Why were Adam and Eve banished from the Garden of Eden?
Usually, the answer is: “because they ate from the Tree of Knowledge”. Indeed, the first humans did eat from this tree – a tree that God told the couple not to eat from. After being enticed by the serpent, Eve disobeys God and eats the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and has Adam do the same. Once they do so, the Torah tells us that their eyes were opened.
Prior to this point. Adam and Eve were pretty much clueless about the world around them. They were God’s puppets. They had no concept of right and wrong. But, upon eating from the Tree of Knowledge – they gained the ability to discern between good and bad. They immediately developed a sense of morality. This is why the very first thing that Adam and Eve do after eating the fruit is sew together fig leaves to cover their nakedness.
God was certainly angry with the first couple for violating His orders and eating from Tree of Knowledge. Adam and Eve were no longer clueless. Given that they could determine between right and wrong, they now had the ability to make their own decisions and did not need to rely upon God. In essence, they cut the puppet strings that were controlled by God. And this filled God with rage. But, this is not the reason He banishes the couple from the Garden of Eden.
God banishes them because His supreme authority was now threatened by the couple. There was, according to the Torah, just one thing that separated Adam and Eve from God: immortality. Their ability to know good and bad made Adam and Eve god-like. If they were to live forever, they could become gods themselves. And the problem was that in the Garden of Eden stood the Tree of Life. If they were to eat from this tree, like they did from the Tree of Knowledge, well, they would gain immortality. They had to be kept from that tree. And so, God banishes them from the Garden of Eden insuring that His sovereignty would remain intact.
Despite the fact that Adam and Eve didn’t get us immortality, they still gave us all a tremendous gift. By eating from the Tree of Knowledge, they gave us the skills needed to use the brain in our head. They gave us the ability to make decision and, thus, the ability to act. By breaking God’s rule, Adam and Eve gave us free will. God does not control our actions – says the Torah. The idea that our lives are controlled by God – that we are God’s tools – put here for a Divine purpose – this is not what this week’s parasha teaches us. On the contrary, this week’s story teaches us that we have to make our own decisions.
All too often, I hear God get blamed for our poor choices. Whether it be something huge and catastrophic like the Holocaust or something much smaller like a personal financial crisis – God is easy to blame. “Why God! Why are you doing this to me!? Maybe You are testing me God! Please God get me out of this!” The story we read in the Torah this week makes it explicitly clear that with the exception of many illnesses, we are the masters of our destiny. We are the ones who get ourselves into most of the situations we find ourselves in. Poor choices – choices we had the power to make – present us with many of the challenges we have to face today. (And we can make choices that get us out of these challenging times!) The current economic situation is a perfect example of this. In this way, Adam and Eve’s gift of freewill has the potential to be a curse. Our ability to make our own choices comes with ups and downs.
We learn this week that we are created in the image of God. What this means is not totally clear. Somehow we were created as a representation of God. We know from the story of Adam and Eve – we were not created originally with knowledge or immortality. Within the first generation of our existence – we gained that knowledge. We are left with our own mortality.
While some would say we are left with the curse mortality, I prefer to think of it as being left with the blessing of a finite life. Unfortunately, I believe that many of the problems we find ourselves facing today – personal and global problems – are the result of the fact that we fail to comprehend that we are mortal. We go about our days thinking that we are, indeed, immortal. And, thus, we don’t think about the ramifications of our actions.
We say things to people without giving a thought to the possibility that the words we shared might very well be the last words we ever share with these people. We don’t ask ourselves: will my words accurately reflect how I feel about these people?
We do things that foster our own egos and advance our own selfish interests. But we often do these things without thinking about the effects of our actions and the legacy that our actions will leave when we are gone. We don’t ask ourselves: what will my actions tell the world about who I really was?
If we were immortal, perhaps it wouldn’t matter what we said or what we did. We would always have tomorrow to fix things and try again. We wouldn’t have to worry about the harm our actions might bring us. But, we never got a chance to eat from that Tree of Life. And, for that, we have to thank God – because, by keeping us from becoming gods ourselves, God has insured that our lives are finite. A life with a beginning and an end should force us to make each and every single day the best day that it can be. Our mortality urges us to make goals and aspire for great things. It pleads with us to use our knowledge and free will to make the most out of our days and maximize each moment.
But, most of us don’t do this. We think we know it all. And, this week’s Torah portion, in some ways, supports this. We do know it all or at least have the potential to know it all, thanks to Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge. But that’s not why we were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. We were kicked out to keep us mortal. We know that we are – but we don’t like to admit it. This week’s Torah portion is a very important reminder that we, unlike God, have a beginning and an ending – just like the year we have now started. This week’s portion tosses our mortality in our face. But not in a spiteful way. Rather as a gentle reminder to appreciate this temporary gift we have each been given. May we all learn to appreciate our life and make each day a blessing.