Living in a World of Good and Bad
One great rabbi from the Talmud noted that he learned much from his teachers, yet even more from his peers, but his most significant gains in knowledge and understanding were due to his students.
When learning the parsha with our Bar Mitzvah celebrant, Mason K., he asked me a question I have often thought about over the years. However, the way he asked me forced me to think differently than I had done in the past. I’d like to share with you what we came up with together.
Adam and Eve are placed in the Garden of Eden. It’s paradise: the temperature is just right, the skies are blue, the plants are verdant, the bugs aren’t bothersome, and the fruit is delicious. Like an all-inclusive vacation in Bermuda, life is perfect.
But Adam and Eve manage to get themselves in trouble (Genesis 2):
God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to care for it and protect it.
And God commanded Adam, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; 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.”
It seems as if Adam and Eve are those people that, as soon as you tell them not to do something, they go ahead and do it!
“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.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths.”
Mason asked, “Now, if God is omniscient-all-knowing, then why did He place them in the Garden with such a temptation? If God really wanted them to remain in the Garden of Eden, he should have left out the Tree of Knowledge.”
Mason made me realize that the episode is an allegory. It’s the story of life on our planet. Before we are born, we are souls living in the Garden of Eden. At a certain point, we chose to enter this material plane of Good and Bad.
Everything in this world has some degree of good and bad.
If you want to eat an orange, you have to get through the peel.
If you want a fast car, it’ll add more pollution to the atmosphere.
You want a job that’s going to pay seven figures, figure on working 70 hours a week. You want to have a family, well, there goes your personal time.
Everything in this physical world has an advantage and a disadvantage. Since it’s challenging to live here, we all have to agree to the conditions beforehand.
Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge is an allegory for all humanity. Before entering this world, we all accept that we’ll be eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad; we’ll be sorting through good and bad all our lives.
כִּ֗י בְּי֛וֹם אֲכׇלְךָ֥ מִמֶּ֖נּוּ מ֥וֹת תָּמֽוּת
God said, “For as soon as you eat of it, you will become mortal.”
Being a mortal, a human, means living in a world with these challenges. It’s not a punishment; just part and parcel of living, learning, growing, and experiencing what we call life.
God was not angry after Adam and Eve ate from the Tree. Rather, God was letting them know that coming down to this world means working by the sweat of your brow and facing the myriad challenges of raising children.
So this story was not a setup, nor a failure of Adam and Eve, just a little warning of what life on Earth is truly about.
With IDF planning to invade Gaza, we are submersed in this ancient story. The good: with Hamas’ removal, we’ll bring safety to Israel and perhaps millions of Gazans. The bad: the injuries and death to Israeli soldiers and the loss of innocent life and collateral damage in Gaza.
While win-win scenarios are great when we can affect them, most of life falls within the parameters of good and bad. We try to maximize the good and minimize the bad. The next few weeks will be challenging. Forget the false news; even accurate reporting will be hard to swallow.
Our world is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. Being a human means making difficult and painful decisions – it’s how we grow. May God inspire the leaders on both sides to maximize the good and minimize the bad.