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What Is the Meaning of Life?
Video 6 of 7
Just on a personal note I want to say this series has been a lot of fun to record, and it's really been a journey for me. I don't know if you as a listener see it as a journey, but certainly the process of recording was a kind of unexpected adventure. I think when I first started researching this course - and I was doing it together with Immanuel Shalev who should get a lot of the credit here for being a very vigorous kind of Chavrutah in this process with me. When I started, I really had no idea where we were going to end up with. I had ideas about where I was going to end up with but it wasn't actually this. It was an unexpected adventure. Your comments helped steer things in particular directions, my interaction with Immanuel here in the office steered things in particular directions, and just as I began to grapple with the concepts they took different shape for me as time went on, and I'm always excited when that happens.
I think like any good saga it continues past the nominal end point. This week is going to be the end point here, but really there's so much here and so many other avenues to explore after having laid this foundation that I really want to give us one last chance to kind of do that as a group. So I'm happy to announce we are actually going to schedule a webinar. If you want to participate live in that webinar, we can only accommodate X amount of people, so we're going to open that up to our Premium tier of subscribers - a good opportunity if you're thinking of wanting to support Aleph Beta even more, to upgrade your membership to Premium. And if you're a subscriber at our regular tier, do not fret, you'll be able to hear a recording of the webinar when we release it the next day. The date for the webinar live, the interactive kind of live experience, that's going to be at 8:30 pm Eastern Standard Time, on August 5. So put that in your calendars, 8:30 pm Eastern Standard Time, August 5. I look forward to getting to schmooze with all you guys in real time about all of this.
Also feel free to send in advance questions or comments and we'll try to get to those in the webinar. You can send those to firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, that's email@example.com.
In the meantime, on to our regularly, scheduled podcast, here we go. Last week I plotted for you a kind of path between what I had been calling world 1 and world 2. World 1, where man focuses on creativity, world 2 where man focuses on connection. I suggested that there was a kind of natural progression here, that if world 1 is focused on imitating G-d, on little creator trying to sort of actualize his creativity in imitation of Big Creator, capital C, there's a reason for that, it's a necessary step on the road to connection. What I mean by that is that before you can be in a relationship you really have to be a somebody. You become a somebody, you assert your independence as it were, by expressing creativity in the world, doing what G-d did on some small scale. When you do that, when you establish yourself as a somebody in some kind of way, you can begin to enter into a relationship with another somebody. You can begin to take steps towards what we've been calling world 2.
But today I want to consider with you the disaster scenario. In other words, last week we talked about an ideal scenario when man develops creatively and then enters into a relationship, but there is a disaster scenario, where everything sort of goes off the rails and the Torah gives you a picture of that at the very beginning of Biblical history. If you think about the beginning of the Bible as two visions of creation itself, with Genesis Chapter 1 and Genesis Chapter 2, we can almost think of that as G-d sort of laying the tablecloth, putting down a setting for the story that's going to follow. So if that's the setting for the story, where does the story really begin? The story begins after the two accounts of creation; creation 1 and creation 2, well what's the first story you have there? The story of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Right there at the beginning of history I think we get a vision of what it looks like to go off the rails. It's not just that the Bible was being dour and deciding to start with sin because man is inherently sinful or something like that, or would just want to make us all depressed. No. The tree of knowledge temptation is a necessary feature of life after world number 1. You have to struggle with it as you enter world number 2, there's no way around it, and here's why. Man has a challenge in world number 1, that challenge is to actualize his own innate sense of creativity. To understand that he is little creator imitating Big Creator. When things go well it all looks fine. When things go well little creator does creative things, he engages in technological innovation, he builds dams, water systems, composes operas, and good things can flow out of that.
One of those good things that we talked about a couple of weeks ago is respect. If I understand that there's something sacred inside of me, little creator, and I see you, and you're little creator too, another Tzelem Elokim. And I see Bob and I see Phil and Sandy and Susie and all these people, and I understand that they're all inherently so special, ends in and of themselves, they deserve ultimate respect from me, and I treat them with that respect. That's a great thing. I treat G-d Himself, the Master Creator, all the more so with respect, and that's a good thing too.
But here's how the whole enterprise can go off the rails. There's a dark side to being a Tzelem Elokim, a creator in the image of G-d. The dark side of Tzelem Elokim, of being little creator, of respect, of self-respect, is that I become so infused - intoxicated as it were - with the might of my own creative powers, that I'm not willing to recognize a Grand Creator above me. It would be so much more convenient for me if the buck stopped with me. The challenge of Tzelem Elokim is to recognize that you're only a Tzelem Elokim, you're not Elokim Himself, you're not G-d Himself, don't give in to that illusion.
