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Bereshith 5780-2019

How to Achieve Immortality the G-dly Way
(Revised and updated from Bereshith 5760-1999)

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

 

What could be more perfect or more harmonious for the human being, created by G-d, than to reside in the Garden of Eden–the Divine Utopia, amidst the most magnificent setting, and surrounded by the most luscious and beautiful vegetation?

According to the Biblical description (Genesis 2:8-15), the Garden of Eden had abundant quantities of gold and crystal, along with a vast array of irrigation sources, an unlimited supply of fruit-bearing trees and food-bearing bushes, all created for human benefit and consumption. The only condition that the Al-mighty set for these first human beings, presumably Adam and Eve, to remain in this eternal state of “Nirvana,” was not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, (Genesis 2:17), כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְךָ מִמֶּנּו,ּ מוֹת תָּמוּת , “For on the day you eat from it, you shall surely die!

One of the well-known comedic routines, underscores the irony of this warning. After all, G-d didn’t have to warn the “fishees” not to jump out of the water, they knew intuitively that this would be harmful to them. But, G-d had to warn the human beings, the most advanced and intelligent of G-d’s creations, not to eat the forbidden fruit!

The Biblical narrative then tells how the נָחָשׁ “Nachash,” the serpent, entices the woman into violating G-d’s one request. Interestingly, the Bible (Genesis 3:1), describes the serpent as, עָרוּם, מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה השׁם אֱ־לֹקִים , more cunning than any of the creatures of the land which G-d had made. Can it be coincidence that the Hebrew word for cunning, “arum,” is the exact word that the Bible had used in Genesis 2:25 to describe the naked man and woman, who were not ashamed of their nakedness?

From this Biblical portrait of the serpent, we learn much about human nature. The seductive serpent in the creation story is not depicted as being part of the essential human makeup, but rather a seemingly outer force, apart from the human being. In fact, the serpent is so subtle, that its seductive devices are virtually invisible–naked. Clearly, the Torah is proclaiming that human beings are essentially good, and that evil lurks outside of them. Furthermore, the blandishments that try to defeat the humans are often so subtle that only those with the keenest sensitivity can perceive evil’s intentions!

The end of the story is well known. The serpent attempts to convince the woman that if she eats the fruit, she can be like G-d. Eventually the woman succumbs, not only to the serpent’s arguments, but also to the physical beauty of the fruit and its delicious taste. When she gives the fruit to Adam and they eat it, they suddenly realize that they are both “naked”–perhaps defenseless against physical seduction.

In response to this violation, G-d’s great voice is heard calling to Adam (Genesis 3:9): אַיֶּכָּה “Ayekah?” “Where are you, Adam?” Of course G-d knows where the human beings are, but rather G-d is asking them: “Where are you existentially? Are you partners with G-d in creation, or are you out to destroy the world order by giving in to your physical desires and lusts?”

As usual, the human being refuses to assume responsibility for his or her actions, and tries to pin the blame on someone else. Adam cries (Genesis 3:12), הָאִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר נָתַתָּה עִמָּדִי, הִוא נָתְנָה לִּי מִן הָעֵץ, וָאֹכֵל The woman whom You (G-d) gave to me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate!” The human blames G-d, he blames the woman, blames everyone but himself–how typical! How sad!

As a result of the violation committed by the first human, pain, sorrow and death are introduced into the world. The human beings must now live with the consequences of their actions, and work to repair the damage. The wages of evil are transformed forever. They are no longer transparent or subtle, they are palpable and often painful.

This ancient, enigmatic and challenging story contains one of the most fundamental lessons for humankind. After all, what do the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life really represent?

Of the greatest desires of humankind are the desire for omniscience and immortality. We all would like to be all-knowing (especially without investing too much effort), and of course we all desire to live forever. Researchers are constantly striving to discover the magic bullet that will enable us to learn and remember with the least amount of effort. Humankind’s search for the proverbial “Fountain of Youth” as well, is never ending. We all hope to remain “forever young.” The search to discover the secrets to halt and reverse the aging process is an all-consuming project for the human race.

The message of the Torah is clear: Humans cannot achieve immortality through immorality! In fact, the secret of immortality is exactly the opposite! Life can be enhanced and extended by abiding by G-d’s wishes, not by defying Him! The way to immortality is to follow G-d’s bidding!

Humanity can indeed return to the Garden of Eden by following the instructions in G-d’s Torah–the font of Ultimate Truth, and the source of all life and longevity! What may seem like a simple, rather insignificant Biblical story, is truly one of the great lessons for humankind.

May you be blessed.