Sunday, October 7, 2012

Original Sin: Lessons in Love

I am off backpacking in the North of Israel immediately after Chag. I therefore wrote this week's blog early. Hope you enjoy.

What makes love grow? Does love grow from the gratitude we feel for the kindness done to us by another? Or does love grow from the kindness we do for another?
Of course the truth is that both receiving from an other and giving to an other engenders love. The question is which produces the more potent love giving or receiving?

The answer would appear to be that giving to an other produces the more potent love.
All we need do is look to parents and children to find the paradigm. Parents give. Children receive. The love of parents for children is far stronger than the love of children for parents. Giving trumps receiving as a means to foster love.

This week we begin the Torah anew with the parsha of Breishit. Look with me at the story of what is often called "original sin" found in the reading. Lets see what lessons we can learn about love and relationship.

Adam and Chava were forbidden by G-d to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. G-d said to them "From all the trees of the garden you may eat. But of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil do not eat for on the day you eat of it you will die." This is the only commandment the first humans were given. Tradition tells us that had Adam and Chava not sinned the world would have already fulfilled its purpose and humankind for generations would know bliss eternal.

Yet the question we might ask is what kind of mitzva is this for Adam and Chava. They were told not to eat the forbidden fruit because it would kill them. Even if they had not eaten how does their observance of G-d's command warrant reward? It was as if G-d told them don't eat poison mushrooms because it will make you sick. Would not eating the mushrooms be an expression of devotion to G-d? Not eating the forbidden fruit, like not taking poison, is simply avoidng self harm. How can we see it as a mitzva worthy enough to fulfill the whole purpose of creation if observed?

Let me ask you something else. What was the essential failing of Adam and Chava.
Were they lacking in fear of G-d or love of G-d? A deficiency of which, love or fear, brought about the sin?

Okay so now that we have posed some things to reflect on lets go back into the story.
You know it well. The snake tries to seduce Chava into eating the forbidden fruit.
Chava said to the snake "we cannot eat of the fruit because if we do G-d already told us we will surely die." The snake does not give up. He tells Chava "No you will not die". And then explains that on the contrary if you eat the fruit "You will be like G-d knowing good and evil."

What was the snake telling Chava in arguing with her over the consequence of eating the forbidden fruit? Was he calling G-d a liar? Impossible!
No, the snake was telling Chava the truth. He was telling her that when G-d said you would die if you ate the fruit He did not mean to say your life would end entirely. Not at all. On the contrary, the snake explained that what G-d was telling Chava was that the "death" G-d spoke of as a consequence of eating the fruit was a death of the 'old' you. In its place a 'new' you will emerge, one with more spiritual capacity and stature, one who can discern between the good and the evil.

If we understand the story in this way then we can also answer the questions we posed above. Adam and Chava did not lack in fear of G-d. They feared, at least in the basic level of fear, the fear of the consequence of sin. So long as Chava thought she would actually die from eating the forbidden fruit she refused to eat it.
It was only after the snake explained to her that there were no bad consequences to eating that Chava and, in turn, Adam ate. With nothing now to fear, since the snake told them that no real death would occur to them, they had only one reason not to eat the forbidden fruit. And that was because they loved G-d and He asked them not to eat. To desist from eating from the fruit just because G-d asked them not to, with no penalty to worry about, was too much a challenge. The temptation overcame their love for G-d. They sinned.

If Adam and Chava had not eaten, now knowing from the snake that they would not die if they violated G-d's instructions but instead be reborn, it would have been a significant act indeed. So much so that it would have redeemed all creation.
Their failure was to doom all of us to a journey of redemption that's still not complete.

Adam and Chava did not lack fear of Hashem. They were afraid indeed. What they lacked was sufficient love of Hashem, that is, to do His command even when they knew that if they disobeyed nothing bad would happen to them.

You and I may not be so much better. Think about it. If G-d gave us a free pass, saying that even if we did an 'avaira' we would not get punished, would we still overcome our desire for that non-kosher cheeseburger when hungry or resist the temptation to text or call on Shabbat when we were lonely? Yes, we love G-d. We want to please Him. But is that love alone, without fear of consequence, enough to keep us from succumbing to temptation?

Adam and Chava loved G-d for all that G-d gave to them. He provided them with everything. But their love was weak, in part no doubt, because they had no experience giving back to Hashem. We began this blog pointing out that giving fosters a potent love, much more potent than the love engendered from receiving. In doing mitzvot we, as it were, give to G-d. We fulfill His will. Doing mitzvot engenders in us a feeling of love for G-d. We serve Him. Adam and Chava had no experience of 'giving' to G-d to grow their love. Their one opportunity they muffed. Without the experience of giving love cannot flourish. It remains weak and vulnerable.

You and I need to do for Hashem (to serve Him) so as to foster our love. Moreover we need to do for each other inorder to really love one another. Love may be a feeling but it cannot grow in a vacuum. If we do not practice love by surrendering ourselves through acts of giving to the ones we claim to love and abiding their will, be it spouse, chidren, parents, family, friends, or Hashem Himself, love remains a sentiment, pretty to look at but with no substance.

Its not enough to read the story of the Original Sin. We are not given Breishit as a lesson in history. We need to ask, what does the story have to teach us about ourselves? How are we like Adam and Chava? Would we do better in the Garden? Would we do better today?

I suggest that the lesson for us is clear. Unless we grow our love for G-d and others through loving acts, doing their will, not our own, we too will never love the way we are meant to, we too will fall prey to temptation.

Devotion, service, giving, these are the nutrients that makes love grow.
There are no substitutes.

Shabbat Shalom

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