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G-d asked Adam where he is, why would G-d of all beings need to ask Adam where he is, wouldn't G-d know? Why is G-d asking a question that He already knows the answer to?
Adam says he's afraid because he's naked. If you look carefully at the text, Adam does not say that he's hiding because he is ashamed that he is naked, that is not there. Instead, Adam says that he is afraid because he's naked. The Hebrew is very unambiguous here, the Hebrew is the word Irah - Va'irah ki erome onochi va'echaveh - I was afraid because I was naked. Why would Adam be afraid because you're naked? You might be ashamed, maybe embarrassed, why would you be afraid?
Finally, the various punishments. The Almighty imposes various punishments on Adam and Eve, but is there any rhyme or reason to why those particular punishments? Death - everyone dies, exile - everyone has to leave the garden, man has difficulty farming, Eve difficulty in childbirth. But it almost as if there's nothing that sort of binds these all together, it just almost seems as if G-d is reaching into His grab bag, and saying, oh Eve, you're the one in charge of childbirth? Okay so you're going to have difficulty in childbirth. Oh Adam, you're the one that has to bring home food from the fields, so you're going to have difficulty farming. Death to everybody and exile all around. Like, what do these have to do with anything? Is there any rhyme or reason in these particular consequences for eating from the tree?
So really these remaining puzzle pieces all have to do with the consequences, you might say, of eating from the tree. All of these are various different kinds of consequences, one of those consequences is hiding and Adam was hiding because he's naked. These other consequences are punishments, neither the hiding because he's naked, nor the punishments seem to make all that much sense, how is it that we understand that?
In order to come to grips with this I want to just kind of sort of sit back and tell you a little story. A few years back I was riding in my car and I flipped on the radio and turned on, there was this disc jockey who was talking to callers and helping them sort out their romantic troubles. This one guy calls up and gets into a debate with him. So it turns out he's a religious guy and he's arguing with him about the morality of being intimate with a woman before marriage. At some point the disc jockey stops and says, look you're a religious guy, right? So the fellow says, yes. So he says, well as a religious person are you normal? Do you have desires? So he says, yeah I have desires. So then he says, but who do you think put those desires inside you, wasn't that G-d? Long silence on the other end of the line. If it's G-d, doesn't G-d want you to act on those? I mean, this was the snake. After all these years the snake is alive and well, after 3,000 years. It's really that argument.
I want to really evaluate that argument. Are we really so sure that we want to turn our back on desire? I mean it's all nice to say that yes, desire is for animals, animals feel the desire inside them, that's the voice of G-d, but for human beings, the mind is the voice of G-d. But do we really want to turn our back on desires? What it would be like to live without desire? Years ago, about 100 years ago or so, Friedrich Nietzsche leveled a devastating critique against much of organized religion. Really this was Nietzsche's point, that desire is what makes life worth living. Nietzsche was arguing that religion was afraid of desire, that religion was too scared of desire to be able to embrace it.
So the answer I'd like to give to this lies with a strange aphorism that comes from the Talmud - the Babylonian Talmud - and it basically goes like this. I'm going to give you the conventional translation of the aphorism which I've put right over here. It goes like this. The Holy One, blessed be He, G-d Himself, said to Israel, My son I've created the evil inclination and I've created the Torah its antidote. If you involve yourself in Torah you will not be delivered into its hands.
Well, sounds like a fairly standard kind of thing to say. But the problem is what does this word mean over here? This word is traditionally translated from the Hebrew as antidote. In Hebrew though the word is Tavlin, you spell it like this. The question is what does Tavlin mean? Well if go into a store in Israel and you ask for Tavlin, they won't give you antidotes, they won't give you medicine, what they'll give you is this - they'll give you spices. Strange. So if you took out this word over here and instead you put the word spice, so read it now. The Holy One, blessed be He, says to Israel, My son I've created the evil inclination and I've created the Torah its spice. If you involve yourself in Torah you won't be delivered into its hands. What does it mean to call Torah the spice for the evil inclination? That's strange.