Now, if I were to give into that illusion, what would my experience in the garden look like? Instead of the utopian vision of the garden, where, having learned to respect myself and others and G-d I can engage in relationships with them in this beautiful garden, you have the dystopian vision of the garden, where man succumbs to the temptation to eat from the forbidden fruit. I want to eat from the Master's tree - why? Here's why. I like pretending that I'm master of the garden. That's a dress-up role I can really get into. G-d, He wants to give me all these gifts, all these fruits, but I don't like being dependent upon someone else. If I was in charge of the garden, if all of these gifts weren't just gifts, but they were by rights mine - if my room came with all of these Lego battleships, all of these toys - if that's just the way it was, then I wouldn't have to worry about anyone looking over my shoulder anymore. I would have the ultimate control over my own destiny, I would even control good and evil themselves.
Let me stop and ask you a question, why is the forbidden fruit of all things called the tree of knowledge of good and evil? What a strange name. Why would the Master's tree, specifically be called that? What does one thing have to with the other? What does eating from that tree have to do with knowing good and evil? Is it a philosophy tree? What does it even mean? And besides, how does this tree change my perceptions, does it have some fairy dust in it that somehow magically transforms me?
I want to suggest it's not magic at all, there's actually a rational mechanism by which this tree does its work. As a matter of fact, it couldn't be otherwise, it has to be that eating from the Master's tree changes the way you look at good and evil, because what is good and evil? I mean just on a very simple level, what is good and evil? You know one of the problems we have when we look at the story is that we over-philosophize it, you know, what is good and what is evil, and we think about ontology and epistemology and all these philosophical issues and Kant and Hegel and all these things. What does the Torah mean? Theologically how - what is good and evil really? Let's put that all aside and just ask a very simple question, what does good actually mean as the Bible uses it? You know, the way you know a word and what it means in the Bible is by looking at how the Bible uses it. So how does the Bible actually use the word good in the early parts of Genesis? How does it use the word evil in the early parts of Genesis?
Let's actually take a look at it and our look is actually going to show us what this tree of knowledge of good and evil is all about. Where does the word good appear in the early parts of creation? Well, after G-d creates everything, every day He looks at it and behold it is good. Vayar Elokim ki tov, Vayar Elokim ki tov - over and over again, G-d sees that it is good. So it's interesting, G-d actually is a knower of Tov. Actually, that's what the snake sort of says, the snake says, oh don't eat from the tree because the tree is going to make you be like G-d knowing good and evil. The definition of G-d is the one who knows good and evil. Well it's sort of true. G-d knows good, we know that, He keeps on saying it after He creates everything.
Well if G-d knows good, does He know evil? Do you ever have G-d talking about evil or knowing evil? So at face value not, because in creation you don't ever have; Vayar Elokim ki ra'ah - that G-d sees that something is Ra'ah. But you know what, if you look later on in the Torah you'll actually find that you do have something like that, right before the flood; Vayar Hashem ki rabah ra'at ha'adam ba'aretz … vayitatzeiv el libo - G-d saw that the evil of man's heart was very great, and He became very sad. That's the last thing that happens before G-d decides to destroy the world. It's [actually the same 11:35] formulation as; Vayar Elokim ki tov. Here it's Vayar Hashem ki rabah ra'at ha'adam. Instead of seeing that things are good, here He sees things are bad - and, by the way, decides to destroy the world. The first time around when He sees things are good, He decides to keep what He's created. But when He sees things are bad, He decides to destroy what He's created.
You know what, there's a middle stage too. The last thing G-d created was man, humankind, but after He created man, for the first time G-d says; Loh tov - it's not good for man to be alone; E'eseh lo ezer kenegdo - I am going to make him someone to be with him, a companion for him. That leads to the story of the creation of woman. So what does Loh Tov mean in context? Well if Tov means that's really good, I'm going to keep it, if Ra'ah means that's bad, I'm going to get rid of it, we're going to have a flood, Loh Tov means that's okay but it's not good enough, it needs improvement, so I'm going to fix it. It's almost like there are these three grades that G-d can give creation. There's Check Plus which is good, we'll keep that, there's we're going to Get Rid Of That, that's Ra'ah, and then there's Needs Improvement, which is Loh Tov.
