by Jacob Solomon
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| In the Beginning, G-d created the Heavens and the Earth. (1:1)
Rashi opens his commentary on the Torah by asking why the Torah opens with an account of the Creation, rather than with the mitzvot from Parashat Bo onwards. He quotes Rabbi Yitzchak who said that the Israelites' right to the Land of Israel was granted by none other than the Almighty himself - He Who Created the Universe.
The Torah's opening with the story of the Creation may also be seen to have a message for all the descendents of Adam Harishon - the First Man. When a person contemplates that he is on a tiny planet in the Universe that takes many billions of light years to cross, he feels utterly helpless and insignificant. As King David said "When I see the heavens… the moon, the stars...(I reflect) – what is Man that You should take heed of him? (Psalms 8:4-5)"
The opening of this Parasha gives an answer to King David's question. The Universe and the Earth were created with spiritual significance, but in a hierarchical form. The heavens and this planet were created earlier, life appeared simpler forms later, in more advanced forms after that, and above all Adam Harishon was created towards the end of the Sixth Day. The chronological order of the Creation, and its position as the opening chapter of the Torah, shows that Man was made with faculties to appreciate and take his position at the pinnacle of the Pyramid of the Creation. His contemplation of the Earth and the wider creation should not make him feel unworthy and unimportant. Rather, he should feel like the Amorah Rav, who declared that it is a person’s duty to believe that the world was created for him/herself.
In the same way that the phenomena created in the previous days of the Creation were subservient to Man, so in terms of the structure of the Creation, those who accept G-d's Mitzvot are in turn going one stage higher than Mankind. As the Zohar (5a) expounds – the Almighty created the world according to the Laws of Torah (demonstrated by the fact that throughout history no society based on fear and violence has survived in the very long term). This is the challenge facing the Jewish people, who alone accepted the Torah - in so doing the Israelites became 'a kingdom of priests and a Holy Nation' (Ex. 19:6). The Shabbat – above mere Mankind, and occupying the apex of the Creation Pyramid, represents the ultimate purpose of the Creation. This is the task of Man in general and the Jewish People to promote the well being of the Creation according to His Laws.
G-d took the Man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to work it and to guard it. G-d commanded the Man saying, "You may eat from every tree of the garden. But you may not eat from the Tree of Knowledge; for on the day you do eat from it you will die" (2:16-17).
Two issues: firstly, why did G-d create the Tree of Knowledge? Surely there were other ways He could have tested Adam's loyalty? Secondly, what was the connection between Adam's having to work and guard the Garden of Eden, and his being forbidden to eat from the Tree of Knowledge?
The Torah relates that Adam was composed of two factors – the mundane and the Divine. The Almighty created him simultaneously out of 'dust from the ground' (2:7), and in 'G-d's image' (1:24). Man was therefore a combination of the animal and spiritual kingdoms – animals that generally serve themselves, and angels, who only know of serving Him. He was bound to his physical needs as all living creatures; yet he also received the intelligence to progress in life towards fulfilling his role, within his physical limitations, as determined by his Creator.
So when G-d placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, He put him into an environment which was in harmony with his position in the Creation. His physical needs would be fully taken care of – You many eat from any tree of the Garden. His path in spiritual progress was being required to work and guard the Garden of Eden.
We may understand the precise nature of these tasks on two levels. Literally, Adam's working at maintaining and improving his environment would cause him to elevate the mundane to the divine. By having to work on the land, he would be grateful for its produce: as the Rabbis say, a person prefers a small amount of his own produce than a huge volume of produce purchased at the market. He would appreciate how G-d helped him in his endeavors. The Midrash (Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer), however, interprets Adam’s tasks on a more spiritual plane. Since the trees grew on their own accord, there was no physical work as such. 'Working the garden' meant elevating it to the divine by studying Torah and performing positive commandments, and 'guarding the garden' referred to avoiding forbidden activities. Common to both the literal and Midrashic explanations is the idea that Adam was to use his being in the Garden of Eden for spiritual purposes: to elevate his own human framework towards the divine - coming to know and love Him.
The Tree of Knowledge was a short cut to the Kingdom of Angels. It was also the tree that knew bad and good. As the text relates, whoever would eat from the tree would be 'like G-d, knowing good and evil'. Learning what precisely constituted good and evil, and fully appreciating the consequences of good and evil within the cosmos were a person’s life’s work. An angel was created with that knowledge. Mankind was required, ultimately through Torah study and observance, to work towards that spiritual plane.
