Chapter 1

1 God: The orderly functioning of the world that was established during the process of creation—i.e., nature—is a concealment of God, since the world appears to function so perfectly on its own that it does not betray the fact that any being outside of creation is involved in running it. In fact, God is so well hidden in nature that it is possible to entertain the notion that the world always existed and was not created, or that there is no creator at all. This is reflected in the fact that the numerical value of the word for "nature" (הטבע, 86) is equivalent to that of the Name of God used in the creation narrative, Elokim (אלהים).

Heaven and earth: The terms "heaven" and "earth" are relative. On the physical plane, "heaven" means the sky and all the heavenly bodies that appear to us to be in it, while "earth" means the ground. On a grander scale, "earth" includes the entire physical universe, while "heaven" refers to the spiritual realms. Similarly, various spiritual realms may be termed "heaven" and "earth" relative to each other.

In any case, the archetypal division of reality at any given level into "heaven" and "earth" implies a duality of consciousness in creation—a realm of greater and lesser God-consciousness. This was necessary in order to facilitate the purpose of creation, the making of the "lower" realm into a home for God, for in order to make the lower realm into a home for God, there must first of all be a lower realm, and secondly there must be a higher realm (that is not itself God) through which the lower realm can attain progressively higher levels of Divine consciousness.

This conceptual division immediately implies a geocentric perspective—i.e., that "heaven" is defined as that which is above and beyond "earth," and that our perspective on creation is therefore oriented from the vantage point of earth.

Scientifically, we are nowadays accustomed to the heliocentric (Copernican) view of the solar system rather than the earlier geocentric (Ptolemaic) view. However, according to the theory of relativity, there really is no absolute scientific validity to either view; today's preference for the heliocentric one is due to the fact that it simplifies the equations describing the planetary motion. Objectively, however, it is scientifically entirely tenable to accept the Torah's geocentric perspective.1


God created everything that exists, so He is therefore beyond all categories of existence and beyond any description. Even terms such as "infinite," "transcendent," and "eternal" cannot help us define Him; He created all these categories, so He is beyond the limitations of being "infinite," "transcendent," or "eternal."

By the same token, He is beyond any category of gender, so when we speak of Him in the masculine it is because the neuter "It" is too impersonal (and in fact, there is no neuter in Hebrew) and because by assuming the role of the Creator of a universe, He adopts, mainly, the attributes that He will define in the context of this world as masculine.

Despite this inscrutability, God makes Himself at all times accessible to His creatures. Significantly, He chose to create reality by first assuming specific attributes that serve to channel His creative energy. Everything created thus reflects these Divine attributes in one way or another, and therefore, by observing creation through the lens of God's revealed teachings, we can gradually come to know God Himself.

In order to create a world antagonistic to Divinity, God had to remove His "presence," i.e., the awareness of Him, from a realm of reality specifically designated to be void of it. This withdrawal (tzitmtzum) of God's presence produced a realm vacant of Divine consciousness.2 This realm is figuratively described as "circular" or "spherical," because Divine consciousness was withdrawn equally in all "directions." Into this vacated realm God beamed a ray (kav) of Divine consciousness, with which He created numerous spiritual worlds, each populated by various grades of spiritual entities, archetypes, and so on. The "higher" the world on the ray, the greater the Divine consciousness that characterizes it. Although this process brought an infinite number of worlds into being, they may be divided into four general worlds, of which all the others are gradations: Atzilut ("Emanation"), Beriah ("Creation"), Yetzirah ("Formation"), and Asiyah ("Action").

The world of Atzilut is considered the ideal representation of Divine consciousness, in which God's reality is so self-evident that there is no "room" for self-awareness. The creatures of the lower worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah are characterized by increasing degrees of self-awareness. The world of Asiyah is the spiritual archetype of our physical universe, in which self-awareness is total and there is no a priori Divine consciousness at all.

All these stages of creation evolved in a logical sense, but not in a temporal sense, because actual time, as noted, did not begin until the first day of physical creation.

Each of the four worlds is governed by a set of Divine attributes known as the sefirot. These are arranged in a logical hierarchy, which groups the sefirot into categories, and along three "axes," which define the mutual relationships between them:

In this hierarchy, supra-intellect rules intellect, intellect rules emotions, emotions rule behavior, and behavior determines expression.

Within this structure, the various sefirot sometimes act as conduits that transmit content to other sefirot, or alternatively as recipients of this content, which then express it in new contexts. The role any particular sefirah takes in this process determines its "gender" in that context. For example, the sefirot of the right axis are "male" relative to the sefirot on the same level of the left axis, which in this context are "female"; the three sefirot of the intellect are collectively "male" relative to the six emotions, which in this context are collectively "female"; and the six emotions are collectively "male" relative to malchut, the sefirah of expression, which in this context is "female."

The sefirot within each world subdivide ad infinitum, each sefirah comprising ten sub-sefirot (chochmah of chochmah, binah of chochmah, etc.), and each sub-sefirah comprising ten sub-sub-sefirot, etc.

[1] Heaven: The seven lower sub-sub-sefirot of malchut of malchut of Asiyah3 are sometimes referred to as "the seven heavens."4 Specifically, these realms are, in ascending order:5

2 God's spirit: In the idiom of the sages, this spirit is God's "Throne of Glory," which was hovering over the water, unable to settle on earth. The imagery of the throne is that of a place where God's presence can settle, much as a chair offers a person a fixed place of repose.6 God's presence desired to dwell on earth, so to speak, but was unable to do so because the earth was unsuited for it. This tension initiated the entire creative process that followed.

The sages also call this spirit "the spirit of the Messiah,"7 i.e., the redeemer who will bring the world to its perfection. The vision of the ultimate fulfillment and perfection of creation was present from its very inception and constitutes an intrinsic element of all reality: all reality is "hardwired" to aspire to the final redemption and progress towards it. All events subsequent to the creation are steps leading toward this ultimate goal.

There is a lesson to be learned from the fact that God's spirit was present even in the void and darkness of primal reality. Even when prospects seem bleak, the spirit of messianic optimism is there; all we have to do is reveal it. How do we do this? "And there was light!" By illuminating the world with the light of the Torah.8

3 God said: Throughout the account of creation, everything is brought into being through God's "speech."

Of the three modes of self-expression—thought, speech, and action—thought is the most intense and action the least: one can think much more and much more quickly than he can articulate, and articulate much more than he can do. Thought is therefore considered the mode "closest" to the individual's essence. Conversely, action requires more physical effort than speech and speech more effort than thought. Speech is thus in the middle of both continuums, similar to action in being removed from the individual's essence and similar to thought in how little effort it requires. Thus, by saying that God created the world through "speech," the Torah indicates, on the one hand, that the world is separate from God, just as one's words separate from him and "leave" him after he has spoken them (while one's thoughts remain within him), and, on the other hand, that creating the world did not require God to change, just as the effort expended in speaking does not require the exertion that action does.

The faculty of speech that God used to create the world is the origin of language. The words He used were formed out of the specific creative energies He needed to blend in order to fashion the particular object He was creating. These specific creative energies became the letters of the language of creation; the various combinations of these energies/letters became the words He spoke. This creative language God used is what we know today as Biblical Hebrew. Hebrew is therefore called in Jewish tradition the "holy language," because the form, sound, and position in the alphabet of each letter (the origin of the concept of number) express one of the different types of Divine energy used in creation. The name of any given entity in Hebrew is thus a precise description of its essence, expressed through the combination of the letters that form its name.9

In any case, the idiom of "speech" indicates a constriction of God's infinite creative energy into a specific creation. Since, as we have stated, the Divine Name used for "God" here, Elokim, indicates Divine concealment, the statements beginning "God said let there be…" in the creation account can be understood to mean: "The infinity of the Divine creative energy was concealed, thus revealing finite Divine creative energy, which was then focused on producing such-and-such a creation"; the Hebrew letters that reflect how this finite Divine creative energy was channeled in this process constitute the name of the created entity.

The phrase "God said" appears nine times in the account of creation, but the words "in the beginning" also imply an act of creation, i.e., that all the four elements of creation not mentioned explicitly were also created by God's word.10

This articulation is not phrased "God said" because God's first creation was the letters of language itself. This creation is alluded to in the words "In the beginning of God's creating," followed in the Hebrew by the un-translated sign of the accusative, et (את). This word alludes to all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, from the first letter (alef, א) to the last (tav, ת). Allegorically, then, the first phrase in the Torah can be read: "In the beginning, God created language." Only after creating the letters did God "say" the subsequent nine articulations.11

Light: Light, both physically and allegorically, is a prerequisite to sight, awareness, consciousness, knowledge, and perspective. Without light (or "enlightenment") there could be no perception and therefore no progress. The first change introduced in the state of primordial creation is therefore light, i.e., the ability to perceive the differences between the various elements of creation. This itself implies the imperative to order these elements in one's consciousness, and order implies a hierarchy of values. Light is thus the first step in the actualization of the redemption-oriented "spirit of God" that hovered over the waters, the first move towards infusing reality with Divine consciousness.

And there was light: Despite the initial gloomy state of reality—void, chaos, and darkness—light broke through and illuminated the world. The lesson for us here is that no matter how depressing or hopeless a situation may seem, we should not despair: at any moment God may turn the tables and light and order will displace chaos and darkness.12


[3] The light was "good": This "goodness" refers to the transcendent Divine light (sovev kol almin), as opposed to the immanent Divine light (memalei kol almin). Inasmuch as the transcendent light has been set aside for the messianic future, we can no longer "see" it or "see" with it; we can only infer its existence logically. The immanent Divine light, however, remains accessible to us; with a certain amount of effort, we can sense the Divinity pulsating through creation and enlivening it.13

4 God reserved this quality of light as a reward for the righteous in the messianic future: God created not only light, but the whole world a priori in its full perfection.14 Even if this perfection was only temporary and God later lessened the quality or intensity of most aspects of reality, the initial experience of perfection imbued reality with the impetus and potential to later strive to restore it.15 Although we are accustomed to think of our familiar reality as "normal" and the changes reality will undergo in the messianic era as being "miraculous," it follows that, on the contrary, our familiar reality is actually an aberration of the world's natural state and the messianic redemption will simply restore reality to its natural condition.

That the light was good: Throughout the account of creation, we are repeatedly told that God saw that what He had created was good. In most cases, this statement follows the description of God's creative activity on each of the six days of creation. These expressions of satisfaction mean that each stage of creation represents a further readying of the world for its role in the Divine plan, as a stage for the drama of making the world into God's home.

On a deeper level, "good" is a relative term: something is called "good" in comparison with something else that is not as good. In this sense, the repetitions of "it was good" refer indirectly to the higher spiritual realms: the physical world was in some way better than its spiritual antecedents. The spiritual worlds are indeed higher on the hierarchy of spirituality than the physical world, but precisely because of this, they are inferior to it in terms of being suited for God's purpose in creation.16

God separated between the light and the darkness: Here again, just like the establishment of the dichotomy between heaven and earth, it was necessary to polarize light and darkness. In order to be fully effective, light must be contrasted with darkness, enlightenment with ignorance, clarity with confusion, objectivity with subjectivity, rationality with irrationality.