If you think about it what do you put spice on? Well what do you put spice on? You put spice on meat. Strange. You think of the evil inclination as meat? That's a very interesting kind of thing. Is meat bad? It doesn't sound like it's so evil. As a matter of fact, if you were stuck on a desert island and you can only have one thing, you could either have your tarragon leaves or you could have your meat, which would you take with you? I think most of us would take meat.
Well let's talk about this. What do we really mean when we talk about the evil inclination anyway? What does that even mean? So when we think of the evil inclination, we call it Satan, or whatever it is, so we tend to think of something faintly childish, like a devil dressed up in a bright red suit. Or maybe this fallen angel that has nothing better to do but sit on your left shoulder and whisper bad advice into your ear. But what really is the evil inclination after all? If it's not that, if we reject those sort of superstitious or faintly childish kind of things, what is that we consider the evil inclination? I think the answer really is that the evil inclination is really nothing less than our passions, our desires. Maybe even a particular kind of desire that's very, very deep within us.
Let's even look at the Hebrew word for evil inclination - Yetzer Hara'ah. Two parts to that phrase, there's Yetzer and there's Hara'ah. So if you start with Yetzer, what does that mean? In Hebrew you spell it like this, and you ask what other word gets spelled like that, Yud, Tzadi, Reish? So for you Hebrew speaks out there, you'll recognize that as a very similar to Yotzer, and it actually means - comes from the word to create. What about the word Ra'ah? The word Ra'ah, the word for bad or gone awry, which kind of leads us to the following translation of that phrase, maybe Yetzer Hara'ah really means at some level creativity or the creative urge gone awry.
One of our deepest passions, I think, a passion that many other desires really flow from is creativity, is the desire to be creative. In a certain way just like G-d is creative. It expresses itself - creativity - in many different kinds of ways. At the biological level, it express itself in sexuality. At the agricultural level, it express itself in farming. You put a seed in land and then water it and it's wow, you've created new life there. At the artistic level I create artistically, architecture, painting, anything. At the technological level for a community - collective of people express themselves by building 747s and iPods and all sorts of things that human beings can create with their collective wisdom built up over the centuries.
So if you think about creativity that way it really is like meat, it's like food, it's fuel for you, fuel for your body, it makes you go. And food, meat, could always use spice. What really is the role of spice? What spice is, is it directs meat, it makes it taste like something. If you put a sprig on thyme on top of meat it will taste different as if you put tarragon or sage on it, it gives it direction. Maybe that's what we're supposed to do with our Yetzer Hara'ah. Our Yetzer Hara'ah is not bad, it doesn't need an antidote, what it needs is spice, it just needs to be directed somewhere. Without direction it's just dangerous, it's almost - if you take another analogy - it looks like engine without a steering wheel. It's a fearsome, it's a powerful machine, but without direction it can be dangerous. Without direction it can even be scary.
All this sort of brings us back to the consequences of eating from the tree. What are those consequences? Let's go over them one more time. Fear of nakedness. Well think about nakedness over here, why nakedness, why is nakedness the consequence? An awareness of nakedness, a fear of nakedness? Well we just talked about creativity being this essential passion which is what our Yetzer Hara'ah is defined by, what this evil inclination is, and - that requires direction. It's like meat. But one of those deep expressions of creativity, there's agriculture, there's art, there's technology, and there's also in this story sexuality, biological creativity, the ability to create new life. Somehow before we ate from the tree nakedness just seemed to be normal, but not after eating from the tree, all of a sudden nakedness was something that we feared. Why?
And again, if you go back to the text it's not actually that we became embarrassed of nakedness really, it's fearful. Back to the Hebrew word; Va'irah ki erome onochi va'echaveh - and I was scared because I was naked and I hid. That's what Adam says to G-d. If you think about that, fear versus embarrassment, what am I embarrassed of? What am I afraid of? Well you're embarrassed - kids talking in the park and telling secrets, so you're embarrassed, but what are you afraid of? You're afraid of things that are larger than you, that can threaten you. A piano is going to come out of an office building and hit you on the head, you're scared. There's something about nakedness that feels like this piano, this thing that can just come and squash you. It's that somehow my relationship to creativity, it has changed. My creative desires become something that feels unwieldy, that can get out of control.
