Saturday, August 04, 2007

Parshas Eikev

In this parshas Eikev the Jews are warned about coming to believe that Kohi Ve'Etzem Yadi, My Strength and the Might of my Hand, was the means of the victory and their conquest of Israel. As Devarim is the last book of the Torah, but not truly the last because the Torah is a circle and as we conclude the last Parsha of Devarim we begin again reading Bereishis. In Bereishis when Adam sees Chava for the very first time he gives her a name that attaches to all women, 'Isha' and states his train of logic for doing so stating that since she was taken from a man. Etzem Me'Atzomai Basar Mi'Besorai, Bone of My Bone and Flesh of My Flesh, she should be called Isha, woman, since she was taken Me'Ish, from a man.

In both cases we see the use of Etzem and a focus on the physical. The Jews are warned about coming to believe that their physical strength achieved their victory. Adam focuses on his physical connection with Chava, what was physically taken from him, but not a spiritual connection. Though Adam states that she is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, the Torah uses a different formulation. It states that the Lord took a Tzela, often translated as rib, and placed it into Chava and closed over the place with Basar, flesh.

Tzela is most often used to describe the sides of a structure, for example Tzela HaMishkan, the Side of the Tabernacle. The Tzela of a building upholds the physical structure of it. It is a foundation for it and the foundation of a man is spiritual. Basar by contrast is flesh and an emphasis of the physical.

The creation of man is repeated again in the second perek of bereishis culminating with the creation of woman. The creation of woman is preceded by a command not to eat from the Eitz Ha'Daat, the Tree of the Knowing of Good and Evil. It could have been given afterwards, yet it is given before the creation of woman. It falls to man to transmit the one law, the one commandment given to the woman. In this he fails. When Chava retells the law to the serpent, she repeats Adam's addition, a warning not to touch the tree or she will die. Adam once again has emphasized the physical aspect of the matter.

Both Adam and then Chava through the misinterpretation of Adam, see the sin of eating from the tree as a physical act. The fruit of the tree is thus seen as somehow fatal. From a purely physical standpoint, why is the fruit of a tree harmful? Because it is poisonous of course. Chava then verifies physically that it is not harmful. She first comes into contact with the tree. Then she examines the fruit and finds that it is good to eat. Since the physical nature of the fruit was of paramount concern, once she had verified that the fruit was not physically dangerous the only reason not to eat it was G-d's command.

To this the snake had a ready answer, eating of the tree made you godlike. How did it make you godlike? It would seem that there is a vast difference in capacity and ability between G-d and man. How could a fruit allow you to transcend it? Yet to understand that gap required an understanding of the spiritual gap between man and G-d. From a physical standpoint the snake could argue, what was the difference between the two. G-d utilized his full potential, by contrast man was obedient. His potential was delineated by what G-d said. Even if that command was as minor as forbidding the eating from a tree, it still bound man to it.

What was ultimately the knowing of good and evil? Was it knowing the difference between the two? If it was a matter of not knowing the difference, then there was no responsibility for doing evil and no reward for doing good and man was an automaton by nature of his ignorance. But Da'at refers to experience more than mere knowing. There is a vast difference between seeing a glass of whiskey and being an alcoholic. There is abstract knowledge and internalized experience. When we truly know something we are said to have experienced it. We all have the potential to kill but most of us are not murderers. And that gap can only be bridged by an act. An act that unleashes that potential.

A man can be anything but it is what he chooses to become that defines him and changes the world. The tree was not significant nor was its fruit except insofar as G-d had forbidden it. Just as a man taking a neder makes an object forbidden to him thus changing its nature in relation to the man, so too G-d forbidding the fruit of the tree had changed its nature in relation to man. Chava and Adam both focused on the physical nature of the tree and the fruit and when they saw that it was not physically harmful assumed that they would not die through it. But the significance of the fruit was not in its physical nature but that it was set off limits by G-d to Adam and Chava. It was not the fruit that mattered but Adam and Chava's actions in relation to it.

