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Video 11 of 19
We talk before about the conversation between Eve and the Snake and we want to come back and look at it today. We have some questions about it before and we are going to try to resolve them today.
We are going to do so in the context of wondering about these questions, about the dividing line between Eve and the Snake or humanity and the snake. On the one hand, what it is about the snake that makes him a snake and not a human? So we want to come back to the language the snake uses in this opening gap when he talks to Eve.
As we talked about before, this language the snake uses is strange. “Even if God said don’t eat from the tree…” And, we said, that’s sort of a non sector. That’s seem like the implied…and of the snake’s word are something like, “so what?” which is kind of odd. You know, even if God said don’t eat from tree you would imagine like you shouldn’t eat from the tree; what do you mean “So what?”
So, Hirsch, over here you got a picture of Hirsch. This is Hirsch, Samson Raphael Hirsch, a picture which he actually looks younger than many of the pictures we have of him. He lives in the middle 1800’s or so in Germany.
So, Hirsch has a very interesting explanation I want to share with you. At least I think it is interesting. Hirsch says it all depends on where you put the emphasis in this verse. As you probably know, a sentence can mean different things, depending on what words you emphasize. Hirsch says: emphasize this word, ‘said’. “Even if God said don’t eat from the tree...so what?”
Think: How does emphasizing that one word change things?
Now, if you read it that way, it’s not so much that the snake is saying, don’t listen to God. What he is saying is, don’t listen to God’s word. It’s the word that the snake is attacking. “Even if God said don’t eat from the tree…so what?” What a strange idea! What is it that Hirsch really means?
The snake somehow seems to be saying; “Yes, listen to God; but don’t listen to His words…”
But here is how Hirsch kind of elaborate the snake’s word. “Even if God said don’t eat from the tree…so what?” – “Do you want to eat from the Tree? If you want to eat from the Tree; well, why do you want to eat from the Tree? Who do you think is talking to you and that want you to eat from the Tree? You’ve desired to eat from the tree? Who put that desire in you? You are created by God, the desire inside you was coming from God, He put that inside you, so that’s God talking to you also. So, even if God said don’t eat from the Tree…so what? Don’t you think that the voice of God inside is more primary?” And here, actually, you are getting into the question of what it means to be a snake.
How might the snake’s words help us understand what makes him a snake?
As we talked about before, humanity walks, talks, is smart, enjoys good food; and the snake walks, talks, is smart, enjoys good food. Here is a way Hirsch argues that you can distinguish between snake and humans through this question – “Through what voice does God speaks to you?”
That one simple question is a distinction between humanity and the snake. Think about an animal – does God speaks to an animal? Are there any laws, any of God’s laws for the answer; whether there is in the Torah? There isn’t any actual verbal communication. God doesn’t speak through the intellects of snakes or to the animal world for that matter, but that does mean that God doesn’t talk to the animal world.
There is a law, a natural law that snakes follow and that all animals follow, and that is the law that is put inside of them. We call it instinct or desire. Whenever an animal gives in to desire, it’s doing what God wants, right? Every time a grizzly beer snatches a caymen from the Alaskan river, every time a lion rips the part of gazelle, every time bees come and kick the drones out of the hive, all those times the animals are doing God’s will; they are listening to their desires.
So, in a certain way, remember when we talked about the snake being naked, we talked about how the word arum, which is used to describe nakedness, is a word which is also used to describe the snake. But on the one hand, arum means cunning, but on the other hand it also means naked, suggesting that on some level the snake is, what you see is what you get, he is very, very straightforward, almost innocent.
And I think this get to the innocent aspect of the snake. The snake, really, is innocent in a certain way. He is just telling humanity what it’s like to be a snake. “You poor human beings, the snake says, you have a contradiction. God is speaking to you on the one hand through words, but God is also speaking to you through your internal voice, through your instinct; and you have to decide where you should go; how you should respond when you hear this terrible contradiction. Well, I will tell you what I will do as a snake, I mean, speaking personally as an animal; which voice of God is primary? God doesn’t really speak in word. It’s not really God. God speaks through instinct. Listen to your instinct.”
The snake is making a very innocent, direct, “naked” argument:
He’s just telling them what things look like as a snake.