If you think about it, it makes sense, those are actually the three grades that you would expect a creator to give what he's created, you would want a creator to give grades to what he's created because a creator has responsibilities. The responsibility of a creator is to make sure that he doesn't mess up and bring something into being which is really awful. You want to make sure what you create works. So a creator has to stand back and evaluate it and see whether he thinks it's good or not. He has a responsibility to do that. Not only does he have a responsibility to do that, he has the ability to do it, because he can do so objectively. He's outside of the system. You see everything in the system, inside creation, all of those things have an interest, they're biased, you can't trust them to decide this is how things should be. But the creator doesn't have any interest, he's outside the system, he doesn't even live in the system, his only interest is just making sure that the system is good. So he's the one that can decide yeah, we've got to fix this, take care of that, get rid of this, this is good.
So the creator really is the knower of good and evil, which explains in a deep way, the temptation of humankind to eat from the tree. What's really in it for you to pretend that you are Big Creator? You see if you let little creator, that sense that I am a creator, if you let that sense get out of control and you come to think of yourself as THE ultimate power in the universe, I am the ultimate creator because there's nothing above me in the food chain, well then you can delude yourself into thinking - you will delude yourself into thinking - that it is up to you to make declarations about how things should be. And wouldn't it be great to have that power? And indeed that is the consequence of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It's not fairy dust that changes your way of looking at good and evil, it's a natural consequence of eating from the Master's tree. If you think you're the master, that's what happens. You arrogate to yourself the right to make these distinctions, to say, yes, this is the way it should be, this is good, this is not good, this is not the way it should be.
The only problem is, you're not outside the system, little creator, you're in the system, you have interest, you have a horse to race in the system. You have all sorts of biases, all sorts of interests. But now - now you don't really have to deal with that, do you? You don't even have to admit that they're there. Those interests can influence you and you don't have to feel bad about it, because you can just declare that this is the way it should be. Things should be the way that I see it. You can pretend you're objective when you're not.
And that's the frustrating thing with evil in the post-tree world, nobody thinks they're evil anymore. Stalin, Hitler, they all think I'm doing the world a favor, no, this is the way the world should be, it should "judenrein", we should kill 10 billion people in a purge. Yeah, this is the way things should be, I'm in charge. And even the greatest villain, just says, no, I have the power to say this is how things should be, I'm not bad. All of my desires just hide behind this faked objectivity that I can just make these decisions.
The word Tov in Hebrew as well as English is one of these very hard to pin down words because it really has two meanings. Tov can mean that which is right, good and just, that's one sense of the word, but it can also mean that which I like, that which conforms to my desires. The problem is, when someone in the system uses the word Tov, there's that tension between the two. I never really know which Tov I'm talking about. I think I'm talking about this is the right, good and just, but really it's just the Tov of my desires, it's hiding behind that.
Leads to a situation - I facetiously described in my book: The Beast that Crouches at the Door, a dark and rainy night in Manhattan. The dark and rainy night, and you park and you have a beat-up, old Suburban, and you hear the sickening thud and you look behind you, there's no one there, but there's this Porsche, with this mangled front end, and it looks like you hit it, that you backed up into it. And the question is should you leave a note?
You're about to leave a note, but then you start thinking to yourself, I don't know, how do I know that I hit it? I mean it's true I did hear a sickening thud as a I backed up, and it's true there is a mangled front end in that Porsche, but maybe that front end was mangled before I got there? Maybe the thud was when I ran over that Coke can in the gutter. And anyway he's so rich, I mean look he has a Porsche and what was he doing parking there when anyone could hit him like that? I mean he was just inviting this. He's probably insured, it's not going to hurt him or anything, and I can't afford this, my insurance rates are going to go up and he's rich, it's not going to make a difference to him. This is Robin Hood, this is the poor against the rich and it's the rights of the downtrodden.
Before you know it, you've worked yourself up into a frenzy, where you think that it's the absolute positive and right and just thing for you to rebel and not write that note. Because the two kinds of good get conflated; which good is it, what I want or the way things should be?
So what's happening in our story? The man of world number 1, that Tzelem Elokim, the proud possessor of creativity, small c, has a challenge going into world 2, how will I deal with that power, with that sacredness that I sense inside myself? Will I deal correctly with it? Will I use that as a force for respect on my way to love? Will I understand that I have to have self-respect, I can't allow myself to be squashed, I have that sanctity, I have self-esteem. Will I assert my respect for others? Will I look around and say, you, you are another little creator, another little c, and I have to respect you and I have to respect you, and I have to respect you. That's one way I can do it, but it's not the only way. There's a dark side to Tzelem Elokim, to seeing that power of little creator inside yourself.