In other words, although God saw that "the light was good," He did not do away with the darkness, allowing daylight to rule the entire 24-hour day. Darkness serves a purpose; in fact, this purpose is so important that for half the year there is more darkness than light. This equality of light and darkness clearly indicates that darkness does not simply serve to allow us to value and appreciate the light, but that the dark side of life is useful in and of itself, and can be harnessed, like the rest of creation, in the fulfillment of God's purpose.

Still, "God saw that the light was good." Despite their equal status, the dark side of life must always be subordinate to and guided by the clarity of light.17

5 There was evening and there was morning: Allegorically, this means that any new perception of reality or consciousness of God's purpose must first be experienced as "darkness"—subjectively, irrationally—and only then clarified with the help of Divine light. However, even then, the dark aspect of this awareness is not altogether superseded by the light, for "there was evening and there was morning, one day"—they are both essential components of the whole experience, or "day."18


[5] There was evening and there was morning: Evening preceded morning because God brought the light of creation into being by "dimming" the spiritual light—Divine consciousness—that shines in the spiritual worlds antecedent to our physical world. Once the light of the spiritual worlds was withdrawn or "contracted" (tzimtzum), there was room for physical light.19


[5] There was evening and there was morning: Thus, the Torah defines a "day" as the 24-hour period from one nightfall to the next. Therefore, for example, the Sabbath and the holidays all begin in the evening of the "day before."

[8] Purgatory: Since Purgatory (in Hebrew, geihinom) is a spiritual realm, it is only allegorically that we speak of the soul "descending" into Purgatory or "ascending" out of it in the afterlife. Nonetheless, since spiritual truths always have physical correlates, the physical subterranean "underworld" does reflect some characteristics of Purgatory. For example, the fact that in Purgatory the soul's encrusted sins have to be "burned" off20 (through embarrassment, and so on21) is reflected in the fact that there are places underground where the temperature is hotter than it is on the earth's surface. Similarly, the Talmudic sages ascribe the heat of the earth's hot springs to their "proximity" to Purgatory.22 On the other hand, we are taught that certain sins (such as laziness, etc.) are rectified in Purgatory through spiritual "snow."23

Normally, twelve months in Purgatory is sufficient to cleanse the soul of the effects of the sins it committed during its lifetime in the body.24 Only in very specific cases does the soul require more cleansing, or even, in extreme, rare cases, to be cleansed until the final redemption, at which time Purgatory will cease to exist.25

9 Let the waters…be gathered to one place: The second stage of the work involving water actually involved the lowest, most central sphere, that of earth. Here God contoured the smooth surface of this sphere, producing mountains and valleys. As the surface of the earth rose in some places and sunk in others, the landmass displaced the water, forming all the oceans and other bodies of water.26 Since this second half of the work of arranging the water was really work involving the earth, it was done on the third day, together with the other work involving the earth. But since the end result was the formation of the various bodies of water, the work of the water was not considered complete until this point, and therefore only now does God see "that it was good."

In creating the seas and revealing dry land, God further prepared the world for humanity. Once again, we see the division of reality into two contrasting states, here the division of the surface of the earth into land and sea. The land, in this context, is the lower state, where man feels more fully "grounded" and independent. The creatures of the sea are submerged within their environment and dependent upon it to a much greater extent than the creatures of the land. (Colloquially, we speak of someone totally immersed in something as "swimming" in it.) Spiritually, then, the sea and its creatures represent a greater dependence upon one's life-source, whereas the land and its creatures represent a more independent, self-sufficient consciousness.27 This dichotomy is a prerequisite for the worldly consciousness that God will want humanity to transform into Divine awareness.


[14] As astrological signs: At this point, God programmed the mechanisms of predetermination and predestination into creation. The only beings exempt from this mechanism will be humanity, who, if they so elect, may exercise a certain degree of free will.28 Theoretically, it is possible to "read" the celestial map of destiny and thereby provisionally predict the future (but only provisionally, since free will can override predestination), and there are instances in the Torah of pagan astrologers doing this.29 Astrology as practiced today, however, has suffered from millennia of corruption and therefore cannot be considered reliable, even provisionally.

For setting festivals: The Torah's calendar is a combination of the lunar and solar calendar. Months begin at the new moon, but an extra month is periodically intercalated to align the months and the seasons (which are determined by the solar cycle) consistently.

16 The greater…the lesser: God here, once again, was establishing the duality in creation between male/female (or giver/recipient) by creating two luminaries, one radiating and one reflective. He intended from the outset that there be a greater and a smaller luminary. But since both are necessary components of creation, neither is intrinsically superior to the other; from God's perspective, they are both "great luminaries." Still, in the context of creation, there is an implied superiority of the giver over the recipient, and, in order for the creative drama to unfold, creation's perspective must be allowed to prevail over the Creator's. Thus, as soon as it was created, the moon was immediately diminished. However, once creation took on creature-consciousness (as opposed to Creator-consciousness), God had to ensure that it would not lose sight of the goal of the giver/recipient duality: the ultimate reunification of the radiating and reflective elements of creation. This He did by "appeasing" the moon, i.e., granting it certain aspects of greatness. Similarly, the atonement offering brought every new moon is a reminder that the sun/moon dichotomy is not intended to be permanent; it is only a temporary situation occasioned by the need to bring creation to its fulfillment.30

This "sin" of the moon and its subsequent banishment from the daytime is the precursor of the sin of Adam and Eve and their subsequent banishment from the Garden of Eden, as will be elucidated further.

26 Rule: The purpose of creation is for us to "conquer" the world by bringing consciousness of God's infinity into finite reality. Logically, it would seem that only God Himself can do this, since only He can override the natural, finite order that He himself established. In fact, however, God delegates the conquest of the world to us.

The tool God gives us to accomplish this feat is the Torah. The Torah is both "in" the world and "outside" it: It is "in" the world in that it couches God's will in worldly contexts—how to conduct business, how to observe the Sabbath, and so on. But at the same time, the Torah is "outside" the world: it enables us to transcend the limitations of the world and ascend the ladder of Divine consciousness. The Torah is therefore the bridge between Divinity and the world.

Since we "assist" God in this mission—even though our ability to do this stems from the Torah—we are credited for our efforts. In the words of the Talmud, we become "partners with God in [fulfilling] creation."31

However, the power to rule also entails responsibility. By charging us with the task of bringing creation to its fruition, God also made us responsible for it. If we succeed, all of creation benefits; if we fail, all of creation suffers. The flow of Divine beneficence into the world and all its creatures hinges on our actions.32


[26] Let us make a human: God phrased the creation of humanity in the plural because the human being is unique in that he comprises all the Divine attributes, or sefirot. Other creatures, in contrast, are principally manifestations of one or another of God's attributes.33

27 He created them male and female: The male part of the human being was not aware of the female body attached to him as anything other than an extended part of himself; he therefore later on34 feels that he has been created without a mate. Since this androgynous human was the being created "in God's image," it follows that God is, so to speak, both male and female, comprising the qualities we associate with both.

28 Be fruitful and prolific: Populating the world with human beings created in God's image is an essential facet of God's charge to humanity to fill the world with Divine consciousness, especially if they live up to their Divine calling.

In addition, we are enjoined to "create" other people in the spiritual sense as well, by encouraging them to fulfill their Divine mission, as the Torah requires of them. The Talmud35 considers a teacher of Torah to be the "father" of his students. This precept is so essential that it is the first commandment of the Torah.36

Although God phrased this command in the plural, addressing both Adam and Eve, He obligated them differently, in accordance with the innate differences in their psychological makeup, which will be explained below.37 Women, whom God made intrinsically self-motivated to concretize the Divine presence on earth, do not require any specific legal obligation to have children. In contrast, men, who are more intrinsically abstract, would not necessarily seek to procreate without a specific command to do so, and therefore the Torah explicitly obligates them to procreate.38


[28] God blessed them and God said to them: In general, the very act of issuing commands implies that there are consequences for obeying or disobeying those commands. Thus, from the dawn of creation, it was always implicitly understood that God would reward compliance with His will and take corrective measures against non-compliance with His will. In addition, the very fact that God created the world for a purpose implies that humanity is held responsible to behave in a way consonant with that purpose, promoting the effective functioning of the world and the maintenance of a just, Godly society.

This corpus of explicit commands and implicit expectations, together with to additional, edifying norms that humanity voluntarily adopted over the years, together formed a universal legal system by which all people were bound. Aberrant behavior was liable for punishment by God and, in some cases, by human agency. The age at which people became legally culpable in this system was 100 years.

This legal system remained in force until the formal Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. At that time, the legal distinction between Jew and non-Jew became formalized when God bound humanity at large by the Seven Noahide Laws and the Jewish people in particular by the legal system delineated for them in the Torah. Also,39 the age of culpability for transgressing any law God explicitly articulated was reduced to 13 for men and 12 for women.40

Chapter 2

2 God continued: It is significant that God kept creating into the seventh day—even if only slightly—and did not stop just before its onset. Evidently, God wanted to keep the creation process going up to (and therefore just beyond) the very last instant of the sixth day, "filling" its every last moment with the act of creation. Something would have been lacking had God ceased His work even one instant before the Sabbath.

The lesson God was teaching us here is indeed astounding. True, as Rashi points out, we are required to cease working somewhat before the Sabbath begins in order to ensure that we do not inadvertently violate the nature of the day. But until that moment, we must be sure to fill every moment with productive "work"—there must be no empty moments, no idling or loafing.

Those of us whose main occupation is earning a living are allowed to fulfill their obligation to study the Torah by setting aside limited daily study periods. But full-time Torah scholars must not compare themselves to part-time students and think that since they are anyway spending the greater part of their day studying, what's the harm if a minute or two goes to waste? God Himself demonstrated that every element of creation, including every iota of time, has a purpose; it is therefore both our responsibility and privilege to use it to its utmost.

Moreover, the very fact that an additional moment remains is in itself a sign from above that we can expand or improve what we are working on, just as God kept putting the finishing touches on creation until the last moment.

As a people, we might be collectively tempted to make the same error in judgment: Looking back on the Jewish people's imposing accomplishments in its rich history, we might wonder what further contribution we could possibly make toward readying the world for redemption. God's own use of every possible moment teaches us that our contributions, however objectively minor, still carry great significance. We must not underestimate our ability to put the finishing touches on creation and usher in the cosmic "Sabbath," the messianic era.41

God finished: What sets the Sabbath apart from the workweek is the unique Divine consciousness available to us on it: on the Sabbath, we are meant to experience creation as a finished work. Since the purpose of creation is for this physical world to attain consciousness of God, the creative activity of the week is not an end in itself, but is directed toward the specific end of the heightened Divine awareness available to us on the Sabbath. By placing Sabbath rest at the end of the week, God gave reality the drive toward its goal, the messianic future, when the work of perfecting the world will be finished and our sole occupation will be to know and experience God.

In this sense, the Sabbath stands apart from the workweek and is not subject to the normal limitations of time and space. Time was also created by God; on each of the six days of creation a distinct aspect of time was created. The fact that God ceased creating on the Sabbath implies that He ceased creating time as well, which in turn implies that the Sabbath is, in a sense, beyond time.42

As was mentioned above, the Name of God used throughout the creation narrative is Elokim, which indicates the concealment of God's infinity within the finitude and limits of nature. Inasmuch as the Sabbath overrides the limitations of nature, it is a revelation of Divinity that transcends the aspect of God revealed through the Name Elokim. Thus, the phrase "and God [Elokim] finished" may be interpreted to mean "and there was an end to the limitations of Divine revelation imposed by the Name Elokim."