By eating the fruit they had broken the one law. Why did that one law matter and have such devastating consequences? Why did eating of one fruit damn all of mankind? The world up until that point had only good in it. It had the potential for good and evil but as long as only good existed in it, it was an untainted world. Imagine living in a world in which no one had ever been murdered. The potential for murder always would continue to exist but it was one in which it had never been done. That would be a very different world to live in, one governed by very different assumptions. Now imagine a world in which no one had ever disobeyed G-d.

Gan Eden, the garden of eden, was a paradise because it existed fully on G-d's direct providence. Man did not work but received all his needs directly from above. This was made possible by a world in which there was no division between man and G-d. The relationship was unbroken and operated without any strain on either part. G-d fully gave to man who was fully devoted and man received all from G-d while being fully obedient. The breaking of the one law broke that relationship.

Adam was cast out to labor on the earth. Before he had received food directly, now physical labor would be required on a difficult earth to bring out food. The transition demonstrated the breach in the relationship. Man had pushed himself away from G-d and had created the division with G-d. Chava was told that her husband would now dominate her. She had been created as an Ezer Ke'negdo, a Helper Like Him and was now reduced to Ve'Eilav Tesukoteich Ve'hu Timshol Bach, And For Him Will Be Your Desire and He Will Rule Over You. From a helpmate, woman is reduced to a servant. Or is she.

Her son Kayin too is warned in similar phrasing. Ve'Eilecho Tesukotoi Ve'Ata Timshol Bo. And For You is His (Sin's) Desire and You Will Rule Over Him. Kayin though clearly fails to rule over his evil inclination. An omnipotent G-d certainly knew this. The statement was therefore conditional. If for you is his desire, you will triumph over him. However if your desire is for him, he will triumph over you. Similarly too the curses on both Adam and Chava are conditional.

Adam's curse of working the land was gradually relieved by Noach and then Avraham Avinu. Chava's curse is conditional whether she will be an Eizer Kenegdo or in a state of VeHu Timshol Bach. As with her son the condition depends on desire. Will she have a desire for him, Eilav or for G-d. The Tzela that G-d took from Adam and replaced with flesh was a spiritual contribution that took from Adam's spiritual awareness and replaced it with physicality. The Gemara states that women are a higher form of creation as they were created from man rather than earth. Chava had a higher measure of spiritual awareness as a result, as women tend to. Her failing as Ezer Kenegdo, as a helpmate for Adam came in not balancing out his physicality with spirtual awareness. Adam's curse was to labor on the physical earth and be subjugated by it since he had failed to become aware of the spirtual nature of the test of the tree. Chava's curse was that she would be subjugated by the physical partner in the relationship because she had failed to use her abilities to see the spiritual side of the situation. Both of them could elevate themselves from that curse however.

The curse however continued to haunt their descendants. Kayin introduces murder to the world as he continued laboring upon the earth. Unlike his brother Hevel who gave of his best to G-d, Kayin merely gave of his produce. What was the difference in their assumptions. Hevel saw his flocks as the product of G-d and thus gave him the best. Kayin like his parents saw the crops as purely physical and divorced from the spiritual. When he worked on the land, he was the one producing the crops. G-d's only involvement was the ownership of the land. He required a kind of tribute or tax, to Kayin's way of thinking and that was what he did. But you do not pay tax from the best of what you have, but from the average. Unlike Hevel, Kayin did not see his crops as Hashem's bounty but as his bounty given to Hashem.

Now we return to Devarim. The Jews after wandering in the desert until the generation of the Meraglim, the spies, were wiped out. The spies had been the leaders, the best and the brightest and yet they had returned giving hostile reports of the land of Israel and inciting the people not to go. Now Moshe Rabbeinu warns against believing that it is the righteousness of the Jews or the wickedness of the domestic peoples that is causing them to inherit the land. What is the connection between the two?