The dark side is to magnify that power and say that's all there is, and in effect I am the only creator here and nothing else matters. It means G-d doesn't matter anymore, I will eat from the fruits of His tree, I am master of the garden. It means the land itself is subservient, it's not something that I need to be in relationship with. No, I'm the master, it's mine, I will take its bounty and do with it what I will. It means, as well, that I don't really have to have respect for other humans either. I, after all, am the knower of good and evil, my way of seeing things makes it the way it ought to be, it's my way or the highway now. Once I take that approach all of my relationships suffer, all of them break. My relationship with G-d breaks, my relationship with land breaks and my relationship with woman breaks. And those are the punishments from eating from the tree.
The punishments aren't really punishments, they're consequences. Listen to the various punishments that comes as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Think about what the common denominator here is in all of them. Consequence number 1; Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden. Then for Eve; B'etzev teildi banim - in sadness will you bear children, in toil will you bear children. And; V'el isheich teshukaseich v'hu yimshal bach - your desire will be for your husband but he can rule over you. Now to the man; Arurah ha'adamah ba'avurecha - cursed be the land on your account; B'itzavon tochlenah - in sadness and in toil will you eat from it all the days of your life. V'kotz v'dardar tatzmi'ach lach - thorns and thistles will it grow for you; V'achalta et eisev hasadeh - when you eat the grass of the field. Bezei'as apecha tochal lechem - by the sweat of your brow you will eat bread; Ad shuvcha el ha'adamah - until you return to the dust, because from dust you were taken. What themes bind together all of these punishments?
The themes are broken creativity and broken relationships. The relationship with G-d breaks. G-d casts you out of the garden, [you sinned and not 21:29] love anymore so why are you in My special place, leave. Your relationship with land breaks. You were supposed to be the servant of land, to understand that you came from it, to take its gifts and its bounty and to understand from whence it came. But now, now you tried to manipulate land, you tried to dominate it illegitimately, you tried to pretend that you were the master and therefore the land will remind you who is master. You will work it, you will try to unify with it, but you will be struck with sadness every time you will because it won't really work. The land will dominate you even as you come to work it, it will not yield to you, thorns and thistles will come from all of your efforts, you won't be able to cultivate it effectively, the land will remind you who the boss is. You used to have a nice, symbiotic, innocent relationship with land, if you manipulate it, it's going to manipulate you back.
So the punishment for land is about a broken relationship with land but it's also about broken creativity with reference to land. Little creator, you thought you could be Big Creator, right? Yeah, you'll want to create, you'll want to create with land, won't you? You'll become a bread maker. What is a bread maker? You're making processed food, you're using Melacha to shape things the way you like it. You're not just taking fruits, you're making bread, you're taking seeds and smashing it and then making it into flour. Playing these life and death games where you kill the wheat and then you take the wheat and you put water back in and you enliven it with yeast and then you kill it again and then - and you make your bread and it's all this great Melacha, playing G-d thing. But you know what? You're going to do that in sadness.
What's so sad about making bread? B'itzavon tochlenah kol yemei chayecha … bezei'as apecha tochal lechem - by the sweat of your brow you'll make bread, in sadness will you eat from it. In sadness will you eat from it because the sense of connection to land will be gone. Yeah, you can be creator if you like, you can dominate, but world number 1, little creator man, was just supposed to usher you into world number 2, a world of connection. But your connection to land is broken. So you're going to make your bread, but you're going to feel sadness when you make the bread, that sense of connecting and coming back to land in a joyous way, that you won't have any more. Yes, you'll come back to land but it's going to be sad and you'll come back to it, by the way, in death. Aphar atah v'el aphar tashuv - you're dust and you're going to come back to land in dust. So that's how you'll [connect 24:23] to land, not in a joyous way now, in a sad way, little creator.
So if your relationship with G-d becomes broken, you get cast out of the garden, your relationship with land becomes broken, relationship between people becomes broken as well. This is one of the most poignant tragedies of the garden.
It begins with the sin of eating from the fruit itself. Loh tov heyot ha'Adam levado - it wasn't good for man to be alone, so G-d created a woman so that they could unify and find joy with each other, two fragments that find each other, masculine side and a feminine side, searching for their lost other half. Love was supposed to reign between them. What would love mean? It would mean coming together with one another and understanding who the other is. That's what love always is. Taking gifts and taking pleasure from one another when I recognize who you really are, who is giving me that pleasure.