Still, despite the radical difference between the six days of creation and the Sabbath, there is a mutual interdependence between them. The Sabbath gives meaning to the work of the preceding six days.43 Since the experience of creation's perfection is repeated every Sabbath, this glimpse into the future provides the inspiration and impetus to continue the work of perfecting creation during the coming week, as well.44

Even so, the Sabbath is the seventh after the six days; it is their culmination and completion. The extent to which we sense the spirituality of the Sabbath is proportional to the effort we invest in spiritually orienting the mundane tasks of the six preceding days. Thus, God enjoins us to remember and feel the Sabbath felt during the workweek as well. In this way, the transcendent consciousness of the Sabbath can begin to permeate the finite consciousness of the week. This union of the infinite and the finite is an intrinsic aspect of the purpose of creation, as will be explained further on.

Sabbath rest is thus not a begrudged concession to man's inability to work without stopping, but rather a positive and essential component of life.45

He ceased: God's "resting" was His re-experience, so to speak, of the original thought of creation that gave rise to the whole process of creating the world. During the week of creation, God attended to the details of executing His designs; after the master architect completed His masterpiece, He surveyed it and reviewed it as the culmination of His plan. Inasmuch as everything is continuously being brought into being by the energy God infuses into the world, on the Sabbath, everything is brought into being by God's "reviewing" mentality rather than by His "executing" mentality. This idea is the basis for all the laws that will define Sabbath-observance.46

3 From all His work that God had created to make: This phrase may be read as "from all His work that God had created [for humanity] to make," i.e., finish. In other words, God created the world intentionally unfinished, in order that humanity be actively involved in bringing it to its intended goal, to become a home for God.47

Therefore, we should never think that by opposing the material nature of reality and spiritualizing the world we are somehow opposing God's intentions. God purposely created the world "unfinished" in this way so we can perfect it.48

4 Earth and heaven: Heaven is mentioned first in the Torah's description of creation, for in fact, heaven (spirituality) was created before earth (physicality). But when it discusses how He "made" them—i.e., how He put the finishing touches49 on them—earth is mentioned first, because the ultimate purpose of creation is expressed more in the physical realm than the spiritual realm.50

Also, earth is mentioned first because the Torah is now about to focus on the history of humanity. In this context, earth is of greater importance than heaven, since the purpose of creation is to transform it into a home for God.

God: As was mentioned above,51 the Divine Name Elokim signifies God's concealment and attribute of strict judgment. The Torah now introduces another Name of God, Havayah, which signifies God's revelation and attribute of mercy. Throughout the entire creation process, the Name Elokim is used exclusively, for only by concealing His overpowering oneness could God bring creatures that consider themselves separate from Him into being. Humanity's mission, however, is to bring light into the darkness, to reveal God within the corporeal world. We have the singular capacity to reach beyond the world with all its limitations and connect with God on an infinitely deeper plane. Therefore, once the Torah begins the story of humanity, it uses the Name Havayah, to indicate our potential and destiny as human beings.52

Still, the Name Havayah does not appear here by itself. As long as the narrative takes place in the Garden of Eden, God is referred to unusually53 and exclusively by the dual Name Havayah Elokim (the only exception being the dialogue between Eve and the snake—but then the Torah per se is not talking; it is only recording a conversation). This clearly indicates that the full fusion of the Divine attributes of judgment and mercy was possible only as long as humanity remained in the Garden of Eden. After the expulsion, God became predominantly known by the Name Havayah, for the condition of exile requires that He principally manifest His attribute of mercy.

Another reason this dual Name is used in the story of the Garden of Eden that this episode is the archetypal drama of the conflict between humanity's good and evil inclinations. The good inclination originates in the Name Havayah, Divine revelation; the evil inclination originates in the Name Elokim, Divine concealment.54

7 And He blew: In contrast to the rest of creation, which God created by speaking, God put the soul into the body by blowing. We all breathe constantly and can talk for hours on end, but after blowing for just a short time we become exhausted. This is because the breath we use when blowing comes from deeper in the lungs than the breath we use when simply breathing or talking. Thus, the idiom of God "blowing" the soul into the body indicates that our soul originates deeper "within" God than does the rest of creation. This simply means that humanity is the primary purpose of creation while everything else is subordinate to us. Our Divine soul is a spark—i.e., a part—of God.

This soul can never lose its intrinsic connection with God. Our challenge is to ensure that this connection remain manifested within our physical being. Just as when one blows, the air only reaches its destination if there are no obstructions, so can the Godly soul shine only if there are no obstacles that obscure it.55

A living being: This term is also used to describe the animals,56 but the human being became a "living being" only after God blew a "soul of life" into it. Whereas God created the animals in one phase, soul and body together, He created the human being in two: He first formed the body from the lifeless earth and only afterwards introduced the soul to give it life.

God could create the animals' souls and bodies simultaneously because their souls and bodies are akin in nature. The animal soul is oriented primarily toward self-preservation, and the various forms of the animal body are also designed mainly to procure food, grow, and reproduce. The human being's soul, however, is oriented to search for meaning beyond self-preservation, and could therefore not be created together with a body oriented merely toward self-perpetuation. Instead, God formed an inanimate body first, inferior even to the animals' bodies—which were created alive—and only then introduced a soul to animate it.57

This dichotomy is reflected in the name "Adam." On the one hand, the basic derivation of the word adam is from the word for "earth" (adamah), the origin of the body. On the other hand, the word adam is also be related to the word adameh, which means "I will resemble," alluding to humanity's innate aspiration to imitate and even resemble God Himself.58

God created the human being in this way for three reasons:

First, the fact that for human beings, the soul's entry both precedes and causes the lifeless body's transformation into a "living being" indicates that our spiritual nature is meant to be ascendant over our physical nature.

Second, if an entity is to ascend, even its lowest part must ascend with it. Thus, if we are to fulfill our mission to spiritually perfect the world, we need to be linked with every aspect of creation. Therefore, the body was formed of the lowest common denominator, so that we can rectify even the lowest elements on the spiritual hierarchy.59 This gives us additional insight into Rashi's statement that God collected earth from all over the world to create the first human's body. In doing so, God included within us the entire material world we are to elevate.

Third, our mission is to combine two opposites: the spiritual consciousness of Godliness with the spiritual darkness of the physical world. By creating us through a similar fusion of extremes, God endowed us with the natural capacity to fulfill this mission.60

The knowledge that we were formed from the dust and that we were the last being to be created should humble us. If we live up to our potential, we are indeed the purpose of creation; if not, we are nothing more than a body that was created secondary both in time and essence to that of all other creatures.61

This awareness also has practical implications. As we approach God, we are often tempted to aspire prematurely to lofty levels of spiritual feeling and insight, focusing on our desire for spiritual fulfillment. The Torah reminds us that the first component of our being was the dust of the earth. We must begin with a simple, unassuming acceptance of God's will; only then can we aspire to acquire a "soul of life."62

The human became a living being: This phrase is proof of our connection with God. Even though God "blew into his nostrils a soul of life," this does not rule out the possibility that human nature somehow conceals and obstructs the Divinity within it. Therefore, the Torah proceeds to tell us that "man became a living being," i.e., that the Godly infusion was indeed successful, and that the Divine soul became fully manifest in the human being.63

He asked God to make it rain: The world was created to be perfected by humanity.64 Therefore, until humanity began to refine the world and perfect it, the means to do so were superfluous. Until we began to "work the ground," there was no reason for rain.

Creation up to this point was carried out independently of human effort or merit, a heavenly grace period extended solely by God's kindness. From this point onward, however, it became incumbent upon humanity to catalyze the flow of God's beneficence to the world. God, of course, did not need to involve us; He simply chose to have the completion of the world be dependent upon our efforts.65

8 God planted a garden: God planted the Garden of Eden after He created the first human, implying that the garden was planted solely for humanity's sake. Similarly, every individual should consider the creation of the whole world to be solely for his or her sake. This will lead us to realize and appreciate our own infinite worth, which will in turn lead us to realize and appreciate our personal responsibility and role in creation.66

Furthermore, the fact that God's first act after creating the world was to plant a garden stresses the centrality of agriculture in civilization. A healthy civilization must be based on a healthy and vibrant agricultural sector that works the earth responsibly, simultaneously maximizing the health-giving qualities of its produce and the sustainability of its resources. An unworked or overworked earth will destroy a civilization.

Agriculture is the model for spiritual health, too. Just as the farmer must cultivate trees and plants to bear fruit, so too, we must pursue our spiritual goals in order to maximize their effect on the physical world. We must not allow ourselves to lie desolate: our lives must bear fruit. They must affect both ourselves and others in a lasting and meaningful way.67

9 Good and evil: It is God is, of course, who determines what is good and what is evil; without the Torah's guidelines, the definitions of good and evil vary widely across cultures and times. The truest definition of good and evil, therefore, is "that which accords with God's will" and "that which opposes God's will." To say that God created good and evil at the outset of creation means that He created the possibilities both to obey and transgress His will.

This possibility is a prerequisite to free choice, reward and punishment, and on a deeper level, to the existence of a "lower realm" initially antithetical to Divinity that can be transformed into God's home. Seen in this context, evil is also part of the Divine plan, and also "good," in that sense. The Zohar68 likens evil to a prostitute hired by a king to test the moral fortitude of his son, the prince. Even though the king commands the prostitute to do her best to seduce his son, he hopes she fails; moreover, the prostitute, even while using all her devices to ensnare the prince, hopes she fails, too! Only when evil is allowed to overtake a person's consciousness and silence his "good inclination," his conscience, does it lose sight of its true purpose and become truly evil. Rabbi Dovber, the Maggid of Mezeritch, likened this to how a broomstick, which is made for the positive purpose of sweeping the house, becomes evil if it is used for an evil purpose, such as striking a child.69

There is nothing wrong per se with knowing the difference between good and evil.70 The angels possess this knowledge71 and it does not effect them adversely. But this is because an angel has no free choice. He knows what is good and what is evil, but has no inclination to choose evil. True, the first human being is given a command shortly after being brought to the Garden of Eden, and this implies that he possesses the free choice to obey it or transgress it. But this knowledge of good and evil—both the angels' and humanity's before the Fall—is purely objective: they know that there is such a thing as disobeying God's command, but they have no motivation to do so. Since they have no sense of ego or independent self, they do not evaluate whether to choose evil or good on the basis of what they think would be best for their own interests as opposed to God's purposes. Rather, they choose good because it is, by definition, the right choice. Since their perception of evil is entirely objective, good and evil are totally distinct; that is, evil can never be misconstrued as good and thereby tempt them.

Thus, before the Fall, evil—and by extension, free choice—existed only as theoretical constructs. Evil was there to provide us with free choice, but our original nature precluded the possibility of our ever choosing to sin.

As will be explained later,72 eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge would impart subjective knowledge of good and evil. God, in fact, intended for the first human to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, but He wanted him to first eat from the Tree of Life, as indicated by the order in which these trees are mentioned in this verse.

