Do you know the story of Adam and Eve? If we truly understand what took place on that day in the Garden of Eden, it would help us understand a lot about what we are supposed to being doing here in this world.
In the beginning, G-d created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden with very specific instructions: "You may eat the fruit of all of the trees besides for that one." What will happen if you do eat from that forbidden tree? "The day you eat from it you will die."
Within an hour of those explicit instructions Adam and Eve both ate the forbidden fruit. Now G-d approaches Adam and asks him, "Did you eat from the tree that I told you not to eat from?"
What does Adam answer? "Eve made me do it."
Because they ate from the forbidden tree, G-d banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and placed them in a world where people would be forced to make a living "by the sweat of their brow," have difficulties growing wheat, and where pain would inevitably accompany birth. The snake would be humanity's great enemy; it would kill man, man would kill it.
And that's the story as we've always known it.
Hasn't it ever struck you as a bit odd? Why would G-d choose to start the Torah with such a horrible story? The Torah is about to introduce 613 commandments that we are to observe despite being shackled with an evil inclination. Yet how does G-d begin the Torah? By telling us a story about these two people, Adam and Eve, who are living in paradise, a place where the evil inclination cannot even exist, and after being given just one simple commandment they break it within the hour.
That is not very encouraging.
And if there is no evil inclination in the Garden of Eden, how could they have transgressed this one commandment, and so soon?! If G-d Himself told us to eat from any tree that we wanted, except for one, wouldn't we listen?
If the A-mighty G-d spoke directly to you, wouldn't it make an impression? When G-d addressed the assembled at Mount Sinai, they all died and needed to be revived. But when He asks Adam to refrain from eating from a tree, Adam's response is, "I'll try"?
That can't be; it's not possible.
It is also bad psychology. When you tell a child, "Don't touch that crystal vase," you do not add, "if you do..." What do you mean "if you do"? You don't! You never introduce the possibility that they will break your rules. When you say, "If you do..." you're in effect saying that it's possible that they will touch that vase.
However G-d goes even further than that. He didn't say "If you eat from it," He said, "The day you eat from it." What day is that? Who knows, maybe today. There is a mixed message here.
And where did Adam learn to blame someone else? His automatic response to G-d's query was that Eve had forced him to eat the fruit. This man was only a few hours old, having been created just that morning, and he's already blaming others?
Then, finally, G-d warns Adam and Eve that eating from the tree will bring death. G-d then adds more punishment. Not only will humans die but their lives will also be filled with suffering?!
The whole story as we know it appears quite problematic. But the main problem is, if you would want to start teaching your child the Torah, would you start with this story? Even if it did happen, why talk about it? And right in the beginning of the book?
Maybe the story isn't all that simple.
Adam and Eve were the most righteous people in all of history, and only the Messiah's soul will be greater than theirs. Adam and Eve consciously remembered being in heaven when they were informed that their souls would have a special spiritual mission to fulfill in a physical world. They were told that they would be placed in physical bodies and sent into the lowest world of all in order to reveal G-dliness in even that spiritually dark place. That they would have to work to create a dwelling place for His glory in a world that did not naturally recognize Him.
But when they got to this low world, G-d pointed at everything and told them that they should feel free to "eat from all of those trees, but don't eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and if you do you will die."
But these instructions confused Adam and Eve. "What shall we do about that tree?" they wondered. "If we are here to fix this world, it seems that the one thing that needs fixing is that tree! The one we were commanded not to eat from." So Adam and Eve decided to have a little talk.
"G-d is giving us a choice," explained Eve to Adam, "either don't eat from the tree and live, or eat from the tree and die. It's not a mixed message, it's a choice."
"Then let's not eat from the tree," answered Adam.
So Eve said, "We have to eat from that tree. That's what G-d wants; it is our destiny."
"How do you know that?" Adam asked.
"Because nobody dies here in the Garden of Eden; that means that we are not in the lowest world."
"We're low enough. If G-d wanted us to be in a world where humans die He could have put us there Himself."
"That's not how G-d works!" exclaimed Eve. "G-d takes you until the door, but it's your decision whether to enter or not."
G-d always takes you to the threshold, and then He leaves you there. He wants you to decide.
So Adam told Eve, "I think you're right. It is good that G-d created a wife for me, if it were not for you I wouldn't have understood the choice."
So they took fruit from the forbidden tree and ate it.
G-d then calls out to Adam, "You ate from the tree that I forbade you to eat from? How did you know that's what I wanted you to do?"
"How did I know? I didn't know. She knew."
"Well that is good," G-d answers. "Let me tell you about the lowest world. When you go into the world outside of this Garden of Eden you know pain, hard work and enemies. That's the lowest world. That's the world I need you to fix."
Simply put, Adam and Eve weren't bothered by whether they lived or died. What they were really discussing was the future of their children, what kind of people they would be.
Adam wanted to ensure that his children would all remain righteous. How do you do that? Don't eat from the tree. If you don't eat from the tree then you'll stay in the Garden of Eden, you'll never die, there will be no sins, and all of your children will be pious.
Eve didn't want that. She wanted her children to be forced to struggle, to have to repent for their inevitable shortcomings. She eventually convinced Adam that one who must struggle to find G-d is worthier than a naturally righteous man.
So Adam ate from the tree.
In the first story of Torah, the Torah's telling us, we are in this world because it's better to struggle than to have G-dliness handed to us on a silver platter. Who chose this path for us? Our mother Eve. She knew that it would be very painful and that it would take a long time. But she knew that in the end her children would return to G-d and that then the world will really be fixed.
Look at the difference in the two ways to tell this story:
In one version G-d comes to Adam and asks (angrily), "You ate from the tree that I told you not to eat from?"
That's not what happened. Actually G-d came to Adam and marveled (smiling), "You ate from the tree that I told you not to eat from?"
It's the same words. It just depends on whether you assume that G-d is angry. He's not; why assume such a thing?
Eating from the tree was not an act of rebellion against G-d, nor was it succumbing to their appetite, for they had no desires other than to serve G-d. The choice they had was between one holiness and another. Their motivation came from their G-dly souls.
It is known as the "sin" of the tree for sin means stepping down from an innocent place to a lower place, and they certainly did -- not out of weakness but out of devotion to their mission.
The mystical reality is this: All sin is distasteful to G-d and against His will. All sin also has its purpose in G-d's plan. Hence sin violates His will, He despises it, and sin furthers His purpose -- by moving us to teshuvah (repentance).
Adam and Eve chose between fulfilling His will and fulfilling His purpose. Our evil inclination tempts us to defy G-d's will, not to fulfill His purpose.
Follow Rabbi Manis Friedman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/manisfriedman