a degree of awareness and understanding that was astounding. Commensurate with this depth of understanding of himself, God, and his place in creation, Adam had enormous potential. In fact, his combined abilities were so outstanding that when the angels looked at this creation of God’s called Adam, they all but mistook him for a deity that was God’s co-equal.
“When Adam was created the heavenly angels made a mistake and wanted to describe him with the same word they used to “describe” God – kadosh, holy.”
God’s history of man’s struggle to come to terms with the reality and implications of his createdness began with the story of Adam in the Garden of Eden. (In truth it began earlier, with creation itself – the setting for man’s epic struggle – but we are going to skip a few pages and get right to the first account of man’s living within creation.) Here’s the story in a nutshell:
“And God took Adam and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and to preserve it. And God commanded Adam and said, ‘You are permitted to eat from all the trees in the garden. However, you are not permitted to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because the day you eat from it you will die.”
Whether or not you ever read the book or saw the movie, one way or another you know the gist of this story. Despite God’s prohibition and warning, Adam went ahead and ate from the one tree he had been told not to. And the results weren’t very pretty.
“And God said to Adam, ‘Because you listened to your wife and went ahead and ate from the tree that I told you not to eat from, the ground will be cursed because of you, and for the rest of your life you will eat of it only through suffering. Thorns and thistles are what it will sprout for you and you will eat grasses from the field. Only by the sweat of your brow will you eat bread. And this is how it will be until you yourself return to the ground because you were originally made from the ground – you are dust – and to this dust will you return.” Genesis 3:17-19
As you can see, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing in the Garden of Eden.
God and Adam Talk about history beginning on a sour note. All this talk about a relationship between us and God, and right off the bat the situation got rather dysfunctional. What happened?
Let’s think about the dilemma that Adam faced.
First of all, let’s think about Adam and his perception of himself and his place in creation. What we are going to assume is that Adam’s awareness included an awareness of God (He did speak to Adam after all) and a profound awareness that God’s existence was fully complete and independent while Adam’s own existence was totally dependent and contingent. Adam knew that every moment was a new creation, that he had no ability to affect the beginning or end of that creation, and he was therefore acutely aware that his own existence dangled helplessly at the brink of nonexistence.
Second, Adam was aware that creation was for him and that the purpose of his existence was to benefit from the pleasure of a relationship with God. Adam knew that the pleasure that was his purpose necessitated, in some way, the attaching of his limited and precarious being to God’s ultimate being.
Finally, Adam knew that he had free will. He knew that he had almost limitless potential and that he had been given the independence and freedom to do with that potential whatever he chose.
Now let’s try and picture the situation, to the extent that we can, from Adam’s perspective. Adam thought to himself, I can do and become and create almost anything I want. My abilities and potential are truly vast. At the same time, I am a prisoner. I am constantly dangling on the end of God’s string. Each and every moment of my existence is a new creation. I feel like I am some kind of a light bulb. God turns me on, then off, then on again, then off again – and it never stops. If this is freedom, why do I feel so helpless?
And then Adam thought some more and said to himself … Come on, Adam old boy, you can figure this thing out, why do you think God gave you that head on your shoulders? Okay, so God created me in His image and gave me freedom and independence. But why? Was this some kind of a cruel joke or does He actually want me to be free? Clearly, He wants me to be free, and what’s more – I am free. So it’s only natural that I experience an occasional bout of angst when I think about the lack of freedom I seem to have, despite my freedom. Bottom line: I want to be free because God created me to be free. All I want is to be what I am, free …
While all of this was going through Adam’s mind there was a knock on the garden gate. You guessed it, it was none other than the great big absolute Creator Himself. He had something to discuss with Adam. “You know all those wonderful trees I put in your garden? Go ahead, enjoy them. There’s just one – it’s called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – and that one is off limits. You’re not allowed to eat from that one.” And with that, God excused Himself.
Meanwhile, back inside Adam’s head:
… What’s He trying to do to me? Here I am, minding my own business, trying to figure out what’s bothering me, and how to fulfill the purpose of my existence – and now this! I’m not allowed to eat from that wheat tree over there. (According to tradition the tree of knowledge was a wheat tree, and what Adam ate more resembled a saltine than an apple.) What in the world is going on …?
* In speaking about the first human beings, Adam and Eve, I will be referring to them collectively as Adam, or Man. This is not meant to slight Eve or any other women who have come since; it’s just a simpler way of doing things. Adam, in our context, means the original, prototypical human being. In truth, the nature of the first human beings is a very deep subject that is dealt with at length in the classical texts and is beyond the scope of this book.
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Shimon Apisdorf is an award-winning author whose books have been read by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. He has gained a world-wide reputation for his ability to extract the essence of classical Jewish wisdom and show how it can be relevant to issues facing the mind, heart and soul in today’s world. Shimon grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and studied at the University of Cincinnati, Telshe Yeshiva of Cleveland and the Aish HaTorah College of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. He currently resides with his wife, Miriam, and their children in Baltimore. The Apisdorfs enjoy taking long walks, listening to the music of Sam Glaser and going to Orioles games.
Shimon can be reached at [email protected]
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