And you really see what Hirsch is talking about over here. When Eve looks at the Tree; this is actually my translation which I am going to give you, it’s a little bit different from the JPS 1917 Translation or Aryeh Kaplan Translation; they have all talk a little about why I prefer this translation, and I think it’s a little bit close to the Hebrew.
But Eve looks at the Tree and she sees, a: It’s good to eat; tov haetz l’maachel, in Hebrew. Taavah-hu la’einaim– Desirable to the eye. Nachmad haetz l’haskil– Beautiful to contemplate. Well, if you ask yourself, what’s the common denominator in these three things, what really is the common denominator? These are all aesthetic. It’s all about desire. The Tree is dripping with allude, dripping with desire.
There is really three different levels of desire that we are talking about in this Tree. On the one hand, it’s good to eat. Good to eat is almost the most basic level of desire. Any child can look at an ice cream cone and kind of say, wow, that looks good to eat. But then, there is a little bit more sophisticated, kind of middle level desire, which is, you know, Rose – something that appeals to the eye. A four year old can look at an ice cream cone and say, that looks good to eat, but it takes somebody a little more sophisticated to look at the Rose and say, wow, that’s really beautiful.
But then, there is a kind of desire which is even higher than that – Beautiful to Contemplate. What kinds of things are beautiful to contemplate? Oh, that’s the desire that tickles the mind. Listening to symphony poetry, this is kinds of things they appeal to you not necessarily because it makes sense, right?
A debater can weave a beautiful argument but be lying through his teeth, but it still appeals to the mind. There is a beauty that appeals to the mind, the beauty that appeals to the eye, the beauty that appeals to the palette. And the tree has all these things. It’s dripping with all of these.
Eve sees this Tree, she takes it and she eats the fruit. In doing so, I want to argue – she is buying, in a way, the snake’s argument and here is why – when we think about desire and the difference between the animal world and the human world, it’s not that the humans don’t have desire, that we are meant to be logical automatons that had no sense of desire, we also have desire and snakes and animals have desire too; the difference is what defines your essential sense of self; who really are you? The snake is essentially a being full of desires, he is desire; the snake is desire; desire is something the snake is.
There is another possibility, which is we are something else – we are mind. And God speaks to our mind with words. And we have desire; desire is something that we have. In taking from the Tree, Eve is taking all these desire and bringing it into her. And all of a sudden it becomes confusing – is desire still something I have or maybe it’s inside of me? It may be something I am.
If this sounds a little abstract, you think about it in terms of ice cream cone, which is the more natural way to talk? “I have a desire for some ice cream or I want some ice cream?” Well, nowadays, some of us will say, “I want some ice cream.” But the difference between the two is clear. Who is it that wants the ice cream, right?
If it’s I want the ice cream, I have identified myself; I am my desire. If I have a desire for some ice cream, then there is a me, right, a consciousness that stands outside with desire, that can evaluate that desire; and one of the things I own, like I own my money, like I own my other things, my house, is my desires. So a deep thing that I own, maybe it’s a more precious possession, my desire, than any other possession I have. But it’s still a possession. I desire ice cream. Ever since he eats from the Tree, he gets a little bit unclear, right, which one you should say, it almost feels like this feels like the normal thing to say – I want some ice cream.
We have long way to go still in understanding this story, but we are beginning to make some progress. The next thing we really need to talk about is – what does all this have to do with these Trees? What does all this have to do…? What does the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil have to do with all this stuff about desire? That’s what we are going to talk about when we come back next.
1. The Lullaby Effect
2. Kinds of Questions
3. The Mystery of the Pre-Tree World
4. The Tale of Two Trees
5. Heisenberg and the Uncertainty Principle
6. The Primal Serpent
7. A Perplexing Temptation
8. A Naked Paradox
9. A Snake in the Garden
10. Beasts of the Field
11. Beauty and the Beast
12. What Does It Mean to Know?
13. A World of Broccoli and Pizza
14. Are All Dilemmas Created Equal?
15. The Phantom Boxer
16. The I of the Beholder
17. The Filter of Desire
18. Friedrich Nietzsche and the Disc Jockey
19. Epilogue: God as Knower of Good and Evil (Premium)
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