11 The name of the first is the Nile: Because Egypt was the first recipient of the waters of Eden, it later became the cradle of civilization and secular wisdom. Many components of later civilizations were rooted in Egyptian civilization.73


[10] A river issued from Eden to water the garden: In mystical terms, "Eden" denotes the Divine bliss that is beyond any direct relationship with the physical world. The "river" that flows out of Eden is the conduit that channels some of this supernal delight into "the garden," i.e., the physical pleasures of this world. To this end, the river "divided and became four heads," that is, it divided into the four worlds of Emanation, Creation, Formation, and Action, through which Godliness is "processed" and reduced to the point where we can experience it as physical pleasure.74

Our challenge is to transform and elevate the material pleasures of this world into experiences of God's sublime transcendence. This transformation is accomplished through another "garden" (גן, whose numerical value is 53)—the 53 parashiot of the Torah.75 The Torah enables us to bring Godliness into our daily lives.76

[11] The name of the first is the Nile: The first of the four "riverheads"—the experiences of consciousness becoming successively less Divine and more self-aware77—is the Nile. Egypt, expressing the first stage of separation from Divinity, is therefore the archetype of all Jewish exiles.78


[12] The Garden of Eden: The Garden of Eden was located near the Euphrates River, northeast of the Land of Israel.79 Its exact location is open to speculation, but it was definitely an actual garden that existed somewhere in the physical world.80 The reason we cannot see it is because, as will be seen later, the physical nature of the world—including that of our physical bodies and senses—became coarser after Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The Garden of Eden, in contrast, retained its original purity. It is therefore invisible to our eyes.81

[13] Gichon: Kush is often identified as Ethiopia, in which case the Pishon and Gichon Rivers could be the White and Blue Niles. On the other hand, there is a mountain range in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan known as the "Hindu Kush"; if this is the Biblical Kush, the Pishon would be the Nile in its entirety and the Gichon could be the Indus.

15 To cultivate it: God commanded humanity to improve the Garden of Eden even though it was already perfect, possessing "every tree that is of pleasing appearance and good for food"82 and being more blessed with natural resources than any other place on earth. This idea is also expressed in the interpretation of the phrase "all His work that God had created to make"83 cited above, namely, that God intentionally left the world unfinished so that humanity could perfect it further.84

The world's initial perfection was only within its own context; it was as perfect as a finite world could be. Humanity's mission is to reach beyond the limitations of creation and infuse the world with Godly, infinite light. The world as God created it lacked this dimension of reality—even before the primordial sin.85

The reason why specifically we human beings can perfect creation is that we alone possess free choice. From the perspective of choice, creation may be divided into three realms: the forbidden—that which we must not do; the permitted—that which we may do but are not required to do; and the obligatory—that which we must do. The forbidden is that which is antithetical to Divine awareness and consciousness; the obligatory is that which promotes Divine awareness and consciousness. By choosing to do that which is obligatory and not to do that which is forbidden, we increase the extent to which Divine awareness permeates the world (or, by resisting the forbidden, we prevent the decrease of Divine awareness). As for the permitted, here too, our role is pivotal. If we choose to indulge in the permissible for evil or selfish reasons, we lower the level of Divine consciousness in the world; if we choose to partake of the permissible for holy reasons, we elevate the world, along with ourselves.

As was said above, evil existed at this point solely as a theoretical construct. It was God's intention that even this abstract evil be eliminated from creation, and this task He left for Adam and Eve to accomplish by eliciting ever higher and more intense revelations of Divinity in the Garden of Eden. In this way, these increasingly higher states of Divine consciousness that would permeate reality would render evil completely irrelevant and thus do away with it altogether.

To guard it: In addition to improving the garden, Adam was also required to guard it. Our work always consists of these two aspects, the active pursuit of good and the avoidance of any situation that could lead to evil. It is never enough just to pursue the good.

The Garden of Eden proves this point. It was so pure and holy that it simply could not tolerate evil, as evidenced by its rejection of Adam and Eve after their sin. Nevertheless, even there, vigilance was required. Even if it seems to us that we are totally absorbed in Divine consciousness, totally involved in doing God's bidding, we must still be on guard. As long as we are aware of ourselves and even slightly conscious that, for example, we love God because He is good to us, or because He is the basis of our existence, and so on, then these same rational calculations can eventually lead to unfortunate consequences. Adam was therefore warned to guard the garden, his Divine environment, in order to ensure that his service of God be carried out with pure, ego-less love. It was, in fact, precisely in this area that Adam soon erred.86

To cultivate it and to guard it: Adam and Eve's care of the Garden was equivalent to the mission that God would later give to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. The spiritual effect of cultivating the Garden was the same as that of the 248 active commandments; the spiritual effect of guarding the Garden was the same as that of the 365 passive commandments.87

This first responsibility placed upon humanity serves to underscore an important lesson in human psychology. Work and activity are an intrinsic facet of our makeup, not only an answer to our needs. Even when humanity existed in the Garden of Eden, with all of its needs provided for, and in a state of perfection before the onset of sin, God still directed us to work, to improve the world and improve ourselves. Similarly, no individual or community should ever allow itself to fall into complacency or sloth. There is always work to be done, always an aspect of creation to be perfected and uplifted, since that is the very purpose for which we were created.88

The intrinsic value of work, however, does not imply that all types of work are the same. It is indeed praiseworthy to be an upstanding and productive citizen—and this is included in God's directive to cultivate and guard the garden—but mere mundane productivity will not enable us to fulfill the mission that was placed upon Adam and Eve.

It is in this sense that Adam and Eve's cultivation of the Garden of Eden was the equivalent of the Jewish people's later fulfillment of God's commandments, as mentioned above. The commandments are the conduit between spirituality and physicality, through which we can infuse mundane, finite reality with God's infinite energy and thereby transform the world into a loftier, more spiritual place. Only this type of work both allows us to accomplish what is expected of us and fulfills our psychological need for true accomplishment, as well.89

16 God commanded the human: In its broadest sense, this means that God taught Adam and Eve the entire Torah.90 The "Torah" God taught them is not the Torah as we know it today, with all the stories of what transpired during the rest of Adam's lifetime and in the ensuing millennium and a half. Rather, God taught them the purpose of creation, the proper way to live and relate to the world, the rules and societal conventions He wanted humanity to follow, and how to ascend the ladder of spiritual and Divine consciousness. All these Divine ideas and notions were later embodied in the Torah as we know it today.

17 You shall not eat: On a deeper level, the fact that God first gives Adam permission to eat of every tree in the garden and only then—almost as an afterthought—forbids him to eat of the Tree of Knowledge implies that, at least in potential, God intended to permit the fruit of this tree as well. There are two ways in which the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge can be considered "permissible":

First, even something that is prohibited can still be considered usable, for by abstaining from it, we are indeed "using" it—to fulfill God's prohibition against using it. In other words, everything in God's creation exists to serve a purpose, and our task is to use it for that purpose. Although in many cases this requires us to act—e.g. through fulfilling a prescriptive commandment with the object or otherwise using it for a Godly purpose—there are also situations in which we are required to refrain from acting upon or using an object. But even when God commands us to avoid something, we are still elevating it—by avoiding it rather than by actively engaging it.

Thus, Adam was at first permitted to eat from the fruit of all the trees, signifying his responsibility to elevate each and every one of them, including the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Only afterwards was the stipulation added that the manner in which he was to elevate the fruit of this specific tree was by not partaking of it.91

Second, we are taught that God originally prohibited Adam and Eve from eating from the tree only temporarily: either for the three hours left until the onset of the Sabbath,92 or until after eating from the Tree of Life. (This can be seen from the fact that God informs Adam that "on the day you eat of it you shall surely die." This warning could only be applicable before Adam ate of the Tree of Life.)

As was mentioned above,93 "eating" the knowledge of good and evil—i.e., internalizing it—means making our knowledge of good and evil subjective. When this happens, we no longer evaluate everything purely based on its objective good or evil, but rather based on our own interests, i.e., if it is good or bad for us. It becomes extremely difficult for us to extricate ourselves from this subjective perspective and be sure that any attempt at objectivity not be tinged with ulterior motives. Good and evil are fully intertwined: everything we perceive as good is tainted with selfishness and everything we perceive as evil contains some kernel of good. There are no longer any absolutes in the world; everything contains both good and bad, differing only by the ratio of one to the other.

In contrast, by eating of the Tree of Life first, Adam would have internalized the consciousness of God's eternality, i.e., His infinity, and in this way become unencumbered by the limitations of finite reality. Our consciousness would then have been so thoroughly saturated with Divinity that we would have been solidly anchored in the reality of God; no ungodly aspect of life could have held any fascination for us. We would have been in the paradoxical state of simultaneously possessing self-awareness while experiencing our self-awareness as being null and void within our overpowering awareness of God's reality.

Once we would have attained such consciousness, there would be nothing wrong with acquiring subjective knowledge of good and evil, since our ego, our "I," would already have been totally submerged in Divinity. Put another way, our only "self" would have been our Divine self. Were this the case, we would be able to safely evaluate reality from a subjective perspective, since our subjectivity would be, in essence, God's subjectivity—not merely human, limited subjectivity.

However, once Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge before eating of the Tree of Life, and thereby internalized subjective knowledge of good and evil at the lower level of consciousness, God forbade them to then eat of the Tree of Life. Their new level of consciousness had to be rectified and restored to its original state, rather than be allowed to become permanent. Like every other physical object, their bodies now incorporated aspects of evil, and this evil could not be allowed to survive eternally.94

We re-experience this challenge every day of our lives. Every morning, when we begin life anew, we must first and foremost reinforce our consciousness of God's infinity, of His absolute reality that encompasses all finite reality within it. Only then can we proceed safely with our daily activities of evaluating and sifting though the issues of life based on our subjective perception of what is good and what is evil. By devoting the beginning of each day to prayer and Torah study, we fulfill God's intention of tasting of the Tree of eternal Life before tasting of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.

If, however, we eat of the Tree of Knowledge before the Tree of Life—if we allow the nature of our relationship with God to be determined by the boundaries of our limited consciousness—a real danger exists. At any time, our personal calculations may obscure the truth and ultimately lead us to choose other, improper, paths.

The Sabbath, the taste of perfection,95 is a foretaste of the messianic future, when "death will be swallowed up forever."96 The Sabbath and the Tree of eternal Life are thus in a certain sense equivalent. Their common denominator is the consciousness of God's infinity that overrides the prevailing consciousness of the limited, created world. The Sabbath affords us a step outside the natural world, just as eating of the Tree of Life means internalizing the awareness of God's transcendence. Thus, even if Adam and Eve had not eaten of the Tree of Life first, the Tree of Knowledge would have become permitted to them once the Sabbath began,97 since the essence of the Sabbath and the essence of the Tree of Life are one and the same.98

Adam and Eve's error, then, was in thinking that it would be preferable to eat of the Tree of Knowledge first, before eating of the Tree of Life.99 Someone who does not possess any subjective knowledge of good and evil is essentially devoid of any pernicious sense of ego. Unconscious of himself as separate from God, he is constantly connected to the source of life and therefore immune to death. Just as the sign of a healthy limb or organ is that it does not call attention to itself, the sign of spiritual health and life is when the individual's consciousness is totally absorbed in God and His will. Even if he is aware of himself, his awareness is not tainted by any selfishness, greed, or envy. Thus, before the Fall, Adam and Eve enjoyed the delights of this world—including marital relations—in an infinitely more intense, pure, and selfless (i.e., holy) way than they could after they ate the forbidden fruit.100

Nonetheless, there is an advantage to subjective knowledge of good and evil: that of contrast. One who has never fallen into sin will not pursue righteousness with the same zeal as someone who has. As exalted and exhilarating as the life of the fully righteous individual can be, it by definition lacks the pathos and passion that characterize the life of a fallen individual who now ardently seeks his restoration and reinstatement into Divine grace. Thus, paradoxically, without subjective knowledge of evil, the otherwise perfect human is flawed, unable to actualize his potential for intense aspiration to holiness. This is why the forbidden fruit contained the knowledge of both good and evil (and not just evil)—good can be "known," appreciated, and valued much more by someone who has tasted evil than it can by someone who has not.

