February 19, 2005


Serpents of desire: History's First Question: Where Are You? (Rabbi David Fohrman, 1/21/05, Jewish World Review)

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden ends with two final acts.

* The Almighty fashions clothes from animal skins for Adam and Eve, to replace the more primitive coverings they had made out of leaves.

* After sending Adam and Eve out of the Garden "lest they eat from the Tree of Life", G-d stations angels — cherubs — with flaming swords at the entrance to Eden to guard the way back to the Tree of Life.

In a strange but poignant way, these two events, I think, are closely tied to one another.

We noticed earlier that cherubs make an appearance just twice in the entire Five Books of Moses. The only other time these angels appear is when their likeness adorns the top of the Holy Ark in the Tabernacle, where they guard the Tablets of the Law. Aptly, the Book of Proverbs describes these tablets, or the Torah they represent, as another Tree of Life — a tree of life to all who grab hold of it (see Proverbs 3:18). Evidently, the same cherubs who keep us away from one Tree of Life grant us access to another one. Weeks ago, we asked why. And we wondered in what sense the Torah can be seen as a "replacement" Tree of Life.

The answer to these questions should by now be evident. After attaining the knowledge of good and evil, mankind became more godly — more passionate, more desirous, more insistently creative. But we were only half-gods. To truly be godly means not just to be passionate, possessed of will, as G-d is. It means not just to create, as G-d creates — but to wisely wield the fearsome power of creation. It means to fully control this power; not to be controlled by it. It means keeping passion in balance; realizing that there is a time to create, and a time to desist from creating.

After eating from the Tree of Knowledge, after boosting the role of passion in our lives, living eternally was no longer what the doctor ordered for humankind. A new and different Tree of Life was called for — one that could help restore balance, harmony, in the psyche of man. The new Tree of Life was designed to help man cope with a new world — a world in which passion can cloud the mind's eye, obscuring that which is genuinely right and that which is genuinely wrong. The angels that bar man access from one tree of life do indeed grant him access to another one. The Torah is a guide to G-d's Will, a tool that can help man distinguish the impulses of his own creativity from the deeply held convictions of his Creator. In consuming the fruit of this replacement Tree of Life, in assimilating the viewpoint of the Torah, man would attain a steering wheel to match his engine, making himself into a fully godly being.

Now take a moment, if you will, and contemplate what happened here. Even as G-d banished us from Eden, even in that moment when we seemed most rejected, most cast away — still, He bequeathed to us the tools we would need to make it in the new world of our own making....

And now let's talk about G-d's second act: The making of clothes for Adam and Eve. In the world that G-d envisioned for man, there would have been no need for clothes; they would have been a superfluity. It was not G-d's choice that man live in a world where nakedness was something to be feared or avoided. Nevertheless, in this moment of profound disappointment, the Almighty provides Adam and Eve with clothes, giving them the wherewithal to "make it" in this journey of their own choosing.

The Fall teaches us our own limitations and gives God the first inklings of His, thus He clothes us. The interplay of those limitations will later be driven home to Him on the Cross.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 19, 2005 11:01 AM
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