To Serve Is To Follow
This parshat is the most fundamental. In it we find: creation, the first man and woman, the first sin, the first repentance, the first murder, the first degeneration of society and much more. But perhaps the most perplexing event in it is the original sin.
God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and gave them everything they could possibly need (great weather, abundant delicious food, no enemies, no sickness, etc.) God spoke to them, an incredible experience, and requested only one thing of them: Don’t eat from the fruit of one tree. Yet, before their first day was over, they disobeyed God. Why? How can we understand this original error, which impacted the world more fundamentally than any other single action in history, bringing mortality to mankind?
Parshat Bereshit: Genesis 1:1-6:8; Isaiah 42:5-43:10.
One way to understand Adam and Eve’s mistake is to realize that they thought they knew a better way to serve God, even though God indicated otherwise. Adam and Eve felt that to serve God simply by not eating a single species of fruit, in a place where God’s presence was palpable, was no big deal. They were capable of sacrificing so much more for God. They were willing and able to serve God in a world shrouded in darkness, where it would be much more difficult to see God and appreciate the importance of serving Him.
Adam and Eve knew that if they ate from the fruit, it would be like turning off a celestial light switch, and God’s presence in the world would become much more hidden through sin’s entrance into the world. They were certain that they could still serve God in such a difficult world; they would be the knights in shining armor, riding through the darkness holding up the banner of godliness. Confident that it would result in a far greater glorification of God, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.
But this was a colossal error, one that until today continues to challenge us. The truth is that when a person thinks like that, he is using his ego and believing that he knows better than God. God said you’ll be at your best doing X, but I say I can do better by doing Y. That’s wrong because God does know best; He created us, and we are at our best when we follow what He asks of us.
The challenge of Adam and Eve is still our challenge today. We try to tell ourselves that God didn’t really mean that we should do what he asked of us in the Torah; or that if He would see the modern world, He would certainly cancel a number of the “outdated” mitzvot (as if God couldn’t see the future). We feel like we can decipher what He really wants of us, even if it is different from what He told us.
The truth is that if we want to serve God and not ourselves, we have to trust that He knows best; and realize that the best way to serve Him is to follow what He asks, not what we think He should have asked. If we do that, we will be able to reverse the effects of the primordial sin and bring the world back to the utopia it was before sin arrived on the scene.
Leiby Burnham is director of outreach for the Weiss Family Partners in Torah at the Southfield-based Yeshiva Beth Yehudah.
Do you feel that God knows what’s best for you? What are some mitzvahs you struggle with? How do you typically resolve a dilemma where a Jewish tradition diverges from your worldview?