But there's a game that we can play in love and it's not such a nice game, it's the squashing of recognition. Adam can play it and Eve can play it, and each does in the early stories of Genesis. What's the meaning of Eve giving the fruit to Adam? Adam is attracted to Eve, his lost feminine side, but when she says, yes, I'll accept you, but here's this fruit, it will make you like G-d, what does that in essence mean? It means I'll accept you but the conditional here is, why don't you have some of this fruit? I had it and I'm pretending that I'm G-d, maybe if you had it, I'd like you even better - that's the implied idea. And this is the great tragedy of playing this game in love, which is I'll love you but not for who you are, but from some dream of who you can be that you can't really be. If you could be like G-d maybe I'd love you even more.
So that's one kind of treachery between man and woman, but here's another kind. Look at Adam. Adam, he eats from the tree, so does he have responsibility for that? Yeah, it's true Eve gave him the fruit but look, he had free choice, he didn't have to eat from the tree, he ate from the tree. G-d says, what did you do? Listen to Adam's response. It aint my fault; Ha'Isha asher natata imadi - the woman who You gave me G-d; Hi natnah li min ha'etz va'ochel - she's the one who gave it to me and I ate. Listen to this, it's preposterous. Whose fault is it? Well it's Eve's fault she gave it to me. It's actually not even Eve's fault it's Your fault, because You're the one who gave me Eve who gave it to me. It's everybody's fault but mine. Who are you? Are you crazy? Look you're saying this to the Master of the Universe, you think you can really get away from this?
But that's the bitter fruits of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, isn't it? You're the maker of right and wrong now, you're the one who gets to decide how it should be, that's the way it looks from my perspective. Yeah, the fact that it's my desire influencing me and I'm partial, I don't see that. Everyone can see you're crazy except for yourself. To you it makes perfect sense to say it's not my fault, it was her fault and it's G-d's fault, it's everybody's fault but mine.
Eve betrays Adam in love and Adam turns around and betrays Eve in love. G-d says, you know what, this is going to become a pattern. When you eat from the tree and you don't even know who you are anymore, you don't even understand you're little creator anymore. You're all dressing up and thinking your Big Creator and that's why you're naked, you can't even deal with it, because you can't bear to look at yourself and admit that you're just human, that you're just a player in this game. You want to pretend you're outside the system and the great knower of good and evil? Your relationships will come crashing down. Because your relationships are built on the fact that there's little creator here, and there's little creator, and there's little creator there, and there's two of them, and there's four of them, there's six of them, there's millions of them. But each one of you are going to think there's really only one, that you're the big C, the Big Creator, and might makes right, and it's your way or the highway, and how are you ever going to get along with anyone?
So let me propose an interesting kind of way of reading what we normally think of as punishments, as natural outcomes. Man's punishment, he sought to dominate the earth and now the earth will come back and doesn't like being dominated, so the earth is going to end up dominating him. So Eve, there was something manipulative about offering the fruit for Adam, so it's like the manipulation is going to come back to bite you, he's stronger than you are; V'el isheich teshukaseich - you're still going to desire him too; V'hu yimshal bach - and he could use his physical strength to dominate you. The Torah is giving you a vision of broken love, of what love and union looks like when it's broken. Yes, you'll still come back together, humans in world number 1; Zachar u'nekeiva barah otom - the language from world number 1, male and female He created them, you're co-creators, you'll still come back to create. But the world number 2, love between you, it's been broken, it's been shattered, you're in a fight with each other.
You know what happens when there's intimacy between you but you're in a fight? It's a very lonely kind of creativity isn't it? It's all about having kids. You'll have kids, but; B'etzev teildi banim - in sadness will you bear children. (A) It's not going to be so easy anymore, creativity gets broken now because you misused creativity thinking that you were master creator. (B) Not just in toil will you bear children, but the other meaning, the more literal meaning of [B'itzavon/B'etzev 30:48, in sadness will you bear children. What if you conceive children with physical intimacy but without emotional intimacy? That's what it's like when there's intimacy in a fight, it's sadness, and you can still have kids, but it's sad.
When you think about it, the vision of all of the punishments of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, what they're really all about is leaving world 2 behind and being stuck in world number 1. Leaving behind the world of love, the world of connection. So yeah, you'll still be a creator, man, you'll still try to create from the land, but there's a sadness because your connection to land is impaired. Yeah, man and woman, you'll still come together to create, but there's a sadness because the connection between you is impaired. And you'll be banished from Eden, from the special place where you connect with G-d, and you'll be missing that connection too.