The Talmud (Hagiga 15b) brings an incident that helps us to understand Adam’s spiritual incompatibility with the Tree of Knowledge. There, Ben Zoma, Ben Azzai, Elisha ben Abuya, and Rabbi Akiva were taken into the Higher World Beyond – the world of the spiritual. The Talmud relates that Ben Zoma returned utterly confused, Ben Azzai lost his equilibrium, Elisha ben Abuya became a heretic, and only Rabbi Akiva 'came out in peace'. That higher world was beyond the spiritual grasp of the first three scholars, and the extremely intense spiritual encounter was indeed destructive. Rabbi Akiva, it may be suggested, was different. He only came to Torah through extreme self-discipline, self-sacrifice, and iron will power – starting at the advanced age of forty. It was not that he was a greater scholar than the others were. Rather, he had worked on himself far more intensely towards spiritual progress. This meant that he was spiritually compatible and in tune with the Higher World.
Adam and Eve, by contrast, had not gone though a lifetime of working on themselves to fulfil their purpose in life and come close to G-d. By eating from the Tree they were acting as the first three scholars – entering worlds for which they were spiritually unprepared – with the addition of having been expressly forbidden to go there. Their experience of suddenly acquiring knowledge was incompatible with their spiritual level – they could not come that close to G-d without having spent a very long time in slow spiritual growth - 'by working and guarding' the Garden of Eden.
This now answers the questions. Man's task was to progress spiritually. He was given all he needed for his physical well-being – represented by the Garden of Eden. There was a tempting short cut – the Tree of Knowledge. But without the years of gradual coming close to G-d in the ways discussed above, the Tree was not for him.
The Tree of Knowledge then represented Man's spiritual ideal. His life's work was to reach the spiritual level where he could aspire to eat from the Tree – to be as G-d, knowing good and evil.
As footnote – this discussion may help to show the importance of learning Torah and increasing punctilious observance of Mitzvot stage by stage – making it spiritually a gradual ascent towards the top of a mountain. Trying to be a tzadik gamur - a spiritually perfect person - in one instant can lead to long term serious spiritual consequences…
Cain and Abel
The Parsha relates that Cain and Abel both brought sacrifices, but G-d only accepted Abel's. Why was Cain’s rejected?
Comparing this story with the laws of the offerings after the Torah was given to the Israelites gives us the following parallels and contrasts:
1. Animal sacrifices represent wealth. Produce has associations of poverty. This idea is represented in two cases where the required offering was assessed according to the means of the person who brought it: the korban oleh-veyored (means-tested guilt offering) and the asham metzora (means-tested offering brought by a person who recovered from 'leprosy') (Lev. 5 and 14). In both cases the wealthier person brings an animal; the poorer one brings grain.
2. The Rabbis (based on Lev. 1:17) state that the overriding factor in the bringing of an offering is purity of intention, not the value of the sacrifice – 'whether he brings a lot, whether he brings a little, he should just intent it to be for the sake of Heaven'. Nevertheless, Cain’s bringing his sacrifice from inferior produce was to his discredit. Whereas Abel's sacrifice was from the best of his products (see Radak's and Ibn-Ezra’s interpretation of Gen. 4:4), Cain brought an inferior product in its nature and its quality.
3. The Rambam states that one of the main reasons for bringing offerings is to impress on oneself that everything belongs to G-d and what we enjoy is entirely through His generosity (c.f Psalms 24:1).
This helps to explain the explanation G-d gave to Cain in Gen. 4:7. The verse would be explained: "If your intentions were of the purest – then the sacrifice would have been accepted. If the intentions were not pure - exemplified by an inferior sacrifice from someone who would inherit half the world – then the sacrifice is a negative act. You," G-d said to Cain, "may have the desire to be ungenerous in the offering, but you are able to train yourself to display more material gratitude towards He who supplies your needs."
This explanation is important in reminding us today to be careful when, for example, saying the blessings before and after enjoying a meal. These must be said with care and devotion, to be accepted by the Almighty like Abel's offering and not rejected as Cain's.
Written by Jacob Solomon, (e-mail email@example.com) le-ilui nishmat his Mother, Harabanit Devorah Solomon ztl. who ascended to the Yeshiva Shel Maalah on Shabbat Ki Tavo two years ago.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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