Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Garden of Eden: A Wonderful Jewish Perspective

Rich - The Dichotomy of Eve, comment #124 (Feminist Mormon Housewives)

I personally love the perspective provided by Rabbi Harold Kushner in his brilliant book, “How Good Do We Have To Be?”:

I see Eve as being terribly brave as she eats the fruit. She is not frivolous, disobedient, or easily seduced, as later interpreters have insisted on describing her. She is boldly crossing the boundary into the unknown, venturing to discover what lies beyond the limits of animal existence, and reaching back to bring Adam after her. The portrait of Eve in Genesis calls to mind the Greek myth of Pandora (described in some versions of the story as the first woman on earth). Pandora was given a box and told never to open it. Inevitably she did, and all manner of troubles and diseases flew out to plague the world ever after. One suspects that the original story has been distorted, as the Garden of Eden story has been misinterpreted, to paint the woman as the villain responsible for all the world’s problems. The name Pandora means “all gifts” in Greek, and one might speculate that in the original story, the box contained all sorts of good things the gods wanted to keep from mankind. In the same way, I read the story of the garden not as an account of Eve imposing Sin and Death on her descendants, but as an account of her giving us humanity, with all of its pain and all of its richness. Like Pandora, the donor of “all gifts,”, Eve has given her descendants more than existence; she has given us Life.

I don’t believe that eating from the Tree of Knowledge was sinful. I believe it was one of the bravest and most liberating events in the history of the human race…

The woman is not the villain of the story, enslaved by appetite and bringing sin and death into the world. She can be seen as the heroine of the story, leading her husband into the brave new world of moral demands and moral decisions.

And religion is not the carping voice of condemnation, telling us that the normal is sinful and the well-intentioned mistake is an unforgivable transgression that will damn us forever. Religion is the voice that says, I will guide you through this minefield of difficult moral choices, sharing with you the insights and experiences of the greatest souls of the past, and I will offer you comfort and forgiveness when you are troubled by the painful choices you made.

To say that human beings do wrong things, to say that they are capable of cruelty and deceit far worse than any other creature, to say that nobody will ever lead a perfect life any more than any baseball player will ever bat 1.000, is a statement about human beings and the complexity of the choices we have to make. To say that we are destined to lose God’s love or to go to Hell because of our sins is not a statement about us but about God, about the tentative nature of God’s love and the conditional nature of God’s forgiveness. It is a claim that God expects perfection from us and will settle for nothing less. I agree with the first concept, the fallibility of human beings. But I strenuously reject the second. If I am capable of forgiveness, of recognizing intermittent weakness in good people or good intentions gone astray in myself and in others, how can God not be capable of at least as much?


So the woman saw that the tree was good to eat and a delight to the eye, and the serpent said to her, “Eat of it, for when you eat of it, you will be as wise as God.” But the woman said, “No, God has commanded us not to eat of it, and I will not disobey God.”

And God called to the man and the woman and said to them, “Because you have hearkened to My word and not disobeyed My command, I shall reward you greatly.” To the man, He said, “You will never have to work again. Spend all your days in idle contentment, with food growing all around you.” To the woman, He said, “You will bear children without pain and you will raise them without pain. They will need nothing from you. Children will not cry when their parents die, and parents will not cry when their children die.” To both of them, He said, “For the rest of your lives, you will have full bellies and contented smiles. You will never cry and you will never laugh. You will never long for something you don’t have, and you will never receive something you always wanted.” And the man and the woman grew old together in the garden, eating daily from the Tree of Life and having many children. And the grass grew high around the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil until it disappeared from view, for there was no one to tend it.


symphonyofdissent said...

This is a beautiful post. Jewish ideas about heaven and hell as well as notions such as the pre-existence are a lot more similar to LDS positions in many ways

Gwennaƫlle said...

WHAAAAAAAAT? Eve is not the evil responsible for all humanity sadness?

I had to sorry.

Kind of funny that you should post somehting about Eve when I have been wondering a lot about HM recently.
And no I don't mean H&M the cltohes brand. I am talking of HM as completing HF.

ellen said...

ray, there is something i still don't understand about the LDS version of adam and eve.

i understand eating from the tree of knowledge as brave in that eve gave us humanity, with all its pain and all its richness. i understand that we will do things that are wrong, and that we are putting limits on god if we say that his love and mercy are conditional. i understand that following both commandments would have prevented us from having the ability to choose to do what is right.

i don't understand why, when given just two commandments to follow, that breaking one of them intentionally is not sinful.

can you help?

Ryan said...


Those two commandments were mutually exclusive. If Adam and Eve had not partaken of the fruit they never could have had children (see 2 Nephi 2).

The choice in the Garden was between good and better, not between good and evil as Satan mistakenly believed. He thought he was lying to Eve about the importance of eating the fruit because he knew not the mind of God (see Moses 4).

Eve's mistake, if any, was to partake of the fruit for the wrong reason (yielding to the enticings of Satan instead of acting with an understanding that the other commandment was more important), but I think she understood the truth which Satan mistakenly shared and acted on it.

Papa D said...

Ellen, I view the whole narrative as figurative and allegorical, so my answer isn't based on a belief that the Garden of Eden actually existed and there was real fruit that was eaten. However, within the figurative, allegorical construct, I personally would count both Eve's action and Adam's reaction as being transgressions rather than sins - since they involved competing commandments that appeared to them to be mutually exclusive.

I believe the morals of this story are two-fold: 1) that there often are competing "goods" from which we must choose the better way, and 2) that we must bear the consequences of our actions, even when we are choosing the better way.

I don't put guilt and original sin on Eve, since I think she really was "beguiled" by Lucifer's argument - that really didn't understand - that she really did act out of innocence, lacking the requisite knowledge to make her action "sin".

ellen said...

Thanks, both of you, for your replies.