Here we are again at the beginning of it all with the reading of Bereishit, this week’s Torah portion. Like every passing year I get sucked deeper into thinking about the story of the Garden of Eden. As a parent constantly tending the garden of my children’s education I am struck by the need in the story for setting limits. As we read:
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying: ‘Of every tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, you shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.’ 18 And the Lord God said: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help mate for him.'(Genesis 2:16-18)
Adam and Eve are two different people and have different experiences of the world. And sure enough this help mate and Adam eat of this fruit and that limit is breached. So with eating this fruit they also breach an absolute understanding of what is “good”. There is no longer the absolute of truth and false, but rather relative categories of good and bad. Their eating of the fruit simultaneously gave birth to human mortality and human morality.
This brings to mind one of favorite and shortest TED talks. This talk is given by Damon Horowitz who teaches philosophy through the Prison University Project, bringing college-level classes to inmates of San Quentin State Prison. In this powerful short talk, he tells the story of an encounter with right, wrong, good, and bad that quickly gets personal. Please take the two minutes to watch this ( it is worth it and you will thank me):
In light of this talk we can see the direct line from Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden to the Mark of Cain. In many ways we all bear the burden of having to work to reestablish what is “good” in the world. As Horowitz says, “But we are not here to trade opinions, everyone has an opinion. We are here for knowledge. Our enemy is thoughtlessness. This is philosophy.” His argument is beautiful in its simplicity. The project of philosophy is to help us turn or return to truth. In living the examined life we can reenter the Garden ( the always already there) unmarked by society. Tony and Horowitz discovered this in prison, a place in which the prisoner is locked in. It is our task to return to Eden a place from which we have been locked out. As we are starting off this new year, I want to echo Tony and Damon Horowitz’s words,” Let’s do this.” Who is in?