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People sometimes complain that newspapers publish only bad news. Yet if a newspaper were to publish only good news, it would probably go bankrupt in a month, or maybe a week. The same principle applies to the longevity of the Torah.
This comes to mind as we turn back the clock and start our reading again. In the same breath that we finish with the death of Moshe we begin with the beginning of creation. After shaking our heads during the year in admiration of the miracles rained down on the Israelites during their 40-year sojourn in the desert, and then shaking those same heads because of the challenges and frustrating intransigence wrought by those same Israelites, we return to a simpler time. Or so it seems.
We have the creation. God says, and it’s done. And all is good. Imagine five books of “only good”. Boring. Because what kind of development could you find where everything goes as planned? So we have to have conflict. Action. Controversy.
And we get action. Adam and Eve are ensconced in their Garden of Eden where all they have to do is look after their paradise. Even watering the plants is taken care of by the rivers. But like the pistol in the first act of a play that will be fired in the third act, a tree of potential destruction is planted early on.
You can eat what you want, they are told, but keep away from the tree of knowledge of good and bad. And of course, they don’t. Only in this way can there be development.
We have seen several adaptations of this story in movies. One was the 1998 film ‘The Truman Show’ with Jim Carrey. A director, Christof, creates a whole town which is only a façade, in which the life of one main character, Truman, is followed from his birth onward.
Everything is controlled. Nothing bad can happen to Truman because the script does not allow for it. And if anything untoward occurs, there is an emergency backup plan to assist and apply damage control. Truman seems completely unaware of the artificiality of his situation, although everyone else knows it’s a sham because they are paid actors. Adam and Eve were also in the dark.
It is only when Truman eats from the tree of knowledge, knowledge transmitted by a woman, that he is living in a movie set, does he begin to look around and see how overly perfect everything is. And he wants out. Or he thinks he does. Adam and Eve just panic.
But what do we really know about our story? Fleshing out the Garden of Eden story we have in today’s parsha, let’s try to see what is not written – what thoughts if any might have gone through Adam’s head, and Eve’s, before they ate from the forbidden fruit. Could they have imagined what life would be like outside the garden? Could they have built a scenario of what they would be losing by taking that bite? And did they consider what they might gain to counterbalance such potential losses?
I don’t think they could fathom what changes would occur because, relying on the text, they had no reason to suspect any other type of life existed. Real knowledge of the outside world was not available to them.
For argument’s sake, let’s say they discussed whether to bite or not to bite. Eve might say, we have such a nice place here, but surely the places outside of here are just as nice. Or maybe nothing will happen? God wouldn’t kill us, would he?
Adam might say, I don’t know. My work here is pretty nice, but it’s no big challenge anymore. Maybe I could find another place where my skills could be put to better use…
What they couldn’t have imagined was the extent of the change they would undergo. You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow (no more cushy union jobs for you) and it may or may not give you something in return. As for you, young lady, you’re going to learn what giving birth really entails. Pain. Suffering. And then we have the story of Cain and Abel. Well, how could she have even thought of such an option? Did she know what pain was in that world of everything good?
In the Truman Show, Christof the director tries to persuade Truman not to leave the hothouse/womb he has created for him. You don’t know how bad it is out there, he says. When Truman leaves, we don’t know what he finds outside. We would like to believe that he finds his female companion and they live happily ever after. But that’s a Hollywood touch. After all, what real skills does he have for the outside world? What sort of bank balance does he have to begin to live on his own? It’s disheartening to analyze such narratives because they reflect our desire for a happy end more than they reflect reality.
As for our story, from here on, the parsha and the whole book of Bereshit are full of action. Of “bad news” which helps to develop the plot and to lead to “progress.” Or regress.
And what about us? Here we are, after the holidays, happily striding into the future, like Adam and Eve, not knowing what’s going to happen. Not knowing didn’t bother them as much as it bothers us. That’s one reason it’s so soothing to begin with Bereshit again. There, at least, we know what’s going to happen.