The tragedy continues with what happens next. Look at the story that immediately follows the banishment from Eden. Here are Adam and Eve cast out of the garden, cast out and away from world number 2, marooned in this lonely but creative world number 1, and what happens? The first words after the banishment; V'ha'Adam yadah et Chava ishto - and man knew his wife Chava. Now knowing here of course is a euphuism for intimacy, because she is going to become pregnant and she's going to have a child. But listen to how that intimacy is characterized and listen to how different it is from the way intimacy got characterized in world number 2.
First of all even the word Yadah is ominous - know, as a euphemism for intimacy, man knew Eve. Listen to that verb, what does it remind you of? What was the main feature of the last story, the tree of - knowing - good and evil. It's almost as if in this act of intimacy you get the dark echoes of that tree. How so? Well, let's remember the way it was supposed to be back in the garden, in the utopian vision of the garden. In world number 2 intimacy was mutual; V'davak b'ishto vehayu l'basar echad - man and woman, man clings to woman and they become one flesh. THEY become ONE flesh. Equality. Mutuality. Listen to how different it is now; And man knew Eve. Very unilateral, wouldn't you say? He's the only one doing anything, it's as if she's just this thing and he's using her. V'ha'Adam yadah et Chava ishto - Et is a connector in Hebrew between a verb and a direct object, it's almost like he's treating her like an object, she is something to be acted upon.
So let's go back to this euphemism for intimacy; 'knowing', with its echoes of the tree. It's almost as if the Torah is saying, his intimacy with her is overshadowed by that tree. How so? The tree is the thing that makes me say it's all about me and my way of seeing things and if I take that into intimacy and it's all about me, then you're just something that I use. So man uses Eve in a kind of way.
But then what happens? Eve becomes pregnant with a child that she will ultimately name Kayin - Cain. She says something remarkable when she gives birth, she says; Kaniti ish et Hashem - I have acquired this man with G-d. This little man. You can imagine this woman overcome with the wonder of childbirth, there's this little man that's come from me, it's the most miraculous, crazy thing in the world. Me and G-d; Kaniti ish et Hashem - we've created this man together. Hmm, who did she leave out of the picture? She left Adam out of the picture. Oh yeah, him, just a momentary contribution, I carried this baby for nine months, G-d made the biochemistry, it was really me and G-d. Look what just happened here. Man used her and made her into insignificance in his own eyes, and what about her, she looks at the same act and sees him as insignificant in her eyes. Everybody has got their own way of seeing things where you're the center and the other is insignificant. That's the bitter fruits of the tree.
I want to close by exploring a mystical symbol that emerges at the end of the story of the garden, because I think if you look at that symbol carefully, just right there in that image that forms in your mind you get a picture of everything we've been talking about. The symbol I'm talking about are angels, known as Keruvim - cherubs. As Adam and Eve are banished from the garden, G-d sets up two angels - these cherubs - to make sure that they will never get back into this special, sacred place, the garden. Who are these cherubs and what do they signify?
Interestingly, they're holding a sword - a flaming sword, but the sword is described in a strange way, not only is it flaming but it's a; Cherev Hamit'hapechet - which means it's a double-edged sword. So picture this, these two angelic beings and there's this sword between them. So here's the interesting thing about Keruvim, they always come in pairs, you never find just one, that's the way they are here right outside of Eden and that's where they are later on in the Torah when they appear in the Tabernacle. Adam and Eve, as they're banished from Eden, they're a pair too, and these paired angels they have a sword between them; Adam and Eve, didn't they really have a sword between them too?
The argument I'd like to make to you is that the Keruvim - the angels, as Adam and Eve turn around, as they're banished from the garden and they look back and they see those angels, all they're seeing is reflections of themselves. Who are they? In a way, they are angelic beings, they are a little slice of the creator, they're in the image of G-d, they're the only mortal thing on earth that has that Divine spark, that's little creator, the sentient being, just like G-d. There's something so wonderful and important about that. And here are these two beings, that were taken from each other, who should be in love but instead of being in love they're in a fight with each other. There's a sword between them, they look at the Keruvim and they see themselves; the cherubs are nothing but a reflection of themselves, two beings who should be in love but are separated by a double-edged sword.
