Thursday, October 27, 2011

Adam and Eve's Reward

I like Sefer Breishit, and most particular the entire Creation story. To me it’s the most fascinating, deep, and secretive section of the entire Torah. You can keep rereading it and discover something new each time.

If you get a chance, I recommend reading Gerald Schroeder’s The Science of God to see how he sees the science and religious narratives converging.

I also started rereading Alan Dershowitz’s The Genesis of Justice where he discusses the evolution of morality and justice in Sefer Breishit. It’s fascinating.

Dershowitz raises some interesting questions, such as, how could God could change his punishment after threatening them with death? How could they have been held liable without any internal moral understanding? How could Eve have been guilty of anything when she was explicitly told that touching the tree would kill her, and it didn’t, so if statement 1 was a lie, then presumably statement 2 was a lie too. And why should their descendents (us) be punished for their actions?

As a result of these questions, I started thinking about it some more and it occurred to me last night that maybe they weren’t actually punished, but in reality, rewarded for what they did.

Let’s consider their Utopia in Eden. Adam and Eve had eternal life, they had no responsibilities, everything was handed to them on a silver platter. They didn't even have to date.

I don’t know about you, but in Genesis 3:22 (after the sin) God says man is now like them, knowing the difference between Good and Evil, and if they eat the Tree of Life they’ll live forever.

Yet if you compare them to traditional Greek mythology, pre-Sin Adam was about as godlike as you can get, eternal life, no worries, no responsibilities, a woman given to him, everything handed to him on a silver platter.

God is saying that mortal Adam with understanding is Godlike, not immortal Adam.

So clearly in Jewish thought, morality and understanding are close to Godliness, and not eternal life and power.


So going back to my original premise, why do I now suspect that God’s punishment of Adam was actually a reward?

It has to do with the whole basis of pre-Sin Adam’s existence.

Before the Sin, Adam’s life had no intrinsic value.

He would live comfortably forever without ever having to do anything. Sure he was told to tend the garden and name the animals, but there is no indication that in failing to do so his life would be any worse off – after all, there were no thorns or thistles to deal with, and the ground wasn’t cursed to need tending. His food would still be there and his life would be good.

In short, Adam could have (literally) lived forever, (figuratively) sitting on a couch in front of the TV accomplishing nothing for all of eternity.

What did God’s punishment do?

It did two very significant things. One (in reverse order) – it set a deadline. If Adam was to accomplish anything with his life, he couldn’t put it off until the next millennia, he had to take action now.

But why would Adam want to accomplish anything with his life?

That is part 2 of the punishment (part 1 actually), now he had to work to eat, work hard very hard in fact.

What this punishment did was create a value for his labor, something that simply did not exist in Eden. Adam now how to invest time and effort to eat and be comfortable. The second half was putting a value on his life, the specific amount of time he had to accomplish anything, again, a value that simply did not exist in Eden.

The “punishment” actually removed Adam from a seemingly utopian life – a completely meaningless, pointless existence, and replaced it with one where his life and his work could gain intrinsic value.

Before his job of tending the garden was superfluous and meaningless. Now, it actually would change something and was dependent on him. His actions now had meaning and value.

To me, that sounds like a reward, not a punishment at all.

As for Eve, it’s the same thing.

Her job, creating life in Eden was easy, mostly painless and completely meaningless.

Now (like Adam’s job) there is time, effort, and pain involved. Suddenly creating life involves an investment and a price, and like for Adam that creates intrinsic value. In short, the pain of childbirth created the basis for child-rearing to actually have a value.

What looks like a punishment is actually a reward.

As for her desire being for her husband, and man ruling over woman...

I’m definitely not going to explain why or whether this is a reward or a punishment (or maybe a correction) because all the girls feminists here will start virulently attacking me and the discussion will go off-topic again like last time.

(If you think you can figure out why it is a reward, you can put up in the comments, but I’m not going there.)

Anyway, that's my Chiddush this year for the story of Creation. I'd like your feedback.

UPDATE

How can I blame Bibi for cracking under pressure, when I'm about to do the same,

Here is the explanation regarding the other part of the Woman's punishment.