This in no way detracts from the greatness or vigor of existence without this knowledge. There is a heavy price to be paid for the passion of the Fall, and that is the loss of innocence and purity. We should not fall into the trap of one-sidedly glorifying the anguished pathos of the knowledge of evil while considering the pristine, sinless existence somehow boring or monotonous. On the contrary, there are real dangers involved in the descent into subjective knowledge of evil, not the least being the danger of failing in the struggle to ascend out of it, at least temporarily. Thus, both modes of existence have their advantages and disadvantages.

The question, then, is: do the prospective benefits of the descent into subjective knowledge of evil outweigh the dangers involved in taking the risk? The answer, paradoxically, is both yes and no. Yes, the Divinity revealed in the world (and let it not be forgotten that this is the purpose of creation!) is immeasurably greater and "deeper" when elicited by the anguish of falling. But no, because the mutual pain of exile for Creator and creature, not to mention the suffering to which humanity undergoes when exposed to this knowledge, is so agonizing that no ends can justify it.

Thus, it is clear that God wanted us to live without this knowledge (and He therefore forbade eating the fruit) and yet to have it (and He therefore planted the tree within easy reach). Since these two seem mutually exclusive, it was necessary to devise a solution for this seeming paradox. God therefore created us a priori absolutely void of subjective knowledge, making the awareness of this prior state of grace forever etched in our consciousness as a possibility that could serve as an ideal to strive for. Then, through the temptation of the snake, God plunged us headlong into the maelstrom of the conflict between subjective good and subjective evil. By overcoming the evil within us, we can now realize our Divine potential in the fullest. When the process is completed and good is fully extricated from evil and once again totally separated from it, humanity and creation will have returned to the spiritual state of the Garden of Eden before the sin. However, we will still retain the appreciation of Divinity and the drive for it we acquired during our stay outside the garden. Even though basking in Divinity, we hunger for it with the same intensity we knew in the darkest nights of exile. In the future, redeemed world, the advantages of both states of being—pristine naivete; and wisdom born of sad experience—will be paradoxically wed.101

This is similar to the process of maturation we all ideally undergo in our own lives. The innocence of youth is shattered by the crisis of adolescence, which in turn gives birth to the wisdom of adulthood. The challenge of adulthood is wedding the innocence and idealism of youth with the sagacity of maturity.102

You will die: This implies that God originally intended for human beings to live forever. Inasmuch as in the messianic future, death will cease to exist,103 we see here again104 God creating things (in this case, human beings) a priori in their messianic state; the non-messianic state is a "temporary" aberration from the natural order.

Our present-day Garden of Eden, our opportunity to lose our self-awareness in intense unity with God, is our study of the Torah. The Torah also has two "trees," and we must partake of both of them in order to attain full spiritual health. The "Tree of Life" is the Written Torah, for inasmuch as it is the literal word of God, it imparts to its students a taste of the infinite source of life. The "Tree of Knowledge" is the Oral Torah, for through its study we experience "good and evil": its dialectic analysis of the Written Torah leads us through the maze of applying God's word to this world, painstakingly sifting through potentials and possibilities until it brings us to the clear perception of truth.

On a more general level, the entire exoteric dimension of Torah—both written and oral—can be seen as "the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil." It contends with the realities of this world, even its more unsavory aspects: damages and false claims, disqualified and forbidden entities, defilement and impurity. The esoteric dimension of the Torah, in contrast, is the "Tree of Life." It does not deal with the mundane at all, but rather with the study of God Himself, the true reality and source of all life.105

Allegorically, the word for "tree" (עץ) can be considered an abbreviated form of the word for "advice" (עצה). The Torah is the Tree of Life in that it provides the best advice for living life.106 God tells us to eat of the Tree of Life—to learn the Torah with the intention of applying it to our daily lives, but not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge—not to learn the Torah as an abstract, theoretical exercise in academic philosophy.107

18 It is not good: Whereas the animals were created together with their mates, the first human being was created initially androgynous in order that he feel the lack of a mate and appreciate companionship. This occurred in the middle of the sixth day. It was only after rectifying this "not good" situation that, at the end of the sixth day, God "saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good."108 Thus, the creation of woman and the union of the first human couple was an essential prerequisite to the world being "very good."

God's commandment not to eat the forbidden fruit is followed immediately by the story of the creation of woman. Only after finishing this episode and Adam and Eve have mated does the narrative return to the topic of the Tree of Knowledge.109 Since, as will be seen, it was through the woman that the first couple came to eat the fruit, it follows that once God commanded them not to eat the fruit, He immediately put in motion a series of events that would precisely lead them to eat it.

In order to internalize the subjective knowledge of good and evil, the human being had to first become a subjective, relational creature; God accomplished this by separating him into mutually dependent, male and female halves. The human could only succumb to the allure of the subjective knowledge of good and evil once his subjective nature was made dominant in his female half, as will be explained presently.110

In making us subjective creatures, God once again111 melded the two extremes of spirituality and physicality in the human being. Angels are entirely spiritual and do not mate; animals mate but their drive to do so is purely physical. In contrast to both, the human drive to mate is both spiritual and physical: we do not feel fulfilled unless we mate on both planes, with both aspects enhancing each other. If we mate with our spouse only physically we feel degraded; if we mate with our spouse only spiritually we feel frustrated.

By creating us as spiritual-physical heterosexual beings, God made us inherently subjective. As opposed to all other creatures, we experience life in a relational fashion; we evaluate and organize our experiences into a hierarchy of relevance. God had to make us this way in order for us to be able to fulfill our role as the perfecters of creation; it is crucial that we feel the relationship between God and creation and thereby be inspired to enhance and perfect it.

It is for this very reason that only the human being was forbidden to eat of the Tree of Knowledge; only in him would this knowledge become subjective, becoming instantly enmeshed in the fabric of his sense of self, as explained above.

19 To see what he would name each one: As was said above,112 the Hebrew name for something is an expression of its essence and nature. In naming each creature, Adam had to analyze the essence and nature of each one and thereby deduce its name.113 In so doing, he realized that none of these creatures was a fitting mate for him.

By naming the animals in accordance with their spiritual source, Adam did more than display his brilliance—he articulated the notion that physical reality can and should express its spiritual origin and be true to its spiritual essence. In this sense, he animated the bond between the animal and its source. It was at this point that Adam began the process of fulfilling the purpose of creation, i.e., of making the world into a home for God.

When God consulted with the angels before creating Adam,114 the angels asked Him, "What is the nature of this human?" God answered, "Its wisdom is greater than yours." To demonstrate this, God now brought the animals before the angels, but they could not name them. God brought the animals before Adam and he named them.115

Certainly the angels could discern the spiritual antecedents of the animals, the names of their spiritual archetypes, as well as Adam. But they found it inconceivable that physical animals should be given these same names, which would reflect the bond between their spiritual source and physical being. In the normal order of things, heaven and earth do not meet, and a created being's spiritual source is of an altogether different order than its physical manifestation. Only the human being can remove this barrier, for (as explained above116) we are created in God's image and thus, like God, transcend the incongruity of heaven and earth.

Adam's achievement—revealing the connection between reality's spiritual source and its physical manifestation—was only the beginning. As will be seen,117 the giving of the Torah connected the essence of Godliness, which is too transcendent to be a direct source of anything, with physicality. Since the angels, by nature, cannot imagine how the gulf between spirituality and materiality can be bridged, they could not fathom how God could dare give the Torah to corporeal man, just as they could not understand how Adam dared to name the animals.118

And whatever the man called each living thing was indeed its name: Adam named each creature correctly; the names he gave them were the words God had used to create them.

Even though the human race on the whole no longer possesses Adam's deep spiritual insight, when parents choose a name for their child, their choice is subconsciously guided by Divine inspiration to suit the particular soul-characteristics of the child.119

The human did not, at this point, name the fish: Fish are derived from a spiritual realm in which God's reality is obvious and nothing else appears to possess independent being. Animals, on the other hand, stem from a lower spiritual realm, in which Godliness is hidden and everything else therefore feels autonomous. For this reason, fish are physically submerged in their source: they live and eat in the water and will die if they are removed from it. Animals, in contrast, live outside of their source of sustenance—the earth.

Due to their higher spiritual source, fish can more easily be elevated to holiness. This is why fish do not require ritual slaughtering, as do animals,120 since the purpose of slaughtering is to raise the animal to a level where we can elevate it by consuming it.

As was said above, by naming the animals Adam animated the connection between them and their spiritual source. Fish, however, are inherently united with their Divine source, and therefore do not need their connection activated. Adam therefore did not name the fish.121

23 Woman: God intended for husband and wife, in "cleaving" to one another (v. 24), to identify with each other's mentality, but before they could cleave to one another He separated them into two distinct beings, each with their own mindset and propensities. Simply, this is because since man was designed to be a relational being, it was necessary for him to be able to empathize with both sides of any given relationship, the "male" side and the "female" side. The woman relates first and foremost to the "female" side of relationships and the man to the "male" side; their full mental, spiritual, and physical union allows them both to experience the other side as well and develop sensitivity toward it. Broadly speaking, the "male" side of a relationship is the impulse to raise the consciousness of reality to a higher level of Divine awareness; the "female" side of a relationship is the impulse to concretize the implications of this consciousness in the context of the real world. Both approaches are of course necessary, and the healthy equilibrium of inspiration and actualization is dependent on the regulation of the male-female dynamic in creation.


[23] Woman: The ability and drive to understand and apply the implications of Divine consciousness is called binah ("understanding"). Its heightened presence in the woman's psychological makeup is alluded to by the word for "and he built" in this verse (ויבן), which is cognate to binah (בינה). 122 Because of this inherent superior sensitivity to the world, women mature psychologically quicker than do men. Thus, Jewish law considers a female a responsible adult at age twelve but a male only at age thirteen.123

25 They felt no shame: Since they did not possess any sense of self-centeredness before they ate the forbidden fruit, they engaged in marital relations with the same innocence they felt, for example, when eating. They ate not in order to satisfy any lust for the delights of the palate but to satisfy their hunger and enjoy the goodness God had given them; likewise, they engaged in marital relations not to satisfy any egocentric lust for the delights of the flesh but to unite with each other, enjoy the goodness God had given them, and to procreate.124

Chapter 3

1 The most cunning: As was mentioned above, the first human was originally created without subjective knowledge of good and evil. God's intention was that by "cultivating and guarding" the Garden of Eden, humanity would raise the level of Divine consciousness of the world and thereby annihilate evil without having to engage it directly. Furthermore, humanity at this stage possessed no inclination or motivation to transgress God's will.