A sword has two edges here because when I use it against you, what does the other edge do? It slices into me. Which is the irony of every fight between two people who should be in love, we're a we, so if I destroy you what am I really destroying, I'm destroying our we, and yet I tear you down anyway. That's the great irrationality of the human condition, when little creator thinks that it's big creator, that it's my way or the high way, that I and I alone am the arbiter of right and wrong and good and evil. How can we compromise anymore if I know the truth, if it's my way? You know, if I understand that I'm little creator and I understand that you're little creator and we each have different ways of seeing things in the world, we can respect each other and get along and we can have love - and respect as the foundation of love. But, if I think that it's my way or the highway and I'm outside the system and I have THE way of seeing it, how do I compromise with you anymore? And my relationships fall apart. Not just my relationship with G-d, my relationship with my beloved other humans, my relationship with Eve.
And that is the tragedy of the cherubs with the sword between them, it's just a reflection of Adam and Eve themselves. Even look at the word for sword, how do you spell sword in Hebrew? Chet, Reish, Beit. How do you spell cherub in Hebrew? Chaf, Reish, Beit, almost exactly the same. You know what that means? It means that the word for sword in Hebrew, it's just a corrupted form of the word for Keruv. If I take Keruv - angel, and I mess with it, it becomes sword. Here are these two Keruvim, but if you corrupt the connection between them somehow then a Cherev emerges between them and separates them, and that's the tragedy.
By the way, right there, in that image, is kind of all of human history. You know, I registered for this course recently on Coursera, it was a course about the art of war, so to speak, the philosophy of war, taught by a professor at Princeton. In the course he argues that war is not really an aberration, it's fundamental to humanity, it's a lens through which you can view humanity. I think almost the Torah's view is exactly the opposite. War is a corruption of humanity. We're supposed to be angels - Keruvim with a Chaf. When somehow our view of ourselves as creators get corrupted, when we see ourselves as master creator, war is inevitable, we're just not going to be able to get along, there's going to be a sword between us and everyone else.
Isn't it interesting, if you think about kingship, where does kingship come from? It comes from swords. Kingship is the idea that I'm on top of the world. Anthropologically, how did kings develop? Well the mightiest warrior, the one who defended your tribe against the others, and killed more of the other guy than everyone else, he becomes king. There's this very close connection between violence and little creator thinking he's big creator.
There's one final tragedy in the Keruvim, again, going back to world number 1, world number 2. World number 1 is supposed to be the basis for world number 2, but after the banishment from Eden, the sadness of that banishment is that you're marooned in world number 1, where I'm a creator but without the connection and love of world number 2 - in all my relationships. That too is signified in a fascinating way by the language of the Keruvim. How do you spell Keruv - one more time - Chaf, Reish, Beit. I mentioned they are paired angels, these letters; Chaf, Reish and Beit, they are all the paired letters. As you may know, letters in the Hebrew language they have numerical values; the numerical value for Chaf - 20, the numerical value for Reish - 200, the numerical value for Beit - 2. You see the common denominator? They're all the twos; 2, 20 and 200. So these paired angels called the Keruvim; Chaf, Reish, Beit, that's if you spell it forward.
But bear with me for a second, spell it backwards. Beit, Reish, Chaf. What does Keruv spelled backwards spell? It spells Bareich - which means blessed. Okay so we have a Keruv here within these first two chapters of Bereishit, what about Bareich, do we ever have a blessing? Oh yeah we actually do. Isn't that interesting? Going out of Eden, after the banishment from Eden, we meet two Keruvim, but what about going into Eden? At the close of world 1, right before you get ready for world 2, before there was a garden, before man was in Eden, when world 1 talked about the creation of man, man the creator, after G-d created man on the sixth day; Vayevarech otam - and He blessed them. Giving them the mandate of little creator, to be fruitful and to multiply. That's what males and females do together.
Remember there's two reasons why males and females come together, there's a world number 1 reason and there's a world number 2 reason. The world number 1 reason is you're my co-creator, I cannot create without you. But that's a utilitarian reason to come together. In a way, if that is all it is then you're my tool, I can't create without you, I just need you in order to create, I'm using you for something. World number 2 introduces something else. World number 2 takes that idea of being a creator as a basis and builds upon it, and if you build upon it properly, if you let that sense that I'm a creator grow into a sense of self-respect, of mutual respect of other creators, and then you're ready love and you can enter into this relationship with them. Then, world number 2 ushers you into a whole new world of relationships. V'davak b'ishto vehayu l'basar echad, a new reason why males and females might come together, and it's not just to create, it's to connect, it's to be whole, to cling to one another; Vehayu l'basar echad - and to become one, to restore a wholeness. And that is love.