Edenic Adam values his relationship with Eve. He was lonely before, and now he isn't. That's why he is drawn to her.

Edenic Eve on the other hand doesn't value the relationship. Like everything else in the garden it was always there and always will be, and therefore she doesn't and can't appreciate Adam's value or that of a relationship.

So like the other punishments (rewards), there is a gain of intrinsic value, but always with a price.

Eve is now drawn to Adam, because she will now recognize and value the relationship and desire it. But the price for recognizing that value and obtaining that relationship is that she becomes vulnerable to Adam's demands, and needs to acquiesce to them.

This actually brings me to a final point.

It could perhaps be read that the Tree was not the Tree of Good and Evil, but rather the Tree of Good and Bad.

Perhaps Adam didn't gain an understanding of Morality from the Tree, but instead gained an understanding of Comparative Value from the Tree . How to compare. What is worth more, and what is worth less. The ability to look at something through critical eyes, which is why they were embarrassed at their nakedness, and why Adam expresses his disappointment and blame with the Woman (who wasn't perfect in the end).

It may very well be that the Punishments weren't punishments at all, just the natural result of man gaining an inherent understanding of what is more valuable, and what is not. The ability to critique and compare.

Childbirth hurt just as much, but now Eve could compare it to not being in pain. Man actually had to work for food, but now he understood how hard working for it really is. The thorns and thistles were there before, but now he actually paid attention to them.

Perhaps Nature didn’t change. Man's perception did.


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9 comments:

NormanF said...

I think its interesting viewpoint. Here is another way of looking at Adam and Eve's sin. Had G-d wanted to punish them for their sin, he could have taken their lives right then and there.

He showed mercy and even when G-d finds wrongdoing, He tempers the severity of the sentence. That is what He does. He gives Creation a chance to atone, to improve itself. That is the very basis of the world and of human nature.

The lesson we take away from it is that we too, must be merciful like Our Creator. He knew we were flawed and that didn't stop Him from loving us. When we love each other, only then will truly know what it means to love G-d!

JoeSettler said...

That's a sweet answer, but it doesn't explain the choice of punishments each received.

NormanF said...

Adam was more responsible because he knew what he was wrong and didn't admit it. That is why he received a more severe punishment. His wife was taken in by the serpent and persuading her husband it was a good thing to do is what any wife should do. As a sweet answer as you put, the nature of the punishment given reflected the nature of the corresponding offense. Incidentally, all human justice is based on the principle of proportionality.

For a book written ages ago, the Bible has a surprisingly modern outlook.

Netanel said...

Very nice, and very accurate, but not a chidsush. Ramchal discusses it in various places.

JoeSettler said...

Don't recall seeing it before.

Anonymous said...

" how could God could change his punishment after threatening them with death?"

Well, Adam did eventually die (and one presumes he would not have, had he remained in Eden.

"they had no responsibilities, everything was handed to them on a silver platter. "

IOW, they were like the "Occupy Wall Street" crowd... ("Occupy Eden"?)

"He would live comfortably forever without ever having to do anything."

See above.

OTOH, in Eden Adam had instant fellowship with God. That was broken (perhaps the Sabbath is supposed to symbolize a restoration of that--no working, and the day dedicated to God?)

Further, what did Adam's actions cost God? Did it cause him grief--the grief of having to follow all of the pains, sorrows, hatreds, and diseases of human history?

Was He indifferent that? Or did it cause Him to suffer, also?

(leaving aside the questions of whether or not He didn't know all of this would happen in advance; and whether or not he could be indifferent to human suffering because, in the view of Maimonides the Greek, God doesn't have feelings and is only an immutable Force, like in Star Wars...)

But now my head is starting to spin and even to ache. And all I was doing was innocently reading a blog...

JoeSettler said...

The post has been updated with the Woman's other punishment, and a final observation.

Anonymous said...

Benno Jacob wrote something similar back in the 1930's in his commentary on Genesis. He wrote that the text is saying that the world of Adam and Eve after the expulsion is the human condition as it was intended to be from the outset.

Shoshanna said...

Did you really write 'girls' and then cross it out and replace it with feminists? Not even the modicum of respect required to have used women?

Nice.

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