The Lullaby Effect
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
The stories of Genesis are familiar to us, but their meaning often seems maddeningly elusive. Why would Hashem want to deny humanity knowledge of good and evil? Aren't we better off being able to distinguish right from wrong? What are we to make of a talking snake? And why would Hashem find the building of a tower in the Land of Babel so problematic?
In this course, Rabbi Fohrman takes students on a journey of discovery into the text and Midrashei Chazal - revealing layers of meaning that are both startling and profound. Rather than seeing the early topics in Bereishis as a disjointed series of stories, Rabbi Fohrman shows how they all weave together to form a larger, majestic whole.
This course will explore the first unit of this course. If you enjoy it, you are invited to further explore Genesis Unveiled and the other exciting courses at Aleph Beta Academy.
For a more in depth version of Genesis Unveiled, we recommend listening to A Brief History Of The World: From Adam To Abraham, the first of four sets of lecture series that span the entire book of Genesis! Be sure to listen to it all! The remaining sets of lecture series are: Abraham's Journey 1, Abraham's Journey 2, and Jacob: Man of Truth?
Hi everybody, this is Rabbi David Fohrman, welcome to these series of classes on the Book of Genesis. Today I just want to give you an introduction to what it is that we're doing here. We're going to be looking at essentially the first 12 Chapters of the Book of Genesis, that covers a lot of stories which are probably familiar to you, stories that you've heard about ever since you were a kid in some way, shape or form, they just permeate Western society, if not Jewish society. Stories like the creation story: the six days of creation culminating in the Sabbath, the seventh day of creation.
Then we have the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. The story of Cain and Abel, the very first murder. The story of the flood, the deluge that wipes out of all mankind. Then this weird little story - probably not quite as well known - the story of Noah and the vineyard, when Noah plants this vineyard and gets drunk and ends up cursing one of his children with disastrous results for that child. Finally, the last story in the series, the Tower of Babel, the famous story of the people who get together and build this tower in a valley, G-d doesn't like the tower for some reason, decides to destroy it.
These are sort of famous stories, we all have some sort of inkling of some of these, we're going to be looking at these stories in depth. Let me talk for a moment about exactly how we are going to cover them. We're really going to be doing a few things. The first thing we're going to do is we're going to look at each story in detail, we're going to ask a lot of questions about it. We're just going to try to isolate what are the questions that any intelligent person would ask about the story if they were looking at it for the first time. Out of those questions we're going to work and try to build a theory about what is going on at the most basic level on these stories.
The second thing we're going to be doing after we look at each one of these stories in and of themselves, is look at how these stories relate to other stories, to surrounding stories. Each one of these stories in a fascinating kind of way relates in almost a web-like kind of way to other sections of text. There's a relationship between each story and every other story, and you see it in the language that the text uses. Subtle, literary clues that are linking you over and over again to particular other stories, and somehow those other stories are being brought in almost as shades of color, as harmony to the main story, shedding light, enriching the picture. I don't expect you to exactly know what I'm talking about right now, but as we go forward, you'll get a sense of exactly what I mean by this and I think it will become very clear to you.
So that's in a nutshell how it is that we're going to cover things and what it is that we're going to cover.
Let me kind of jump in and just give you a little bit of an introduction to what I'm talking about over here, when I'm talking about asking lots of questions of the text and why I think it's so important. Especially when we're dealing with stories that are so familiar; Adam and Eve are everywhere; Eve products right over here, skincare lotion, Adam and Eve skincare lotion. Of course the most ubiquitous apple symbol of all, made more famous after the death of Steve Jobs, the apple logo of course, coming from the forbidden fruit for knowledge. Then of course apple and Eve, apple juice, Adam and Eve shampoo, these kinds of things are literally everywhere.
Again the story is everywhere. You all know the story, there's a snake and Adam and Eve, and then the snake tempts Eve and they eat the fruit and the whole thing. It's just sort of woven in to the fabric of our culture, and I think when we think about the story it's like, yeah, yeah, we know the story, it almost sounds like a fairytale. It really does sound like a fairytale. There's this talking snake offering forbidden fruit, it's just really weird, kind of. It has that sort of fairytale quality, and we associate fairytales with childish kinds of things and we kind of think of the story almost as childish.
