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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

A Great Mystery of Creation

Posted by rabbiart on March 18, 2009

One of the greatest mysteries of creation is why the first two humans ate from the tree of the knowledge of tov and ra.*  According to the creation story, the first independent free will action of Adam and Eve is to choose what is generally labeled disobedience.  Everything has been given to them except one thing, yet that is precisely the thing that they decide they must have.  If Joseph Heller hadn’t written Catch-22 and named Yossarian’s paradox, we would need it now to make Midrash on this part of the creation story.

Without the primal act of disobedience, Adam and Eve would have remained forever in the Heavenly Garden, and lived out their lives as the ultimate crowns of creation.  But, had they not eaten of the tree, they would not have exited the garden to live as “normal” human beings, and the Torah could only have been a pleasant fable, completely un-descriptive of the realities of human existence.

What if we put a different label on eating from the tree? Suppose it were not an act of disobedience, but acting on aspiration? Maybe a pleasant life as gardeners in paradise was an insufficient challenge for them? What if – by the act of eating from the tree – they invented the very notion of challenging themselves. Perhaps Adam and Eve simply aspired to be “all that they could be.”

Hold that thought.

Once the Mishkan is complete, Moshe gives it his review, and passes judgement on what has been built.

וַיַּרְא מֹשֶׁה אֶת-כָּל-הַמְּלָאכָה, וְהִנֵּה עָשׂוּ אֹתָהּ–כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה, כֵּן עָשׂוּ; וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם, מֹשֶׁה

Moshe regarded all the the work. Behold it was done according to Hashem’s commandment; Moshe blessed them.

This verse parallels the commandment to build the Mishkan, where HaShem tells Israel, “Build me a mishkan so I may dwell among you.(Israel)” Moshe reviews the completed Mishkan, and then he blesses them (Israel).

The commentary Kli Yakar comments on the similarity between this verse and the five times during creation that HaShem views HaShem’s work at the end of the day, and sees that it is good.

The ability to determine that something is good – or bad – is the ability to make judgements. How does Moshe know that the Mishkan is built according to plan? How is it that Bezalel and Oholiab are able to understand and follow a plan? Because humankind has acquired the ability to make distinctions and exercise judgement! Because Adam and Eve at the fruit of the tree of knowledge? Without knowledge, there is no judgement, there is no understanding of plans, there is no making of plans.

Of course there are multiple levels of human knowledge, and multiple purposes to which human knowledge can be put.  Knowledge and the ability to make distinctions is by itself a “neutral” ability.  The end may not justify the means, but the end is the measure by which we determine  whether the means have been justly exercised.

Our story is about much more than the ability to exercise human knowledge.  The building of the Mishkan is the prime example of using human knowledge and the ability to make distinctions to a higher purpose; to invoke the very presence of the divine.

Adam and Eve’s act, which puts distance between human and heaven, is a necessary means for enabling humans to reach for and make space for the divine.

“Build me a mishkan so I may dwell among  you.”  In the Gan Eden fable, human and G-d are close because HaShem has made it so.  In our real world, human and HaShem can and will only be close, when it is we humans who want and make it possible for that closeness to happen.

Building a mishkan so HaShem will live among us, is the highest exercise of the knowledge of tov and ra. It is the model for how we should live our lives.

Shabbat Shalom


* Forget everything and everytime you have heard the words tov and ra translated as good and evil. Do this for two reasons. First, because those are English words and so, so much is lost in translation. Second, but more importantly, the use of paired opposites is the Bible’s way of describing a complete continuum. In another context, think of the phrase “from soup to nuts”. This phrase described a complete dinner and not just a couple of food items. The dinner begins with soup and ends with nuts, but the phrase itself encompasses the entire dinner. Similarly the phrase tov v’ra encompasses the entire gamut of human behavior.
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One Response to “A Great Mystery of Creation”

  1. kevin j govender said

    I think that there is more to than what you say they did something that God forbid them….

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