Yet God also wanted humanity to be able to fill creation with the sort of Divine revelation and consciousness that could not possibly be elicited without subjective knowledge of good and evil. God therefore gave this subjective knowledge a voice in the person of the snake, and via him devised that Adam and Eve should eat the forbidden fruit.

The word for "cunning" in Hebrew (arum) also means "naked." Thus, the primordial couple and the primordial snake are described similarly. But whereas the nakedness of Adam and Eve expresses their innocence, the nakedness of the snake describes his being stripped of full Divine consciousness. The snake personified the partial awareness of God that pays lip service to His existence and omnipotence, but dupes itself and others into thinking that God can be "outsmarted." In this sense, the snake's "nakedness" and "cunning" are one and the same.125

Did God really say: The snake's "cunning" was argument from misconstruction. He knew full well, of course, that God had not forbidden any fruit other than that of the Tree of Knowledge, and that Eve knew this as well. However, by suggesting that God had forbidden other fruit, the snake planted the thought in Eve's mind that perhaps the Divine prohibition of eating this fruit was exaggerated. "Perhaps God means to deny you the complete experience of the fullness of His creation." Inasmuch as their life in the garden was meant to be an ongoing expansion of Divine consciousness brought about by "cultivating and guarding" it, the serpent meant to imply—and Eve understood this—that by depriving them of the fruit of this tree, God was limiting their ability to accomplish His ends. Since He was not letting them use every available means to make this world His home and was denying them the opportunity to summon all their inherent powers towards this end, He was in effect sabotaging their efforts. "If He has denied you this fruit, He may as well have denied you all fruit!" The snake in effect convinced Eve that he knew better than God Himself how to accomplish God's ends. This rationalization has been the arch-technique of the evil inclination ever since: it does not (initially, at least) attempt to convince us to sin, for we as humans are logical thinkers and would refuse. It instead convinces us that transgressing God's express will is a shortcut to accomplishing God's true purpose, that the supposedly sinful act is meritorious.

Significantly, the serpentine voice-of-subjective-knowledge did not address Adam but Eve. In separating the first human into male and female, God endowed the woman with the drive to concretize the Divine ideal within reality, as was said above. It is precisely in this area that we are most vulnerable to the arguments of evil. Evil seduces us to descend where we are not supposed to, misleading us into believing that, by so doing, we will be better able to accomplish our goals. Eve knew that the purpose of humanity was to make God a home in this lowest of all worlds. How appropriate, then, to internalize the knowledge of good and evil, allowing humanity to descend in its spiritual status and thus be able to elevate the lowest levels of Divine consciousness. The serpent became Eve's inner voice.

This is the inner meaning of the serpent's wish to supplant Adam; subjective knowledge of good and evil wanted to replace objective knowledge as the consort of Eve, the impulse to concretize Divinity in the world. In the end, this is essentially what happened: Adam ate (i.e., internalized) the knowledge of good and evil, and thus in this sense "became" the snake.

2-3 The woman replied to the serpent: Still, Eve initially resisted the snake's suggestion. But she had evidently already erred in exactly the direction the serpent was leading her: by mistakenly assuming that it was forbidden to touch the tree as well as to eat from it, she was denying herself more than necessary and was exaggerating the danger involved in the full exercise of her powers.

The lesson here is that it is imperative to neither underestimate nor overestimate our capabilities and the limits of our permitted sphere of activity. It is stated in the Talmud126 that God will hold us answerable for every rejection of a permissible pleasure. On the other hand, we are also bidden to create a "fence around the Torah"127 so that if a breach does occur, the Torah is not violated, and a certain amount of voluntary asceticism is considered a prerequisite to holiness.128 The resolution of this apparent contradiction is that the relative weight accorded these opposing approaches to life depends on the spiritual state of the individual. The average person needs restrictions. He should not indulge in every permissible pleasure, for this would dull his spiritual sensibilities. On the other hand, someone who is constantly attuned to God's will, as was Eve was before the primordial sin, need not fear that partaking of the permissible will corrupt her. Indeed her failure to do so was sinful, since she forfeited the chance to elevate another element of creation to holiness.129

Why—or perhaps more to the point, how—did Eve erroneously exaggerate this way? How could she think that when God said not to eat He really did mean also not to touch? Apparently, God implanted in her thought processes the awareness of the need to take precautions. This awareness is indeed essential for the "female" consciousness to fulfill its role of seeking the actualization of Divine consciousness in the world. When wrestling with mundane consciousness, there is always the danger of being drawn into its perspective and losing sight of the purpose of the descent. Thus, precautions are quite legitimate and called for. The error lies in being so cautious that we do not exercise our capacities to the extent God requires.

4 The serpent pushed Eve against the tree: Even if the serpent demonstrated to Eve that touching the tree was harmless, thereby convincing her that eating it would also prove harmless, it is still inconceivable that she could have disobeyed God's explicit command if she still retained her original level of Divine consciousness. Therefore, the sages teach us that the serpent not only pushed Eve but also raped her.130 Whether or not this is to be understood literally, the implications are spiritual: the serpent injected into Eve's mind the consciousness of self-orientation, defiling her pristine innocence. She thus gained a "foreign" semblance of post-Tree-of-Knowledge subjectivity that induced her to evaluate the serpent's arguments from the perspective of her own ego and ultimately to make her decision on that basis.

5 You will be like God and be able to create worlds: i.e., you will be able to bring far greater levels of Divine consciousness into the world than you would be able to otherwise, in effect "creating" higher "worlds" or states of existence. As stated above, this ascent is made possible by the descent into subjective knowledge of evil, which in turn serves as the impetus for greater efforts to draw close to God.

6 The woman saw that the tree was good for eating: She was fully aware that the purpose of her existence was to make a home for God in the lower realms, and understood that this would be possible to a far more profound extent if she would follow the serpent's advice.

The woman saw: This demonstrates how important it is to use the gift of sight properly. Our misdeeds usually begin with looking where we should not look. We rationalize that there is no harm in only looking, but looking leads to desire, desire leads to action, and action leads to misleading others into misdeed, just as Eve convinced Adam to go along with her. No matter how spiritually advanced we are, we must not delude ourselves into thinking that we are immune to the lure of sight: are any of us purer than Eve, who was created directly by God? Let us rather direct our eyes to positive and holy sights, and teach our eyes to focus only on the good.131

And he ate: As was seen above,132 Adam was such a paragon of perfection that God had to take measures to prevent the rest of creation from deifying him. He was highly intelligent, possessed great moral purity, and had heard God prohibit the fruit explicitly. It therefore seems incredible that he was not able to resist eating the forbidden fruit, especially in the context of the midrashic view133 that Adam knew that the prohibition was to be in effect for only three hours and he transgressed the command after only one hour.

The fact that this was a serious test for Adam gives us some important insight into the workings of free choice: the more crucial a particular Divine commandment is for a specific person, the harder that person's evil inclination exerts itself to cause him not to fulfill it. Objectively, fulfilling the commandment may be simple in itself, but because it is important at this particular juncture that this person fulfill it, the gravity of the situation demands that it be made difficult for him, in order to force him to fully exert his free choice.134

She also fed the fruit to the animals: The animals were not forbidden to eat the fruit. Because the human being is a subjective creature, knowledge of good and evil would be harmful to him and only him. It would not be detrimental to animals.

7 They sewed together fig leaves: By using the very leaves of the Tree of Knowledge to clothe themselves and express their remorse for what they did, Adam and Eve articulated a deep understanding of repentance. The goal of true repentance is not only to repair the damage that has been done, but also to transform the negative force into a positive one. Past failings, when utilized as impetuses for virtue, become a force for good.135

And made themselves loincloths: As soon as they acquired subjective knowledge of good and evil and the accompanying sense of heightened self-awareness and self-centeredness, they recalled their recent physical, sexual intimacy and how pleasurable it had been. They realized that, in their new consciousness, sexuality could become something that could be pursued purely for sensual pleasure, and thereby a potentially powerful agent for intensifying self-orientation and desensitizing humanity to Divinity. Therefore, of all their naked limbs, they became ashamed first and foremost of their sexual organs, and tried to lessen their power over human consciousness by keeping them covered.136

8 They heard the voice of God moving about: Instead of hearing God's voice in close proximity, they heard it coming from afar. They sensed that the Divine Presence was departing the world because of their sin.137


[8] They heard the voice of God moving about: Specifically, Adam and Eve's sin caused the Divine Presence to retreat from the earth to the first firmament.138

9 Where are you: God meant, "Look, Adam, where have you fallen to! What has become of you?" By asking the question, He intended to give Adam the opportunity to confess his sin and atone for it. This would have mitigated the effect of the sin and avoided the need for restorative punishment. Had he repented, Adam would have ipso facto fulfilled the purpose for which God "made" him sin, i.e., to anguish over the distance from God implied in self-centeredness and thereby achieve an infinitely greater yearning for Him than otherwise possible.

These words pose an eternal question to every person: "Where are you? Are you aware of the purpose of your existence on this earth? How much of your life's mission have you accomplished?"139

10 I heard Your voice: Adam did not hear the implied message in God's "where are you," for he did not believe that it was possible for him to return to his former state of grace—at least not without the hard work he knew subjective knowledge of good and evil would entail. In other words, he succumbed to fatalism: instead of focusing on how to return to God, Adam proceeded to accept his fallen status as an irrevocable fact of life.

12 The man replied: "It is Your fault. Had you not created us with this feminine perspective, this overwhelming drive to manifest Your presence in the lowest possible realms, we would not have fallen for the enticements of this serpent who personified the subjective knowledge of good and evil." Thus, instead of recognizing the female aspect of his partnership as a boon to their joint relationship and mutual goal in life, he saw it only as an obstacle.

Besides being ungrateful to God for giving him Eve, Adam was also not on the path to true repentance. King Solomon said, "He that covers his sins will not succeed,"140 for as long as a person justifies his misdeeds, he cannot completely repent. Genuine repentance is possible only when we acknowledge that we have willingly and knowingly abandoned God, without blaming any external factors.141

Because he and Eve expressed regret: God's earlier statement that "on the day you eat of it you will die"142 now came to mean "on the day you eat of it I will prevent you from eating of the Tree of Life, and thus you will become mortal and eventually die."

Alternatively, it still meant that they would die on the same day they ate the fruit, but since "a thousand years in Your eyes are but as yesterday that has passed"143—i.e., God's "day" is a thousand years—it now came to mean that they would die within a thousand years.

In either case, Adam and Eve's repentance mitigated the implication of God's threat considerably. They repented only partially—they regretted their actions but they tried to shift the blame to someone else. Nonetheless, repentance is so powerful that instead of dying on that very day, Adam (and presumably Eve) lived almost a thousand years!144 Thus, at the very beginning of the Torah, God teaches us that regardless of what has been decreed or what punishment has been deserved, the doors of return are always open.145

13 The serpent deceived me: Eve here adopted the theme of her husband, namely, that it is too late and there is nothing left to do but to rationalize her behavior. That the serpent had deceived her was correct, of course, and since God made the serpent the cunning voice of the Tree of Knowledge, it was His fault that Eve succumbed to his deception. Once humanity has been introduced to subjective knowledge of good and evil, it is no longer possible to expect us to be totally objective. Nonetheless, Eve still had free choice not to succumb.

