Torah Portion: B’reisheet
Book of Genesis
October 9, 2015
Over the years, authors, artists, and filmmakers have tried to depict the kind of world this would be if everyone conformed to the same behavior. An example was the film “Pleasantville.” The film, which began in “black & white,”
portrayed a small town that existed in a “Leave It To Beaver” innocence. Even though everyone was nice and did what was expected of them with a “pleasant” smile, “Pleasantville” lacked the “color” of a human’s real personality. In the film, one young man begins responding out of character to his surroundings. His behavior starts influencing others. Little by little, the “black & white” of the tedium and mundane is replaced by the “color” of creativity and chance.
Adam and Eve were born into a “black & white” Pleasantville called “The Garden of Eden.” Before encountering the serpent, and eating from the Tree of Knowledge, there existence was limited to what God had programmed them to know and do. It is at this point in the religious creation story that a profound difference of opinion exists between Christianity and Judaism.
Christianity understands the “temptation” of Adam & Eve by the serpent as the
“Original sin.” Because of the actions of Adam & Eve, humankind would forever forsake the total innocence and idealic state of Eden and be subjected to the realities of life. There was no turning back, and subsequently no way for future generations to rid themselves of this sin; except by putting their faith in Jesus who, in Christian belief, vicariously died for the sins of humankind including the Original one.
Judaism sees things differently. First, if Adam and Eve did something wrong by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, how would they know since it was only after they ate the apple that they comprehended the difference between good and bad? Can we believe in a God who would mete out such severe punishment to someone who had no real understanding of the nature of their action?
Secondly, nowhere in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are the actions of Adam and Eve referred to as a sin. Their expulsion from the Garden of Eden can be viewed as a punishment, but it can also be understood as the painful realities of leaving the innocence of childhood to enter the adult world. We would all like to be in the comforting and protective womb of childhood, but we have to grow up.
The fact that God fashions clothing to protect Adam and Eve in their new environment suggests that God’s initial anger at their actions has abated. In fact, one of God’s most endearing attributes is forgiveness.
Finally, some Jewish commentators see the serpent as an agent of God. Rabbi Chaim Potok points out, “God wants Adam and Eve to grow up and become fully human, acquiring a knowledge of good and evil, rather than remaining at the level of obedient animals.”
And this is only the first portion in the Torah!
Rabbi Howard Siegel