But what I want to suggest is that sense that we know the story too well, is, in a certain way, our enemy because it makes us vulnerable to what I call the lullaby effect. The lullaby effect is very insidious and it basically works like this. Take your average lullaby, rock-a-bye-baby on the tree top, when the wind blows the cradle will rock, when the bough breaks the cradle will fall, down will come baby, cradle and all. Now you can get your kid to sleep singing that? If you think about it - but if the kid would actually listen to the words and not just the tune, the kid wouldn't - the kid would have lots of questions. The story doesn't make any sense. The questions would keep the kid awake at night.
What are the kind of questions? You know, you could just stop right now, you're going to stop this video and just look at that little baby on your screen and ask if you were actually listening to the words, what would be the questions you would ask your mommy? You wouldn't be falling asleep. Well here are some of the questions I would ask. How far off the ground was the cradle? Did anybody call 911 afterwards? Did the baby survive the fall? What happened? [Playing of ambulance clip]. Of course the last, scariest question of all is if I'm the kid why are you even telling me this story? It's a very scary story. Are you trying to kill me? You've got all these questions and of course nobody even bothers asking these questions, nobody even bothers thinking about them because you know the story too well. You stop even listening to the words, you just listen to the sound. It's that way with these Biblical stories too. The Biblical stories are so comfortable for us, we just almost don't even listen to the words anymore.
So the first thing I think we need to do is almost a meditative kind of thing. You can actually assume a mental kind of lotus position and just do the first thing you do when you meditate, which is just clear your mind of everything you know about the story, and then just read the words and let the words actually talk to you. Let them speak to you. Say to yourself, if I was reading these words for the very first time and I didn't know anything else, I had no preconceived notions, what are the questions that would come to mind? What would bother me in this story?
We're going to be looking - our first story that we're going to look at is the story of the Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, even though chronologically it's not the first story, conceptually much of what we'll be doing will be revolving around the story, so we're going to look at that story. So let's just summarize that story in a nutshell and then you'll look at the text and kind of ask those questions.
But here's the story. Once upon a time, there was a man named Adam and a woman named Eve, and they were in G-d's garden and everything was fine, except that G-d told them not to eat a special tree, that was called the tree of knowledge of good and evil. So they could eat all the trees in the garden, one thing they couldn't eat, tree of knowledge of good and evil. That tree is totally off limits. Okay, so everything seems fine, but along comes this snake and says, hey, why don't you eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? And lo and behold they eat - the woman eats first, gives it to the man, they both eat. G-d becomes aware of this, He becomes very angry with them and He punishes them. He makes the man work the fields for food, He makes the woman experience difficulty in childbirth, and death to everybody, they all eventually die. In the end, of course, He banishes them from the garden, never to come back.
Okay, so that's the story in a nutshell. Now if you just even think about that story, what are the questions that emerge? There are these lullaby kind of questions, almost like elephants in the room. There's that old joke about a bunch of people sitting around and they're all discussing their problems, and of course there's an elephant in the room that just nobody is talking about, nobody is even seeing, almost because it's such a big thing, it's such a huge thing, that everyone is looking for small things, they don't even notice this huge elephant in the room. If you see it visually, you kind of realize the ridiculousness of that. But there are these elephant-in-the-room kind of questions in the story of Adam and Eve, just in that little summary that I gave you, it just - stuff that just doesn't make sense. So if you had to like isolate the one or two or three huge questions, these elephant-in-the-room questions, like what's going on in this story, what would be those questions?
Here's a little - poor elephant is thinking like, no one is paying attention to me, he's going onto the psychiatrist's couch, it's like, someone pay attention to this elephant. So what is that elephant? Let's pay attention to that elephant, what are the questions that we need to ask when we look at the story of the Adam and Eve story? I want you to come up with one or two or three questions that you think are these significant kind of questions, which just get in the way of your [unclear 8:50] understanding of what's going on. It's like, this is the lullaby, Mom, why are you reading me this story? What is happening in the story? What are those questions?
Let's come back, you come up with yours, and I'll share with you mine, and we'll compare notes.