14 Accursed are you: Once the serpent had effectively injected the venom of subjective knowledge of good and evil into humanity, it had finished serving its purpose as the voice of this perspective and became the simple creature we know it to be.


[14] Your gestation period will be 7 years: Although it is commonly observed that snakes gestate for only a few months, periods of time between fertilization and birth of seven years have also been documented.146

15 And between your offspring and her offspring: The serpent had hoped to wed Eve and father children through her. Instead, God promised that their respective offspring would always be enemies.

In the messianic era the snake—and darkness in general—will shed its evil shell. Only its essence, its spark of holiness, will remain.147

16 To the woman he said: All the "punishments" of the Torah are in fact the means God provides for rectifying the flaw in consciousness that precipitated the associated sin. The suffering experienced in pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing is unique to the human species and is meant to rectify the flaw of consciousness that precipitated the primordial sin. As explained above, Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptations of the snake because they lacked faith in God's ability to bring the world to its final perfection in the most expedient way possible; they exhibited a lack of patience. The pain accompanying pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing all result from tension and stress, which in turn result from insufficient faith in God's loving care and concern—exactly what caused Eve to succumb to the temptation of the snake. All these types of pain can be greatly reduced through various physical and mental exercises; the pain is there to remind us to relax and rely more on God. When the primordial sin is rectified in the messianic era, these experiences will no longer be accompanied by pain, and since it will no longer be necessary to learn patience, both pregnancy and childbirth will be much shorter than they are now. This will be a restoration of the situation as it was prior to the primordial sin, for, as was seen above, before the sin Eve conceived and bore children in the space of a few hours.

Your longing will be for your husband, but he will dominate you: Eve had evinced unwarranted boldness in attempting to expand the borders of human endeavor. To rectify this presumptuousness, she was given a heightened sense of modesty and an acute sensitivity to boundaries. Her desire to acquire subjective knowledge of good and evil was an ill-advised quest to intensify the passion in life. To rectify this impetuousness, she was made uncomfortable about openly articulating her passion and taught the value of propriety. These changes in Eve became part of woman's psychological makeup. Women possess more innate shame and modesty than men, and therefore, rather than asking for marital intercourse outright, they prefer to drop their husbands hints and have them appear to initiate relations.

17 Because you listened to your wife: God separated woman from man in order that each express and develop their own unique perspectives. These are meant to be complimentary and both partners are meant to learn from each other, but not at the expense of either partner's particular contributions. Adam should have asserted his power of male abstraction in order to help Eve channel the desires she expressed in adopting the snake's reasoning. Instead, he abdicated his role and deferred to her.

It will produce flies, fleas, and ants: These insects propagate to excess when humanity neglects the earth and does not tend it properly. Adam sought in the forbidden fruit a shortcut to accomplishing his task on earth; the lesson we must learn here is the value of industriousness and consistency.

Significantly, God applies the word "curse" only to the snake and the earth, but not to Adam or Eve. He made their life harder in order to teach them correct consciousness, but He in no way reduced their innate potential.

With anguish: This is the same word used above to describe child-raising. Instead of having ready-made food as he did in the garden, Adam must now painstakingly raise his crops from an earth whose fertility has been greatly reduced. Here again, the lesson being taught is that of patience.

19 "You shall eat bread by the sweat of your brow: God commanded Adam to "work" the garden before he sinned, but now this work has become infinitely harder. Farming is the archetype for separating good from evil and cultivating good. Every aspect of working the soil and painstakingly producing food has its parallel in the work of self-refinement we must perform on ourselves to eventually restore ourselves to Adam and Eve's spiritual status before the sin.

As we till the soil, the lessons we must learn in order to rectify the Fall are repeatedly impressed upon us. First of all, we learn patience and perseverance: our experience teaches us that we need to make repeated attempts if we wish to see results and that we must wait patiently for our efforts to bear fruit. Next, we learn the need for preparation: just as the soil must be prepared to accept seed, we must prepare ourselves for spiritual self-refinement. We must "fertilize" ourselves with spiritual input that promotes spiritual growth, and we must "plow" ourselves, breaking up the hard complacency that renders us impervious to new ideas. Then, just as we must select good seeds to sow in the ground, we must decide what areas of spiritual growth we need to cultivate. Once we see results, we must "harvest" them—make sure to apply them to our lives—taking care to separate the kernels of truth from the inevitable chaff. We then have to "grind" our new selves, i.e., chew over the results and make sure they are consonant with our overall spiritual goals; "sift" out impurities once again, if found; and "knead" them into a cohesive new way of living by mixing them with "water," our desire to cling to God through our efforts. Finally, in order to digest this "dough," to assimilate it and make it part of us, we must "bake" it with the "fire" of our ardent passion for our goal, our quest to fill the world with Divine consciousness.148

You shall return to dust: In consequence of the primordial sin, the physicality of the world became opaque to Divinity. Therefore, in order for people to experience the Divine consciousness they earn by working in this world, they have to die, for only thus can the soul be freed of the perceptual and conceptual limitations imposed on it by the body. For this reason, the Ba'al Shem Tov said that because of the spiritual benefits gained by returning the body to the earth, he preferred physical death to a bodily ascent to heaven, like the prophet Elijah's.149

Nowadays, however, our proximity to the messianic era and the impending return of human immortality enables us to experience the positive elements of death and burial by "killing" and "burying" our pride and adopting earth-like humility. As we say in our daily prayers, "May my soul be like earth before everyone." This is the spiritual significance of returning to the earth and the way that it was to be experienced prior to the primordial sin.150

21 Skin-garments: According to some opinions,151 God made these garments from the skin of the serpent. This would constitute a complete transformation of evil to good. The skin is essentially a protective layer over the body; it is secondary to the vital organs. It can thus be considered the "lowest" aspect of the serpent, who was the primordial embodiment of evil. Adam and Eve, in contrast, were the first human beings, the highest order of creation, fashioned directly by God Himself. Yet, as perfect as they were, clothing afforded them an aura of dignity and additional beauty. On the one hand, clothing represents a fall from our pristine innocence and selflessness; yet it also has the power to inspire us to be to our best selves and can bring out the best in us. God had the priests wear garments of "dignity and splendor,"152 and, in our function as His emissaries in filling the world with His consciousness, we are all considered priests. Thus, God transformed the serpent skin from serving the lowest conceivable level of morality to the highest.

The lesson here for us is that we should strive to transform even apparent setbacks into forward strides. God shows us here that even the cause of our downfall can be transformed into a means for helping us achieve our highest aspirations.153

And He clothed them: The sages point out154 that "the Torah both begins and concludes with acts of unconditional kindness. Toward the beginning of the Torah it is written, 'and He clothed them,' and toward the end it is written, 'and [God] buried [Moses].'"155

These acts of kindness take place not only at opposite ends of the Torah, but also on opposite sides of the spiritual spectrum: Adam and Eve were spiritually naked; still, God bestowed His kindness on them.156 In contrast, Moses at his death was on the highest spiritual level attainable by man, yet God's burying him is considered an act of gratuitous kindness rather than an earned reward. From God's kindness to Adam we learn that one should never despair of hope, since God is abundantly kind and forgiving. From God's kindness to Moses we learn that no matter how lofty our deeds, God's kindness is still so out of proportion to them that it is still considered gratuitous.157

Although on the contextual level, the sin and expulsion took place some time after the creation week, the Talmud and Midrash place them together with the other events that occurred on the first Friday. This Friday was the first day of the month of Tishrei, which later became fixed as the date of Rosh HaShanah, the first day of the Jewish calendar year. Thus, since Rosh HaShanah is the anniversary of these events, they are reenacted every Rosh HaShanah. On Rosh HaShanah we come before God denuded of protective merit and we can only beg His mercy. In the words of the Rosh HaShanah liturgy: "We come to You not with deeds…for we are left naked." Yet we are promised that God will make us garments, transforming the impure skin of the snake into garments of glory.158


[21] Skin-garments: In Kabbalah, the "skin of the serpent" is a metaphor for the realm of evil, which feeds off the energy generated by our unholy activities. The use of the serpent's skin as a garment symbolizes the recapturing of these energies and their subsequent elevation to holiness.159

22 Now that the man has become like the Unique One among us: As human beings, our knowledge of good and evil and our absolute freedom to choose between the two derive from God's uniqueness—that He and He alone is absolutely free to do as He sees fit. In other words, because our soul is a part of God, "man has become like Me," and no one can dictate his behavior.160 According to this, this verse does not imply that free choice is a new reality precipitated by the sin (since Adam and Eve's Divine souls were given to them as soon as they were created) but rather that our knowledge of good and evil has become subjective, and in this sense is now like God's (which is also subjective). "Behold, now the man has internalized his knowledge of good and evil and in this way has become like Me."

What if he should take from the Tree of Life and eat, and live forever: Once Adam and Eve internalized evil, it became imperative for them to not eat from the Tree of Life. If they would have, the evil would have remained internalized forever, negating any chance of ever finishing the work of separating good from evil, upon which the redemption is contingent.161

23 God thereupon banished him: Banishment from the Garden of Eden resulted from a spiritual flaw in Adam and Eve's thinking and behavior. When this flaw will be corrected, humanity will return to the spiritual state in which it existed before the expulsion.

Nachmanides and Maimonides differ as to what happened to the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve were expelled from it. According to Nachmanides, the Garden became a spiritual realm; according to Maimonides, it remained a physical location but was concealed and will remain so until the future redemption.162

The fall of consciousness that humanity experienced when the fruit was eaten affected the world at large, as well.163 The spiritual constitution of the material world "descended" or "thickened," i.e., became more self-oriented. Before the sin, materiality did not constitute an obstacle to Divine consciousness, but from that point on, partaking of the physical world began to reinforce the material orientation of the partaker. Special efforts are be required to neutralize or counteract this effect.

The one exception to this general fall of reality was the Garden of Eden, which remained unaffected by Adam and Eve's sin. It remained a realm of innocent Divine consciousness, and as such, became the abode of the soul after life. In the Garden of Eden, the soul experiences the pristine Divine consciousness it worked for during its lifetime in the physical world, unencumbered by the spiritual limitations imposed by the self-awareness and self-orientation it acquires upon incarnation into this lower, physical world.164

Chapter 4

3 Cain and Abel decided to bring offerings to God: Although the Talmud records that Adam also brought an offering,165 this is the Torah's first explicit mention of anyone bringing an offering. Adam and Eve assuredly told their children the story of their creation and expulsion, and raised them to dedicate their lives to restore reality to its former innocence. Presumably, then, Cain and Abel were motivated to bring offerings shortly after they began working in their respective "professions" in order to express their aspirations and hope that their work serve to rectify their parents' sin and restore humanity to its original closeness to God. The general word for "offering" or "sacrifice" in Hebrew (korban, קרבן) means "a means of drawing close." An essential facet of feeling close to God is the need to express how one's life is dedicated to Him; offering Him a select portion of the fruit of one's efforts serves this purpose.166

Cain brought some of the produce: Cain was not a jealous murderer, but an idealist of the highest order, and his offering was not a begrudged, token gift, but an expression of his idealist philosophy. Cain assumed that offering the finest species of his produce, namely flax, was paramount.