If the transfer of the land from the Caananites to the Jews was merely a matter of a purely physical exchange, the Jews were good, the Caananites wicked; then G-d was merely following a natural law in everything he had done. As hot air rises and cool air falls, what was happening was inevitable. Like a landlord evicting a bad tenant and replacing him with a good tenant, the meraglim had gone out to see the new apartment they were being offered. Their worthiness to their mind was not in question. But why did the land produce such a hostile reaction?

The Jewish people had two extremes at the time. The extreme of the Erev Rav, the corrupt elements demanded the satisfaction of all sorts of physical desires and demanded a return to Egypt. What did Egypt represent? It is at one point compared to a Gan Hashem, a garden of G-d. The land is called the richest and the wealthiest in the world besides Israel. It was a place of sensuality and wealth and agricultural success. What did the other extreme then represent?

The desert by contrast was a spartan existence. Their needs were met but without luxury or vitality. The manna was plain and white. It could meet every taste but it was ultimately a spiritual food. Contact with other cultures was avoided for the most part and tended to end badly. Clothes were cleaned and maintained but not replaced. The desert itself was mostly bare and water came directly from G-d through a traveling well. The other extreme of the meraglim saw this not as a test but as the way things are, as the very definition of goodness.

Commandments had been given restricting all sorts of physical pleasures from food to marriage. Egypt was considered the epitome of corruption and the sinners among the Jews constantly clamored for physical satisfaction. The caananites and the midianites and the others encountered all represented physical corruption as well. Looking all the way back to the first sin, it occurred from a pleasing fruit. From physicality. The meraglim could see it rationally enough that the physical was evil and that acesticism was the way.

When they arrived in Israel they saw a monstrous land. A land filled with giant fruits, with giant people, a land that was vital and alive. Concentrating only on the physicality they described it as a land that devours its inhabitants as by contrast in Eikev, G-d is described as a fire that will devour his enemies. Israel was described as the only land richer than Egypt. Egypt was described as like a garden of G-d and therefore gan eden. If both of these are seen as places of sin because they are rich in physical elements, it is no surprise that the meraglim returned disgusted and horrified just as any Rav might react if it was suggested that he move his entire community to 42nd Street.

They had made too fundamental errors. They saw good and evil in terms of disengagement or engagement with the physical world. And they thought their inheritance of the land was a natural law. Once they saw that the land was evil, they saw it as being part of their duty to fight the move there. When Moshe Rabbeinu in this parsha emphasizes that it is not due to our righteousness or their wickedness but out of G-d's love for us. Love was the missing ingredient. The thing that united the physical and the spiritual and allowed them to become transcendent.

When G-d created woman, man was meant to go to woman, in the phrasing of the pasuk. He was meant to pursue the spiritual element that had been taken from him and to unite through love. When G-d had decided to give the extraordinary fertile land of Israel to the Jews it was meant to reunite G-d with man through a second prosperous land, a place in which G-d provided for. Where Egypt was irrigated through the nile, the water rising up from the lower depths to the higher depths by human effort thus continuing the curse of Adam to labor physically on the land. Israel by contrast was watered by G-d directly from high to low. Through G-d's love in giving the land and the Jewish people's love in serving him by doing the Mitzvos of the land, a unity could be achieved.

As Adam attempted to shift responsibility for the fruit to Hashem through Chava, the meraglim attempted to reject the land. Both rejected what had been given by G-d in love to create unity.


Keli Ata said...

Wonderful article on this week's parsha. I'll have to read it again and again to absorb everything.

Shavua tov.

Chava said...

*shakes fist at Adam*

Lemon said...

Great post.

Keli Ata said...

It really makes you wonder how much better this world would be if only Adam and Eve had told the serpent, "We don't want knowledge of good and evil. We only want knowledge of what is good, holy and G-dly."

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