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Do Not Read this Article

10/20/2022 12:13:27 PM


Don’t read this Shabbat Shalom article. I’m sure you already know what it's about. 

Fine, do what you want. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  

As far as plots go, the story of the Garden of Eden is predictable. God places human beings in a garden and tells them that they can eat from any tree they want – EXCEPT ONE. The camera lens zooms in on that Tree of Knowledge, and every reader of the Bible files away the fact that this tree is important to the plotline. Later, when the humans unsurprisingly eat from the forbidden fruit, human readers of the Bible roll their eyes and say, “Of course, told you so…” It is a recognizably human response – and historically becomes the paradigm story of human temptation and disobedience. The forbidden fruit story is a classic example of reverse psychology. When a person is told not to push the mysterious big red button, the suggestion alone instills a strong desire to quench one’s curiosity and press the button to find out what it does– despite the consequences. 

It is worth considering how our own understanding of human nature and our own expectations colors our experience of the story of the Garden of Eden. We can’t help but read the story as human beings, and the story is compelling simply because we find it familiar. The Torah doesn’t just relate the facts to us (there were humans, there was a forbidden tree, they ate from it), but rather tells us a story about human stewardship over nature, human loneliness, human companionship, and human sin. It’s a story about compelling human characters, with all of their flaws, and is meant to be read in the context of the relationship with human readers.  

 As we restart the Torah and begin once more with Parshat Bereishit¸ we recognize that the stories are unchanging. The plot of the Garden of Eden is still predictable, and now that we are seeing it once again, it is technically even more unsurprising. Yet while the text of the Torah is the same, us readers have changed. We have new human experiences and insights that will add nuance and new color to the age-old biblical stories. Moreover, we have new opportunities to hear how other voices read these stories and the other ways humanity is reflected in the text. Our communities are richer when more voices are heard and where there are more opportunities to share our experiences with one another.

Indeed, the plot of our portion is predictable, but perhaps that’s the point. The recognizably human nature of the text reminds us that it’s not about looking inside the story to find all its secrets, but rather to look inside the human readers and what is inside all of us. As we start the Torah anew, it is my prayer that we can always remember that more important than what the Torah says is remembering to figure out what it is the Torah says to us readers. And if we can be reflective on who we are as humans and what human nature is about, then we can truly delve deep into the religious topics about the meaning of our life and what constitutes a life lived well and righteously.

Shabbat Shalom

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784