The basic preeminence of flax over other plants lies in the fine, elegant clothing that is fashioned from it. Beyond this, however, flax alludes to a sublime level of Divine consciousness. Each flaxseed yields one stalk, an allusion to and expression of the singular nature of God. This singularity is not a unity of many parts but a simple and intrinsic oneness. When we focus on this level of Divinity, God is not simply one with the world; there is no independent world—everything is God and God is all there is. Cain therefore offered the best species—the one that expressed the oneness of God—but purposely did not bring from the best of his crop, since the very notion of "best" admits plurality: best, average, and worst. Thus, Cain had reason to believe that his offering would please God and was upset when it did not.

His mistake was his failure to realize that the pervading consciousness of the world we inhabit is not meant to be that of God's absolute oneness. Sublime and exalted though it may be, the consciousness of God's oneness prevents the individual from descending into the world of plurality. This explains why God did not accept his offering at all—it was antithetical to the purpose for which the world was created, to make a home for God in the lower realms. Our mission is rather to draw from the oneness-consciousness and apply it to the pluralistic world we inhabit.167

4 Abel also offered some of the firstborn of his flock, from the fattest ones: By offering our choicest, we acknowledge that everything we own really belongs to God; that is why He deserves the choicest portion. This notion is not limited only to the superior species. When we give the best of whichever species we are offering, we demonstrate that every species of our possessions—not only the choicest—belongs in essence to God.168

In contrast, giving a nondescript portion of the choicest species implies that God's sovereignty extends only to the aspects of creation that are refined enough to accept it; that God is too holy to permeate anything other than the most refined aspects of reality. As long as our focus is fixed on this refined aspect of reality, the quality of the specific offering does not really matter, for in that context the consciousness of God is so great that there is no other reality and all distinctions within creation disappear and become meaningless.

By offering the first and fattest of his flock, Abel demonstrated that his relationship with God was not an afterthought but rather the focus of his life. Maimonides derives from this verse that we should always offer our finest to God: When we build a house of prayer, we should make it nicer than our own home. When we feed the hungry, we should proffer the best and sweetest delicacies of our table. When we clothe the naked, we should give him our best suit.169

4-5 God paid heed to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering He paid no heed: Although the story begins with Cain, we are informed first of Abel's success and only then of Cain's failure. Cain's true failure was that he did not learn from God's positive response to Abel's offering. He failed to learn that selecting the finest is essential, regardless of the species offered.170

7 If you improve yourself, you will be forgiven: Had Cain offered a second offering, this time of the choicest of his crop, God would have accepted it. God here tried to teach him that if an individual learns from his errors, his slate can be wiped clean. However, Cain refused to admit his error. Convinced of the rightness of his perspective, he felt that if Abel were eliminated, his own view would necessarily prevail.

But you can dominate it: Though we might never succeed in removing our base inclinations from our heart, we can control them, for the mind rules the heart.171 Though we have little control over our desires and emotions, we can control their means of expression, their "garments": our conscious thoughts, words, and deeds. We can think, speak, and act in a positive way, regardless of our natural drives.

This verse is a balm to those of us who are frustrated by their inability to rid themselves of their mundane instincts and feelings. Our mission in life is to focus on improving the "garments." Through the struggle of keeping these pure, our soul can reach a greater intimacy with God than it could otherwise.172


[7] Sin is crouching at the door: The Torah is the blueprint of creation. The Torah was given while Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days. Forty is the numerical value of the letter mem, which has two forms, a regular form (מ) and a final form (ם). The regular mem is open at the bottom, alluding to the effect of the contraction of Divine consciousness (tzimtzum) that allows unholy powers to draw sustenance from Divinity. In contrast, the final mem is closed on all sides, symbolizing a state of absolute holiness that does not allow the intrusion of non-Divine consciousness. The regular mem thus indicates the reality of this world, while the final mem alludes to the reality of the messianic era, when evil will be obliterated. The capacity for sin is thus alluded to in the "doorway" of the regular form of the letter mem.173

Cain's sin caused the Divine Presence to retreat from the first firmament to the second.174

13 Is my sin too great to bear? On a deeper level, the verb "to bear" can be interpreted to mean "to lift up," "to elevate." Cain was asking God, "If I repent, does that not elevate my misdeed and transform it into an impetus for good?175 And if so, is that not sufficient reason to forgive me?"176 But since Cain's repentance was only partial, God's forgiveness could also only be partial.

Although he did not repent fully, Cain, like his parents, admitted that he sinned and expressed remorse for doing so. God therefore mitigated his punishment. Although Cain never retreated from his original stance, he did try to make amends for having killed his brother, as will be seen.

17 Cain knew his wife: Cain repented by bringing another life into this world to replace the one he had cut short. Furthermore, he reached beyond himself and his penitence and contributed to the building of society by constructing a city. All this demonstrates that repentance must involve more than beating one's chest in pious regret; it must also translate into deeds that undo the harm caused by the sin.177

26 The name of God was invoked profanely: As has been seen,178 the source of sin is the misconstruction or perversion of some idea that is in itself entirely holy.179 The source in holiness for idolatry is the plurality of opinions in the Torah. The fact that it is possible to interpret aspects of the Torah in different ways can eventually lead us to feel that there are numerous powers at work in the world.

This is only possible, however, if we approach the Torah mistakenly, that is, if we lose sight of the fact that all the various opinions recorded in it originate in God's wisdom. If we mistakenly understand the fact that the Torah encompasses various opinions and approaches to mean that it is not a unity, reflecting God's unity, this can lead us to legitimize our own interpretations of the Torah, even if they are not solidly grounded in the Torah itself. From there, it is possible to degenerate further and view the apparently diverse forces at work in the world as deriving not from the one God, but from an entire pantheon of gods or natural forces.

From this we see how important it is when studying the Torah to always remain cognizant of the fact that the different approaches and opinions it encompasses are actually all reflections of the Torah's unity and God's unity.180


[26] The name of God was invoked profanely: The practice of idolatry that began in the time of Enosh caused the Divine Presence to retreat from the second firmament to the third.181

Chapter 5

Chapter 5

3 Adam lived 130 years: By recording the years of Adam and his descendants, the Torah provides us with the exact age of the world. The importance of this information is that it articulates one of Judaism's most basic beliefs: that the world was created and did not always exist.

The Midrash182 relates that in the second century, a Greek named Aquilas observed of the Jewish people that "even the least of them knows how many years have passed since the creation of the world." This made such a strong impression on him that he converted to Judaism, and later authored a Greek translation of the Torah. He was deeply impressed by the fact that our belief in creation is not an abstract article of faith; we know when it happened, down to the day.183


[3] Adam lived 130 years: This is the first chronological genealogical list in the Torah. It is important to note that the numbers of years given in these lists are approximate, in that a person can be considered to have lived x years even if he is as much as sixth months short of his xth birthday. So when the Torah says so-and-so was x years old when he had a son, that son could have been born any time during a span of eighteen months.184

22 Enoch walked with God: Enoch was a shoemaker.185 Yet because of his holiness, his mundane stitching of leather did not distract him from his service of God. On the contrary, we are taught that with every stitch he brought about a further degree of harmony within the spiritual spheres.186

So it is with all righteous individuals: even their mundane actions have cosmic repercussions. We, on our own level, can mimic the righteous: our earthly activities can affect the heavens.187

24 God had taken him: Enoch's lofty soul kept him righteous even in the midst of the most corrupt society in history. However, he lived before the giving of the Torah, when spirituality and physicality were unable to affect or influence each other.188 In this mode of reality, there were almost no means by which an individual could sanctify himself or his environment; the most someone aspiring to spirituality could do was to remain open to Divine inspiration. Thus, Enoch was only able to withstand temptation to a certain point, since his righteousness was not self-developed, but rather "borrowed," so to speak, from heaven. This is analogous to a teacher who conveys a concept to a student but fails to teach the student to think on his own. Such a student will be lost without his teacher.189

In the merit of his righteous behavior up until that point, he was spared further temptation, which God knew he did not have the capacity to withstand.190

When God took Enoch, he was transformed into an angel whose purpose was to unify various distinct spiritual energies by revealing in them their common essence within Divinity.191 Thus, in this capacity, he continues to "sew shoes together," i.e., to accomplish on a grander scale what he did in this world. The reason that even in his angelic state he is described as a shoemaker is to teach us that even a shoemaker's ultimate purpose in life is to reveal Divinity in the world.192

Both Cain and Seth had descendants named Enoch. Cain and Seth represent paradoxical elements of our Divine service: Cain embodies transcendence and rejection of the physical. He lived in the physical impermanence of the pre-flood era; all but one of his descendants perished in the flood. In contrast, Seth expresses the ideal of accepting the reality of the physical world, while using it as a conduit for expressing the Divine. Of the three sons of Adam, it was Seth and his descendants that build the post-flood world.

Yet both of them had descendants named Enoch, their antithesis. Enoch, son of Cain, was a Seth-like person—a city is built in his name. Enoch, descendant of Seth, was a Cain-like person who shuns the world and abandons it.

This teaches us that while both ideals are necessary—a person must yearn inwardly to soar to spiritual heights, yet remain conscious of the fact that God's purpose is served in expressing Divinity in this world—each must cross-fertilize the other. The ultimate concern of the mystic in us must be the practical application of Torah in this world. And the pragmatic servant of God in us must also yearn for transcendence.193

29 This one will bring us relief: Technology is thus seen as one of the tools man can use to rectify sin.

Chapter 6

2 Shamchazai and Azael: Later on,194 these angels are referred to as "fallen ones."195 When an angel enters the physical world, it "falls"; it cannot resist the materialism and arrogance of the world. It is not in the capacity of the angel to be in the world and at the same time remain attached to Divinity that transcends the world. Only human beings, who are created in God's image, can, like God, unite heaven and earth.196


[5] God saw how great was man's wickedness on earth: The sinfulness of this generation caused the Divine Presence to retreat from the third firmament to the fourth.197

7 God said: When God initially evaluated humanity's moral condition, He did not articulate His initial reaction—His decision to wipe out the entire world. Only after He found grounds to allow humanity to survive did He pronounce His revised decision to only obliterate the culpable.

This teaches us that when we encounter a person who seems bereft of any redeeming qualities, even one whose "thoughts are evil all day long," we should check our initial impulse to articulate our judgment of him. As God did, we should first recall that this person, too, is "God's handiwork."198 This will silence our negative thoughts or words about him.

The reason God did not articulate His initial decision is because when an idea descends from the more abstract realm of thought into the more concrete realm of speech, its reality becomes more concretized—after all, God created the world through His speech—and therefore harder to revoke. Similarly, we should always be aware of the awesome power of speech: by articulating a negative assessment of someone—even if he is unaware that we have done so—we have unwittingly helped concretize the reality of something that previously existed only in the abstract realm of thought (which was bad enough). This serves to reinforce that negative trait in the person about whom we have spoken and make it harder for him to rid himself of it.

We should therefore think twice before uttering a negative judgment about anyone; on the contrary, we should always seek to make positive, constructive comments about others.199