What You Don't Know Can't Hurt You

Have you ever known a baby to come out of the womb craving chocolate? Of course not! Parents have the same conversation every time a baby starts eating solids. “How long do you think we can keep him away from sweets?” As long as the baby is “sweets free,” the parents can live in peace. Once he has tasted his first candy, the battle is joined.

The child wants more sweets; the parents want to give him less. The child cajoles, threatens and cries, and in the end, the one with the most self-discipline prevails. Does a baby deserve our admiration for avoiding chocolate before he ever tasted one? Of course not! What you don't know, you can't crave.

A woman once told me that when she started keeping kosher her most difficult hurdle was giving up Boston blueberry muffins. She made a special trip to Boston to eat one last muffin before she koshered her kitchen.

I grew up in Boston and never ate Boston blueberry muffins. In fact, I never even knew that Boston was famous for blueberry muffins. Do I deserve admiration for avoiding these muffins? Of course not. Save your admiration for that incredible woman. Her sacrifice personifies self restraint. My restraint is a product of ignorance.

Don't Eat the Fruit, but Enjoy the Bark

As the Torah tells it (Genesis 2:8-17), Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden and surrounded by beautiful trees, delicious fruit and mouth-watering fragrances. They could indulge to their heart's content, but one tree was forbidden to them.

The presence of this tree prompts an obvious question. If G‑d didn't want them to eat of this fruit, why did he place it in their garden? Parents, who don't want their children to eat candy, don't place them in front of the candy dish.

Our incredulity only grows when we realize that G‑d commanded Adam and Eve to eat from the fruit of every other tree in the garden. Can you imagine a parent placing his child in front of a candy dish and instructing him to eat every candy in the dish but one? The child would go mad with temptation, which is exactly what happened to Eve.

The plot only thickens. According to our sages, the bark of the Tree of Knowledge was edible and tasted exactly like the fruit itself. This bark was not only edible, it was also permissible to Adam and Eve. This means that G‑d permitted them to suck the sap from its bark and thus discover the taste of the fruit, but forbade them to actually eat the fruit.1

Can you imagine a parent placing his child in front of a candy dish, instructing him to eat every candy in the dish but the most delicious one, and then permitting the child to remove the wrapper from the forbidden candy to lick it and discover its taste? Who can expect a child to withstand such temptation? Was G‑d setting them up for failure?2

The Awesome Plot

This was indeed an awesome plot against humanity. Adam and Eve were created innocent and pure. In their original state, they would never have transgressed the divine will. But G‑d did not want pure angels; he had enough angels. This time he wanted humans. Fallible and weak as we are, he wanted us.

He wanted us to feel the allure of the forbidden, he wanted us to be tempted and he wanted us to battle our temptations. He endowed us with souls far more potent than those he gave to angels. Such souls would be wasted on angels, they would never have cause to tap its potential.

G‑d wanted human beings, whom he would try and test at every turn. He exposed our cravings to the allure of temptation and forced us to reach into our deepest chambers for the strength to overcome those temptations.

Pitting the soul against worldly temptation unleashes untapped spiritual energies that bathe us in a halo of divinity and radiate unto the world around us. In struggling against out own weaknesses, our commitment is sharpened and our bond is strengthened.

Indeed, if not for this day we would live in idyllic peace. We would never be tempted , we would never be challenged and we would never struggle. We would also never grow.

So G‑d tempted Adam and Eve and initiated our slide from angelic innocence to worldly maturity. On this day he also started our climb from mortal weakness to immortal strength.

Bad and Good

The Torah describes the tree of knowledge as “good and bad.” When the world was first created things were either wholly bad or wholly good. The tree of knowledge introduced, for the very first time, an element of bad into that which was otherwise good and an element of good into that which was otherwise bad.3

Introducing Adam and Eve to temptation was bad for them, but the long-term benefit they accrued from it was good.

Today it is rare to find pursuits that are wholly good or bad. Life is now sophisticated, filled with shades of gray. Charity is good, but encouraging dependence is bad. Drugs are harmful, but when prescribed by a physician, they are beneficial. Candy tastes good, but its long-term effects are bad... Exercise is difficult, but its long-term effects are good.

The Tree of Knowledge obscured our clarity and introduced a serious dilemma. When are the means justified by the end and when are they not? When does the bad outweigh the good and when does it not?

This dilemma is the legacy left to us by Adam and Eve. Every time we face it, we are forced to either climb one step forward or slide two steps back... (Fortunately, the Torah provides a clue: short term difficulties that lead to long term benefits are good; short-term benefits that lead to long-term problems are not. While this is an oversimplification of the problem, it is an insight that should be used as a spring board for further contemplation and specific application.)

It is the curse of Adam and Eve, but it is also their gift.