Well why is that? Maybe come back to this analogy. Again, we were talking about mind and we were talking about desire. And who I am [unclear 11:59] essentially. We talked about our essential self being mind. But what if we fool ourselves and we think that our essential self is actually desire, that the self resides right over here? Well going back to our analogy of meat, the Yetzer Hara'ah, the evil inclination, is like fuel. Desire is a fuel, it's the engine that makes you go. A car needs an engine, but what's the mind? The mind is a steering wheel. It's what allows you to actually direct passion so that it goes certain ways, which is exactly what spice does. What does spice do? Spice makes food taste different. If I put tarragon in a food it will taste like this, if I put thyme in a food it will taste like that, if I put rosemary it will taste like that. It's like I can steer this direction, I can steer this direction, I can steer that direction.
What G-d is really saying is that's really what the Torah is. The Torah is your steering wheel with which you can steer this, you can steer this engine and it makes it go. A car is these two things together. But where are you supposed to be? Who are you? If you were mind then it means what you are is you're sitting behind - this is where you are, you're right over here. X marks the spot. You are sitting behind this steering wheel and you're driving and that's where a driver is in a car. But what if you're out of balance? What if you instead of sitting on top of the seat, the driver seat, you're sitting over here? You're sitting on top of the engine and reaching out over here, you're desperately trying to grasp the steering wheel. It doesn't really work, the car is off balance, you feel like you're careening around with this thing that could become a death machine, it now becomes a Yetzer Hara'ah. It can become creativity gone awry, it's this thing that can go anywhere, that you just feel that you can't really control. It can crush you.
Getting back to the other consequences of eating from the tree, the so-called punishments. What are they? Difficulty farming. Difficulty in childbirth. Well look at the common denominator there. Eve, creativity, she builds new life inside her body. Man can't build new life in their body but they can do kind of the next best thing through farming, that's how a male expresses creativity, putting a seed in the ground, watering it, helping it grow. What it seems to be saying with these punishments is that in the wake of eating from the tree your relationship to creativity, the desire becomes skewed, so things don't proceed evenly anymore. There's difficulty in farming, there's difficulty in childbirth. It's like if you have a car that is perfect, that is manufactured the way it's supposed to be, the engine and the steering wheel are all according to factory settings, so everything is fine. But if you go changing things, if you put it off balance, put the driver seat on the engine, then all of a sudden things are difficult. There's difficulty in farming, there's difficulty in childbirth. The way that we relate to our ability to create, something is grinding and that grinding ultimately leads to death.
If you imagine parts of a machine that are factory made and there's just no friction between them, it's a perfect fit. So something like that will never wear out, the parts will keep on going forever. But once they grind, once there is friction between the parts, once it's not the factory settings anymore, they wear out, the engine dies, death comes to the world.
Finally, man no longer at home really even within himself is no longer at home within G-d's world. He leaves. He becomes exiled.
This, I think, also explains G-d's strange question of Adam, where are you? It wasn't a request for location, G-d knows where Adam is. In Hebrew there's two words for where, one is Eifo, the other is Ayei. Eifo is a regular request for location. If you look where Ayei is used in the Torah, Ayei is never where are you, it's where have you gone? Why aren't you here anymore? Why aren't you hear with Me, G-d is saying. It's really a lament, where did you go? There's a separation between G-d and humanity in the wake from eating from the tree.
This then is really my picture I want to leave you with of the Adam and Eve and tree of knowledge story. It's a story about what does it mean to be human and how are we different than animals. In eating from that tree we bought a little bit into the snake's vision. Having brought desire into ourselves, we've always got to ask ourselves - we look out through the world and we see something is good, what do we mean by good? It's the true, it's what is right, or maybe we just mean, it's what we want to do? It's not always easy to tell the difference but that's the challenge.
When we come back we're going to look beyond the story of the tree of knowledge of good and evil to the other stories in the first 12 chapters of Genesis. I want to argue that the tree of knowledge of good and evil is a lynchpin for understanding the rest of the stories, all the way from Chapter 1, verse 1, from the beginning of creation all the way through the story of the Tower of Babel. Somehow kind of everything revolves around this story of the tree of knowledge. I hope to show you how that's so when we continue and we'll pick up from the beginning of Genesis. I'll see you then.
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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