Adam and Eve’s Blessing
As part of the introduction to our service tonight, we made the following declaration
עַל דַּֽעַת הַמָּקוֹם וְעַל דַּֽעַת הַקָּהָל. בִּישִׁיבָה שֶׁל מַֽעְלָה וּבִישִׁיבָה שֶׁל מַֽטָּה. אָֽנוּ מַתִּירִין לְהִתְפַּלֵּל עִם הָעֲבַרְיָנִים:
With God’s permission and the congregation’s permission, from a gathering of the heavenly court and a gathering of the human court, we hereby grant permission to pray with sinners.
Well, I’m glad you allowed me to pray with you, but I admit, I’m a little insulted.
Likewise, I feel a bit put off when we say:
God, let our prayer come before you, and do not ignore our supplication. For we are not so insolent and stubborn to say to you, “We are righteous and have not sinned.” But, indeed, we and our parents have sinned.
Sinning sounds so rebellious, so active. Yet is this really the case?
For years I used to keep a journal of my sins so that I’d know what to repent for on Yom Kippur. Now some of these items might not be on your list:
I said blessings, and hence God’s name, but without the proper intentions.
I forgot blessings before or after eating.
I wasted time instead of using it productively.
I said words in anger.
And, of course, there were many others.
The problem with the first three of these is that, even though I repented, I kept repeating the same sins without getting much better.
These sins are not out of rebellion or a desire to be ungracious but rather a lack of mindfulness or just hunger.
These are weaknesses that I do feel sorry for, but should I feel guilty about them?
Words said in anger, though, that’s a significant wrongdoing. They’re hurtful and hard to fix.
However, why do we say such cruel words?
It’s our ego playing defense. Our ego, the persona our mind creates, always looks out for our protection. So when it feels that it’s in harm’s way, it strikes back.
So, I shouldn’t have said what I did, and I regret saying it, but again, does that make me a sinner and transgressor?
Calling someone a sinner feels like making them categorically bad or evil. Like the poor Wicked Child on Passover who was nice enough to come to the Seder.
On Yom Kippur, the holiest night of the year, should we be calling ourselves transgressors and sinners?
Our myths, or origin stories, tell a lot about us. They form our cultural identity, which then influences how we perceive things and, subsequently, how we act.
The very first story in the Torah is about the weakness and defiance of humankind. In Genesis, Chapter 2, it says:
God settled the Human in the garden of Eden, to work it and protect it.
וַיְצַו֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהִ֔ים עַל־הָֽאָדָ֖ם לֵאמֹ֑ר מִכֹּ֥ל עֵֽץ־הַגָּ֖ן אָכֹ֥ל תֹּאכֵֽל׃
And God commanded the Human, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat;
וּמֵעֵ֗ץ הַדַּ֙עַת֙ ט֣וֹב וָרָ֔ע לֹ֥א תֹאכַ֖ל מִמֶּ֑נּוּ כִּ֗י בְּי֛וֹם אֲכׇלְךָ֥ מִמֶּ֖נּוּ מ֥וֹת תָּמֽוּת׃
But as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.”
So you know the rest of the story.
“When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate.”
Honey, this is delicious; what is it?
So, both were evicted from the Garden of Eden, the man to work by the sweat of his brow and the woman to be subservient to her husband and have pain in childbirth.
What does this story say about humankind?
We can’t control ourselves regarding food, beautiful things, or wisdom we seek to acquire.
Humanity is around for one day, and we blow it.
The following generations are not much better. Cain kills his brother, Abel, and then, all humanity is so corrupt that it needs to be destroyed by a flood and started over.
Even after the flood, when God makes a promise not to destroy all of humanity again, there’s a deprecating remark:
וַיָּ֣רַח יְהוָה֮ אֶת־רֵ֣יחַ הַנִּיחֹחַ֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־לִבּ֗וֹ לֹֽא־אֹ֠סִף לְקַלֵּ֨ל ע֤וֹד אֶת־הָֽאֲדָמָה֙ בַּעֲב֣וּר הָֽאָדָ֔ם כִּ֠י יֵ֣צֶר לֵ֧ב הָאָדָ֛ם רַ֖ע מִנְּעֻרָ֑יו וְלֹֽא־אֹסִ֥ף ע֛וֹד לְהַכּ֥וֹת אֶת־כָּל־חַ֖י כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשִֽׂיתִי׃
“And God said, never again will I doom the earth because of humankind since the desires of a person’s heart are evil from their youth…”
If we’re evil from our youth, then, of course, we’re transgressors and sinners, and therefore, we require at least one day a year to purify ourselves and start over.
Yet, let’s question this premise.
Anyone who’s ever held a baby knows that they are some of the purest and most precious things on the whole planet.
Even when they reach the terrible twos, they’re not evil, they’re just exhibiting a bit of independence.
This reaches an apex in the teen years when they think they know more than we do, yet their rebelliousness is not evil; it’s just how they come into their own identity.
So when do we become inherently evil?
Is it in our twenties when we’re striving to establish a career and trying to find that special person to love?
Is it in our thirties when we labor so hard to provide for our family?
Do you get my drift? Certainly, people do egregious things. But should that label us as evil from our youth?
And if we’re innately evil, how do we account for all the good in the world?
All the donations to the needy, people sacrificing their own health to heal, feed, and rescue others. How do we explain people leaving their homes to help rebuild the houses of those who have lost theirs?
Do inherently evil creatures do such good? Do Orcs behave so generously?
I say we need a new origin story or a new take on it.
Let’s say Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden. It’s paradise, and all their needs are taken care of.
They walk around naked because they’re pure and innocent, like children.
There’s one tree in the garden that can spice life up. By consuming it, they’ll have physical and sensual temptations. They’ll open up new gates of wisdom, but ones they’ll have to struggle with.
If they eat from this tree, they’ll face mortality and the sadness and challenges that it brings, but it will also allow for growth emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.
So Eve, the woman, chooses to eat and convinces her husband to follow this path with her.
Adam and Eve choose life outside of Paradise, on this physical plane, one with its multifaceted challenges. Matthew Fox has renamed the story of Adam and Eve; instead of being the “Original Sin”, he calls it the “Original Blessing.”
Through our thoughts, actions, and words, we then decide, declare, create, experience, and fulfill who we really are.
Every moment we re-create ourselves anew. We can become the grandest version and vision of ourselves at every moment.
So if Adam and Eve are not original sinners, then perhaps, we, their descendants, are not innately sinners either.
What then is Yom Kippur?
It’s a day to evaluate whether our thoughts, words, and actions are bringing us to where we want to be. There is also only one reason to un-do anything: because it is no longer a statement of who we are. It does not represent us any longer.
I do not want to be a person who skips blessings or says them without intention.
I want to be a person who appreciates what is given to me.
I don’t want to be a person who speaks angrily because that is not my best representation.
So Yom Kippur and its many confessions are exceptionally useful.
But not because I need God to forgive me of my sinfulness, or because I don’t want to be wicked…
It’s because I want to be the best form of me.
We have behaved arrogantly.
We have been dishonest.
We have been hypocritical.
We have been insensitive.
These awaken us to what we’re doing incorrectly and what we need to fix to be better versions of ourselves.
We are human, comma, beings. Being, as in the verb – we are a process. And we, in any given “moment,” are the product of our processes. We are the created, but also the creator.
Therefore, let’s utilize the holiness of this day and the guidance of its prayers to make the best version and vision of ourselves in the year ahead.
Manetto Hill Jewish Center
244 Manetto Hill Road, Plainview, NY 11803