Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. Our Jewish liturgical year has just begun again and it brings us right back to Bereshit.
I first read Bereshit when I was about 9 years old and could not stop fidgeting in shul. My Mum handed me the Chumash (Tanakh/Torah) and turned it to the first page of Genesis, “In the beginning…” Five minutes in and I couldn’t put this action drama down. The universe is created in six days, there are sneaky serpents, brothers who destroy each other, epic floods and people who lived Way. Too. Long.
The story opens with the first debate between good and bad ever. I’m talking about the etz hadaat tov v’ra – the tree of knowledge of good and bad. As you know, it was Eve – a woman – who first ate its fruit. Yes, the Torah says a snake egged her on but really, it seems to me, and probably did to Eve at the time, quite irresistible. You get a sampling of divine knowledge, plus a tasty snack as a bonus. Once her eyes and her mind were opened, Eve gave some of the fruit to Adam, who ate it without question. Just made some munching sounds. It’s no surprise to me that it was Eve who was tempted to bite the fruit – I think of her as the first multi-tasker – really, it could only be a woman who could handle dealing with the knowledge of good and bad at the same time.
Another Biblical Heroine, Miriam was also always forging (no joke intended) her own path. Miriam is as wise as she is young when Pharaoh decrees that all the newborn Jewish boys shall be drowned in the Nile. She follows Moses in his basket and makes sure that he is retrieved. While she put her trust and faith in Hashem (G-d), she also needed to see it through. This combination of faith and drive is what keeps our connection to God. Eve and Miriam both live their lives with the values of Emuna (trust) and Hishtadlus (drive) brings them closer to God and a better world.
I don’t think Eve was ever going to NOT eat the fruit. It was an obvious part of this story. God telling a woman not to do something that will give her more knowledge and wisdom about life? Please, it was bound to happen. I don’t even view this act as a sinful one, although Eve has been vilified for this act for centuries. It was Eve who took that risk. Like Eve, who took on the responsibility to enlighten herself and bring Adam, and by extension the rest of humanity along with her, each of us has a responsibility to keep searching for the things that bring us more knowledge, greater meaning, and a strong moral core. May 5783 be a year that we do the right things in order to better ourselves and our communities.
Looking back to my nine year old self reading Bereshit, I could not imagine how endless and infinite the knowledge from the Torah is. One Pasuk (verse) can carry many meanings and morals. I think the moral from the few Psukim (verses) about hetz hadaat tov v’ra (tree of knowledge of good and bad) is that it is not sinful to both have faith in something and deepen your knowledge about it. In fact, that’s how we got to where we are, and that’s how we will keep moving forward.
Program Coordinator, Hillel Queens