If the impetus for intimacy between man and woman in world number 1 is creativity, the impetus in world number 2 is love.
Now imagine yourself visually. Here you are, you're Adam and Eve, you've just been created, you have this immense creative power inside you, you're in world number 1 and now just imagine being ushered by the Creator into the garden in world number 2. Being ushered in there by hearing this blessing of being fruitful and multiply, and then being introduced to the garden, into this world of love and connection and a whole new level of your relationship. So it's almost as if you can imagine that Chuppah that you're going to, it's adorned with these words, that blessing that G-d is giving you on the sixth day as He's ushering you into the garden; Beis, Reish, Chaf. You're passing through it and you see, Beis, Reish, Chaf, on top of you, Bareich - blessing. You hear this blessing from G-d and now you're in the garden and G-d wants you to be in love.
But somehow you ate from the tree, the Master's own tree, and your relationship with each other began to fall apart. Eve manipulates Adam, Adam comes back and blames her and manipulates her and their relationship is in tatters. Now you're being banished and you look back towards that Chuppah and what do you see? You see Keruvim; Chaf, Reish, Beit. You're actually seeing the Beracha backwards. You're seeing that same Beis, Reish, Chaf but you're looking at it from the other side, so you're seeing a mirror image of it, and it doesn't look like Beis, Reish, Chaf anymore, it looks like, Chaf, Reish, Beit. So what do you see? You don't see the bridal canopy of blessing anymore, you see something else, you see the Keruvim; Chaf, Reish, Beit, these cherubs who should be in love. You see yourself, but you see yourselves with the sword between you because that's all you are now, lovers with a sword separating them. That's the real tragedy of Adam and Eve as they're banished from the garden.
In conclusion, let me share with you just a closing thought, as I kind of wrap up this series. I think we've really seen two different paths to meaning that really is one large path. It begins with Tzelem Elokim, actualizing yourself as a creator, and hopefully blossoms into all kinds of wonderful relationships where you're a fragment of something larger and you come together with that something larger. And that wholeness feels wonderful and we call it love. That's what it's all about. Life is about building but hopefully building things and gifts and homes for the ones that you love, connecting with them. But there's a danger on the way, the danger is, Tzelem Elokim it's special stuff, sacred stuff, being in the image of G-d. It's the key to our glory but could also be the key to our downfall. It's a glory we all have and don't mistake it and think that you don't have it.
You know, last week I talked about creativity in the grandest of terms; the internet startup founder, the composer who composes a symphony. But we all have creativity, it's what makes us human. We feel alive when we create. When we plant roses and we work the land, we're creating, there's something spiritual about that. When we build a house, we're creating, when we compose an essay, when we have kids, it's all around us creativity, and we should revel in it, it's what makes us godly. We should use it to find within ourselves to respect others, to respect G-d, and for it to be the beginning of a bridge to relationships that we build to others. We should find self-respect in creativity, but we can't let little creator succumb to the belief that it's all about me.
It's an easy belief to succumb to, look how powerful human creativity is. Right now we have spacecraft hurtling past Pluto with seven perfectly calibrated, scientific instruments, ready to take snapshots of it as it passes at ten miles per second. That spaceship was launched ten years ago, I think, in 2005. It's hundreds of millions of miles away and it's still communicating with us. We are powerful, our creativity is the key to that. The question that faces humanity over the next hundred or thousand years is whether we can survive the onslaught of our creativity, or will we use it to destroy ourselves in war? There are tragic consequences for little creator thinking he's Big Creator. In the macro level it can be the end the world, it could be the end of nations in war. On a micro level it could be the end of your relationship with your wife, with your kids, when you war against them, when you think your way of seeing it is the way of seeing it and you have the keys to good and evil.
Really finding meaning in life, means understanding who you are. There's a Chassidic story, I think, about a man who would have two pieces of paper, one in each pocket. On one; Onochi aphar v'epher - I am just dust. On the other; Bishvili nivrah ha'olam - because of me the world is created. Finding meaning in life is about holding both of those pieces of paper in your pocket and they're not contradictory. On the one hand we are just dust, we're going to die. That's ultimately the lesson we had to learn after we pretended to be Big Creator. You think you're Big Creator, life is over after 100 years or so, we're all going to die, we're just dust and we return to the dust. Ah, but what dust are we? Look at how sacred we are. Look at how wonderful we are. We can create, we can relate, and in so doing, have the most meaningful of lives.
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