DVAR TORAH - PARASHAT Bereshit
The portion I picked is part of Bereshit, which is about the beginning of the world. This particular part tells how the serpent tricks Eve into eating the fruit of the forbidden tree by saying "Did perhaps God say: 'you shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?" The woman replies saying that they are permitted to eat from any tree except that particular one. She goes on to say that they must not eat of or touch that tree or they will die. The serpent then says "you will not surely die for God knows that on the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and bad."
The translation from " The Call of the Torah" by Rabbi Elie Munk says," And the woman perceived that the tree was good for eating and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a means to wisdom, and she took of it's fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her and he ate." Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized that they were naked; and they sewed together a fig leaf and made themselves aprons. God knows that they have eaten from the tree and, being merciful does not end their lives, but throws them out of the garden. God also proceeds to punish them each individually.
In the Midrash it is said not only Adam and Eve and the serpent were punished, but that other things were punished as well. It states "These three sinners were not the only ones to have punishment dealt out to them". It goes on to say "The earth also had to suffer a ten fold punishment: independent before, she was hereafter to wait to be watered by the rain from above; sometimes the fruits of the earth fail; the grain she brings forth is stricken with blasting and mildew; she must produce all sorts of noxious vermin; thenceforth she was to be divided into valleys and mountains; she must grow barren trees, bearing no fruit; thorns and thistles sprout from her; much is sewn in the earth, but little is harvested; in time to come the earth will have to disclose her blood and shall no more cover her slain; and, finally, she shall, one day wax old like a garment."
Now it is the last one that interested me. For a long time I had been thinking about how badly we have been treating our earth. We have huge garbage heaps and are cutting down trees at a rapid rate. It occurred to me on the freeway heading for San Francisco that we would eventually use up all the world's resources. It may not happen for a while yet but I couldn't shake the feeling that the world as we know it could end up as one big pile of human waste. I began to think of things like maybe if we could just get everyone to use hemp paper, and everyone to recycle, and everyone to get only what they needed and no more the problem could be solved. And then I realized that it is almost impossible to get everyone to realize that. It is almost impossible to get the whole world to do one thing. Some people don't realize that we are polluting the place we live in, and some people realize it…and don't care. Or maybe they do care a little bit but not enough to give up the things that they want the things they desire. You and I all know we didn't really need to get that extra pair of shoes that are so fancy we know we'll never have a chance to wear them, but they're just so cute! And all the sudden it hit me: all this could be linked with the story of Adam and Eve. When the two of them ate from the tree, not only did they become wise knowing good from bad, but also they began to have desire. You may wonder how I came to this conclusion, and I still wonder a little myself, but this is what I know. Before they ate of the tree they were always satisfied; after they ate of the tree they began have desire. For example before they ate from the tree they did not wear clothes but they didn't care because they were as God had created them. But after they ate from the tree they began to lust for each other and so were embarrassed by their nakedness. Rabbi Nossom Scherman states "…when Adam was created, his nature was to do good. He was not the mixture of good and evil inclinations that human beings are today. We have lusts and desires that are part of our very humanity."
I was not quite satisfied with the conclusion that desire was evil, however, because I don't think it is. I tried to imagine a world without desire. There would be no ambition in the world because no one would have the desire to get better or excel in anything. I have desires, good ones and bad ones, I'm sure.
Imagine if you never really wanted anything. You would wake up and shuffle down to breakfast. You would have no desire to eat anything in particular because you wouldn't want something that tasted good, any old thing would do. If no one cared what he or she ate and they ate only because they had to to survive, there would be no reason for good food. Now I don't know about you but I certainly love to eat. I love trying new foods and tasting new tastes. I have some foods that are my favorite and every once in a while I may have the desire to eat a mango, for example. And when I do get to eat a mango, it is always so much more special than it would be if I were to eat them daily.
So desire is also a good thing. Desire is a gift you have to learn to control. Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pakuda says that the meaning of abstinence is to abstain from something that is in your power to be able to do or not do as you please. I don't think that means you should deprive yourself of everything you enjoy, however, I don't think that at all. I'm just suggesting that you don't take things for granted. If you don't take whatever you want whenever you want it you can learn to appreciate things more. For example have you ever realized how much more you enjoy food after fasting for a day on Yom Kippur? Everything can seem so much sweeter if you don't always give yourself everything you want. It can help you realize how lucky, or maybe how blessed, you are to have the things you have and help us all to waste less. Not only can this help us to conserve resources, it can help us learn to cherish the blessings that have been bestowed upon us thus making life that much sweeter.
Copyright 2000 Ayla Schlosser