Dvar Torah: A working theory on the first two parshiyos in Bereishit

In my last dvar torah, I attempted my own interpretation of the first sin of Adam HaRishon, and its effects on humanity. Very briefly, seizing upon an idea from R’ Hutner on a “partition of the heart” which prevents a person from fully recognizing religious and/or philosophical truth by presenting plausible and valid alternatives, the sin of Adam HaRishon (even though it is technically the sin of Adam and of the First Woman, who is not yet named Chava, I will use the term ‘Sin of Adam’ for its colloquial recognizability) introduced such a partition in the heart of humanity by making sin and disobedience of God’s will a plausible alternative. Pre-sin, Adam lived in a state where there was one path set in front of him, that of the Truth and Authority of God’s word and harmony with nature. By eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, Adam opens up the possibility of multiple paths, which include possibilities of sin and disobedience, thus making obedience to God’s will not a matter of his nature, but a path that must be chosen over other alternatives that seem to be equally plausible and valid. It is this partition of the heart, that makes man unable to naturally and effortlessly recognize truth, which is created by Adam’s sin. This approach not only appears to be a justifiable approach in the peshat, but it also seems to me to be a serviceable synthesis of a variety of approaches to Adam’s sin, most notably the Ramban who believes that humanity’s free will was created by Adam’s sin, but also the Rambam (subjectivity was created by the sin), the Abarbanel (humanity’s alienation from nature was created by the sin), and the Nefesh HaChaim (humanity’s potential for evil as a real part of him, rather than something external, was ingested along with the fruit of the tree.) Of course, another appeal of this peshat is that it speaks to the modern condition. In a world where any given religious narrative is no more privileged than narratives opposed to it, where, to borrow Peter Berger’s phrase, the sacred canopy of religion has been punctured, a partition of the heart, where we assert religious ideas to be true despite the existence of other alternatives that could also be true, has been created.

The question is, where does that leave us? What do we do, or what can we do, about this partition of the heart?
I think the proceeding chapters in Sefer Bereishit, that make up the parshiyot of Bereishit and Noach, are, at their core, about humanity trying to undo the effects of the sin of Adam HaRishon. Each time, those attempts are rebuffed, for there is no going back to Eden; the flaming sword and the cherubs remain impassable. Each time, God enacts a punishment that is a corrective for the mistaken attempt to undo the Adam’s sin.

The first attempt is made by Kayin. Faced with the possibility of other alternatives, which may be correct, he chooses to eliminate the other option. His reaction to Hevel’s sacrifice being accepted is not to attempt to change his worldview to accommodate new facts, but to kill Hevel. Kayin seeks to undo the partition of the heart by the mere elimination of that which causes doubt. His punishment goes in the opposite direction; God tells him that נָע וָנָד, תִּהְיֶה בָאָרֶץ, he will be a wanderer, without a home, without a truth to return to, forever at the mercy of other opinions.
The second attempt is made by the Generation of The Flood. This generation denies the problem altogether. There is no partition between what I want and what is right, there is only what I want, and that it is right. There is no objective right or wrong, there is only the multiplicity of individual perspectives, which have no objective criteria to be judged by. וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי-הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת-בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם, כִּי טֹבֹת הֵנָּה; וַיִּקְחוּ לָהֶם נָשִׁים, מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר בָּחָרוּ They see that the daughters of men are “good”, and they take for themselves wives from whatever they choose. The only criteria they use to judge their decisions is “good”, which is defined by their own choice. This once again, is an attempt to undo the sin of Adam, this time by denying that there ever was a pre-sin state where there was objectivity and clarity. Since all we know is ambiguity and multiplicity, that must be all that there is. There is no partition of the heart. God’s punishment once again, is a corrective. The waters of the flood bring uniformity and unity where there was once multiplicity. Only one family of man, and one pair of each animal, are saved.

The third attempt is made by the builders of the Tower of Bavel. I have previously detailed my understanding of the story here, but essentially, the Tower of Bavel builders go in the exact opposite direction of the Generation of the Flood. Since we see the dangers inherent in multiplicity and doubt, we will attempt to forcefully unify and obliterate differences. We will נַעֲשֶׂה-לָּנוּ, שֵׁם:  פֶּן-נָפוּץ, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ, we will take mud and put them in molds and make them into uniform bricks, stacked higher and higher until its top reaches the heavens. We will forcefully break down the partition of the heart and make doubt and multiplicity yield to our will. And God’s response is once again a corrective. He confuses their language, instituting difference and multiplicity despite the builder’s best efforts.

There is clearly no going back to Eden. The sin of Adam cannot be erased, and God seems to expend effort into making sure we understand that. But what are we to do? Being as we have seen God reject both uniformity and multiplicity, it seems there must be a balance and dialectic between the two. But what is that balance?

Perhaps the sign given to Noach after the Flood, the Rainbow, holds a clue. The Rainbow is a single beam of light that is refracted to show the multiple colors that make up that beam of light. God seems to be telling Noach that one must keep in mind that the multiplicity and ambiguity that characterizes the post-Edenic world all comes from and is part of a single source. Both sides of the partition of the heart, the multiplicity we see before us and the unity we posit as true, are true and valid and must be recognized as such. But while that multiplicity is all too apparent to us, and it is very real and must be struggled with, all perspectives are ultimately unified in the God who unites all opposites.

Good shabbos.


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