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B’reishit – Genesis 3:1-21 – Julian Anthony

We celebrated the New Year, cleansed our souls during the Day of Atonement, enjoyed the fresh air and fruits during the time in our sukkahs and have commenced reading the Torah from the beginning all over again.

You may be forgiven for thinking that today is just an ordinary Shabbat following all the hubbub of the preceding chagim. Perhaps it is for you but not for me. Shortly after accepting Jack’s offer to deliver a sermon it dawned upon me that I had no idea what Genesis chapter 3 verses 1 to 21 is all about. Having closed that knowledge gap with a research visit to a local library and an extensive trawl through the encyclopaedia Brittanica and microfiche slides, I am delighted to learn that the parsha this week forms part of Bereshit and is specifically focused on Adam and Eve’s partaking of forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge.

I shall start by precising this week’s story in the form of a short poem to help you follow my thought processes and impending observations linked to this torah reading.

In chapter one the story began

It was on the sixth day that God made man

From the earth and dust a human arose

The name for him, “Adam”, God chose

God created a garden of plenty

With trees all around, more than twenty

The fruit Adam could eat from every tree

All except one, for which death would be the penalty

The animals came to provide a helpmate

But none of them were particularly great

So from Adam’s ribs God made a treasure

Woman was born to join Adam in his leisure

It is then that our chapter 3 commences

And the serpent appears under false pretences

A cunning imposter in disguise

To separate out the fool from the wise

With cunning and sly the serpent does sway

The woman who had been happy for God’s rules to obey

He persuades her to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree

And immediately, that they are naked, she can see

Eve shared the fruit with Adam her man

Then embarrassed and ashamed into the bushes they ran

God was angry for their transgression

And punishment became an obsession

Adam blamed Eve and she pointed at the snake

So God made sure in childbirth woman would ache

For ever more the serpent would wriggle on the soil

And for Adam to get food would involve much toil

God made Adam and Eve garments of skin

And ensured Eve would crave for her husband because of her sin

Both were expelled from the wonderful garden

Neither had the chance to appeal for a pardon

 

The partaking of the forbidden fruit marks a transformational stage in mankind’s relationship with God. The behaviour of Adam and Eve in numerous ways reflects the nature of us all as humans and is something that I am sure will resonate with every one of you in synagogue today as curiosity and the need to make their own decisions determines the actions that Adam and Eve took and that we continue to take today. Similarly the feeling of disappointment God felt when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s order will be something that every parent can easily identify and sympathise with as each mother and father will have felt similar angst when their darling child has deliberately disobeyed the rules of the house.

Many of the traits of humankind are evident in the parsha verses such as greed, desire, fear, disobedience, trust, gullibility and of course a Jewish man blaming his wife when he does wrong! The incident also provokes thought about punishment and crime; did God’s punishment in this case fit the crimes that were committed by those involved? However severe the punishments are deemed to be, God ensures good outdoes evil by confining the serpent to crawl on its belly telling the serpent “they shall strike at your head, and you shall strike at their heel” meaning that good will always be more effective than evil.

“Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools” – is a quote from a World War 1 veteran that may be seen to have real meaning in our Garden of Eden story. It suggests that those that are wise should make their own decisions and not necessarily follow every rule literally whilst those less experienced will, and probably should, blindly follow the rules no matter what. A wise person will be able to exercise their own judgement to determine when it may be beneficial to themselves and others to “bend the rules”. The question may therefore be posed as to whether or not Eve and then Adam were wise or fools.

Prior to Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit God had created a beautiful garden for Adam and given him the most amazing gift of all, a woman, for company. The couple were blessed with access to all the trees and their fruit with the exception of just one tree for which God had clearly told them they must not eat from else they may die. God had not specified the reasons behind the prohibition of the fruit from this one tree and as such the serpent was able to convince the woman that eating the fruit would make her wise. I am a big believer that “rules is rules” and sometimes you just have to accept them and abide by them: however, human beings are inquisitive by nature with a thirst for knowledge and often break rules where they cannot see a reason for their existence.

We like to make informed decisions and can all cite examples where attempts to dictate rules without the logic behind them leads to the breaking of them, either in the workplace or perhaps with our own children should we fail to proffer a reason for limiting screen time or imposing a time curfew. However there are times when we just have to accept rules that we may not agree with – is there any logic as to why a school boy must wear their hair shorter than a school girl? Similarly we mostly accept God has reasons for his commands. On the other hand, as my 17 year old told me, if we all accepted all the rules all the time women would still not be able to vote!

I do have some empathy with Eve. She was duped by the serpent into believing the fruit from “Etz Hadaath” the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil would bring her greater wisdom. The serpent did this very cleverly by focusing only on what God did not allow ignoring the fact they could eat almost all the fruit that was in the garden. The serpent deliberately wanted the woman to think about what she must not do and to forget all the good things God has given. That is why it is very important, particularly over the chagim, to thank God for all the good things we have been given, to help us to remember them. Sam Allardyce – take note!

Eve has suffered through recounts of the story in that she has been portrayed as almost seducing Adam into eating the fruit. Both Adam and his wife had been told by God not to eat the fruit, yet they both do. It was Adam’s choice to do so – he was not forced by Eve; yet he later blames Eve for making him eat the fruit when confronted about it by God. This action by Adam for me is cowardly – everybody must take responsibility for their own actions and not blame somebody else.

God’s reaction to the transgression of Adam and Eve is very interesting. What is the first thing any of us tend to do when we know our child has taken something they shouldn’t? We always ask them “have you taken it”? In the same way, God already knew they had eaten the forbidden fruit yet he asked “have you eaten the fruit?” Why did God ask this question and why do we do the same thing? It is because we are looking straight away to give our children the opportunity to redeem themselves by being honest with us. God was looking for an admission and an apology from Adam and Eve but neither was forthcoming.

The story I have recounted is perhaps the start of man being given the ability to make choices about whether to love and obey God and further how to follow God.

Each of us can take our own pertinent learnings from the parsha. There are some themes that may be open to interpretation and debate about their true meaning such as “your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you”. A literal interpretation about women being subservient to men may be exercised by a certain Republican leader gunning for American presidency but I doubt that reflects God’s intent.

There are however some key points that resonate for me, as a Jewish family man, from Adam and Eve’s story which are:

  • Food is central to the Jewish way of life
  • Jewish women have a tendency to embellish their story telling – God only said do not eat from the tree, it was ok to touch it.
  • A Jewish husband will never prosper from trying to lay blame on his wife for his own actions

The verses we have explored today tell a story of good and evil. However, life is rarely that black and white. We make choices and have to stand by those decisions whether they are right or wrong. The most important thing is to learn from our mistakes and to take responsibility for our own actions. The following quote from Rabbi Noah Weinberg underlines a key learning for me “People often avoid making decisions out of fear of making a mistake. Actually the failure to make decisions is one of life’s biggest mistakes.” In other words – we must all take risks in order to grow and develop.

I do not believe God is totally prescriptive and dictatorial in his rules as to how we should follow and obey his command but rather that he is laying down guidelines for us to follow in the way that each of us as wise individuals feels and chooses is best.

As reform Jews I believe we make choices about how we observe our dedication to God and that will differ to some degree for every one of us.

Please remember to be thankful for what you have got, embrace the good things and look after your loved ones.

I wish you all a very good Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom.

Julian Anthony.

29.11.16.

Wed, 23 January 2019 17 Sh'vat 5779