Posts Tagged 'Adam and Eve'

User-Centered Design: Ignoring the Terms and Conditions

In the Gemara in Avodah Zara there is an interesting discussion about some mythic time right before the revelation of the Torah. There we read:

Rabbi Ḥanina bar Pappa taught, and some say that it was Rabbi Simlai who taught: In the future, the Holy One, Blessed be God, will bring a Torah scroll and place it in God’s lap and say: Anyone who engaged in its study should come and take his reward. ( Avodah Zara 2a)

In this time different nations of world come forward for the option to accept the Torah. From Rome, to Persia, to Edom, in each case they are presented with a Torah that has a rule that they cannot follow and they do not accept the Torah. Finally., Na’aseh V’nishma, the Jews come and accept the Torah sight unseen.  This idea of people accepting rules without their understanding the consiquences is not a new thing.

We see this with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I simply love this image I saw last year on social media:

While there is no rabbinic evidence that it was an apple, it is facinating to understand that our accepting the Torah as we see in Avodah Zara is itself a return to Eden.

It is also facinating to realize that Apple itself was designed to be used before being understood. I remember fondly when our family got the original Apple Macintosh personal computer. Its beige case consisted of a monitor and came with a keyboard and mouse. A handle built into the top of the case made it easier for the computer to be lifted and carried. It was famously designed to be taken out of the box and used right away before reading the instructions.

Image result for macintosh with handle

Apple’s user-centered design invites you to use it before you understand the rules of how to use it. This gives us another read of the Eden story. It was not a fall from grace, but a classic “unboxing“. Fortune favors the bold who just jump in and start playing before understanding. This reading of eating the forbidden fruit and our Gemara makes us question the benefits of reading the directions, terms, or conditions first.


Torah 20/20: Looking with Fresh Eyes

As the story goes, was a  baal teshuvah, newly religiously observant person, who started crying in synagogue during the Torah reading.  When the rabbi asked him about this display of emotion, he replied that he just does not understand why Joseph’s brothers could sell him into slavery. This profound empathy moved the rabbi to tears. The next year when they got to Parshat Vayeshev the rabbi was ready and went over to console the crying parishioner during the Torah reading. The following year the rabbi preempted the situation and brought the congregant a tissue. The rabbi was surprised to see that he was not crying or sad, but instead visibly angry. When the rabbi asked the person why he was angry he replied, “I am really annoyed. I used to be sad that his brothers had it out for him, but this time why didn’t Joseph learn his lesson?” 

Every year, the Jewish community reads the entire Torah, our most holy text, on a weekly cycle. With the advent of Simchat Torah we will end this year’s reading of the Torah and start reading it again from the beginning.  It is quoted in the name of Louis Pasteur, “No one is more the stranger than himself <sic> at another time”. Each year we look at the wisdom in this text like a stranger with fresh eyes, and each year we turn to it for sustenance as we navigate our ever-changing, yet also frequently cyclical, world. The nature of the Torah is that we can revisit it throughout our lives. When we learn Torah we demand relevance from revelation and its meaning evolves. 

As we start again from the beginning, we can look at how Adam and Eve saw things. There we read:

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves girdles. (Genesis 3:6-7)

Something is peculiar in the language here. If the eating itself caused their eyes to be opened, the Torah would have said that she ate and her eyes were opened and then he ate and his eyes were opened. Instead it says “the eyes of them both were opened” only after they both ate. What do we make of this?

In his genre creating masterpiece, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes the way we can influence each other. There he wrote:

…if I smile and you see me and smile in response–even a microsmile that takes no more than several milliseconds–it’s not just you imitating or empathizing with me. It may also be a way that I can pass on my happiness to you. Emotion is contagious.  (The Tipping Point 84-85)

I posit that this is exactly what happened in Eden. Eve ate of the fruit, enjoyed it, and shared it with Adam. When Adam ate, instead of reciprocating with a microsmile, he winced. In so doing he rejected her bid to share something pleasurable. With that wince his eyes made it clear that they did not experience Good and Bad the same way anymore. In that moment, both of their eyes were opened.

Since then the complexity of coming together has grown exponentially. The nature of politics in a democratic society is preserving the tension between our wanting to be the same and struggling with our differences and desire for individuality.  Each of us may have radically different notions of what is tasty or pleasurable, let alone what is Good and Bad for society. From the beginning, this country has been an imperfect but valiant effort “to form a more perfect Union.” 

As we return to Genesis and the Garden of Eden we are all invited to revisit this tension. This cycle of reading the Torah will accompany us through a high-stakes year in America life in 2020. In Torah 20/20, T’ruah is asking rabbis, writers, political leaders, and artists to explore democracy and questions of how to build a just society through the lens of the weekly Torah reading. How might we want to cry or get angry when reading about Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers? How does exploring this wisdom impact how we might want to fight human trafficking, systemic racism, or economic disparity? As we look ahead at 2020 we see the value of seeing the world anew with fresh eyes.


Holy Evolution

A little girl asked her mother, “Where did human kind come from?’ The mother answered, ‘God made Adam and Eve and they had children and so the story goes. From them came the human race.” Two days later the girl asked her father the same question. The father answered, “Many years ago there were apes from which the human race evolved.” The confused girl returned to her mother and said, “Mom how is it possible that you told me the human race was created by God, and Dad said they evolved from apes?” The mother answered, “Well, dear, it is very simple.I told you about my side of the family and your father told you about his.”
This joke is funny for the very reason that it is important to give some thought to how we talk about the origin of our species to our children. Are we like Adam and Eve in that we too were created in the image of God? Are we arrested that we falling away from the greatness of Adam and Eve? Or alternatively is our origin the lowly ape? Are we progressing away from apes and our ancestors? Does either have an impact on how we treat our elders or ourselves? As a Modern Orthodox Jew I do not feel that I need to apologize for either my conviction in science or the Torah, both are true. But having a complex understanding of the world does not make it easier as a parent . I understand this issue is often framed as a zero sum, one is right or the other.  What will I tell my children about the narratives as to the origin of the human race? Or even more importantly, what values are communicated in the story ?
I was thinking about these questions when reading the transition from the end of Shmini, last week’s Torah portion, and the start of Tazria, this week’s Torah portion. At the end of Shmini we read all of the laws of Kashrut, what animals we can and cannot eat. At the start of Tazria we read:
Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If a woman be delivered, and bear a man-child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of the impurity of her sickness shall she be unclean. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. ( Leviticus 12:2-3)
On this Rashi quotes Midrash:
Rabbi Simlai said, ” Just as the fashioning of man came after all cattle, beast , and fowl  in the Torah’s account of the Myth of Creation so is the case with God’s law explaining [this] after the law of cattle, beast, and fowl.” (Vayikra Rabbah 14:1)

Might this narrative give us what we are looking for? A combination of divine dignity of all people coming down from Adam and Eve without the feeling that we are falling away from greatness. Might we actually couple the idea of human progress of evolution with the idea that we are but animals? We have a holy responsibility as the top of the evolutionary chain.

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