Boker Tov and Happy Hoshana Rabbah.
I share with you parts (Genesis 2:15-17 and 3:1ff) of the Torah reading this coming Shabbat. You know the story but may not know how much a very careful reading can teach us.
“The Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to till it and tend it. [There was no Eve until later in this chapter.] And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.’” … “Now [chapter 3] the serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild beasts that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman [Eve is now on the scene], ‘Did God really say: You shall not eat of any trees of the garden?’ The woman replied to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden. It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said: ‘You shall not eat of it touch it, lest you die.’ And the serpent said to the woman, ‘You are not going to die, but God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who know good and bad.’ Well, things go downhill after that. Eve eats the fruit, gives some to Adam, and we have been working to make a living and having pain in childbirth and not living in Gan Eden ever since.
The story seems simple enough, but look at how clever this little Torah tale actually is [just using commentaries from Etz Hayim]:
Serpents were big players in the culture of the ancient world, endowed with divine or semi divine qualities. But in the Torah the serpent is reduced to one of the creatures that God made; its role to challenge the first humans to understand what it means to have choices.
The serpent speaks to the woman rather than her husband. Why? Adam had received the divine command not to eat the fruit of that tree and presumably conveyed it to Eve. Her knowledge was second hand, so she would be less sure of what was said and more vulnerable to the serpent’s manipulation.
“Did God really say?” In the original conversation with Adam, it felt more like a command, which the serpent subtly softens. More important, the fact that the serpent knew of the conversation/ command, before NSA surveillance, gives the serpent a lot of credibility.
The serpent says, “You shall not eat of any trees of the garden.” That isn’t what God said, but by misquoting God in this way the serpent assures that the woman cannot give a one word reply and instead has to be drawn into conversation and that is where the danger lurks.
“You are not going to die.” The serpent contradicts the exact words of God’s statement in 2:17. Again, how did it know what God said? Since it does, its assurance serves to allay her fears. Choosing between a message of death or life, who isn’t going to choose the latter?
“God knows that as soon as you eat …you will be like divine beings.” The serpent made that up. God is pictured as being self-serving, not wanting any competition. God’s credibility is now somewhat undermined, as it were, and Eve is more likely to listen to the serpent.
“Your eyes will be opened…” You will be elevated to a higher level of existence and be able to make decisions independently of God. These decisions will be what you think is best for your own welfare. Defiance of God’s law is then a precondition for human freedom. And doesn’t everyone want and deserve freedom?
How many of those insights did you pick up? I do find the Torah to be so clever. Thursday night and Friday morning we celebrate Simchat Torah, the holiday that commemorates the gift that is our Torah. Torah impresses us more the more we turn it from end to beginning and start reading anew. Thursday night (7:30PM) it’s Torah dancing, Hershey bars, schnapps; Friday morning we actually finish/start the Torah and have aliyot for all and we will be honoring Amanda Ford and Jerry Sorkin for their many contributions to Beth El.
Moving backwards, Wednesday night (6:30PM) and Thursday it is Shemini Atzeret, a rather baffling holiday. For practical purposes, we say Yizkor (at both the 7AM and 9:30AM services) and begin officially praying for rain.
If I have succeeded in confusing you by now, times and more information are under Upcoming Special Events on our renovated website.
I am off to shul right now for Hoshana Rabbah, where we beat our willows into the ground and have a last opportunity for repentance. So begins this Wednesday for me. May it be a good one for you. Moadim l’simchah. I hope that these fall holidays have been good ones and that they help launch a great new year. Bill Rudolph
P.S. Shabbat this week features the Kol Haneshama service Friday night, 6:30 PM, with instruments; normally on the second Shabbat of the month but that was Sukkot. After the sanctuary service on Shabbat we will be welcoming a delegation of mayors from Israel Palestinian and Jordanian cities who will talk about cross border progress in water conservation, desalinization, and pollution controls. Two beams of Shabbat light.