Oct. 23, 2020
By ILANA KRYGIER LAPIDES
“This is your last chance – there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed… You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: All I’m offering is the truth.”
– Morpheus, from The Matrix
The creation story in Bereishit is one of the most evocative, mystical, and beautiful stories ever told. The light racing to replace the darkness, the swirling of the heavens and earth, the sun, moon, and stars flashing into existence, the birds and fish and animals inhabiting the world. And then, the pièce de resistance: Humanity is born: “Male and Female He created them” (Gen 1:27). It is all good.
Then, after Shabbat is established as the day of rest comes a new verse about the creation of the first humans. Why two versions? What happened to the first “them”? Our sources and mythology say Adam had a first wife named Lilith who was literally a demon. In recent years, the legend of Lilith, who defied marital customs and had sexual agency, has been reclaimed by the women’s movement and is now a symbol for female independence and strength.
Nice for Lilith, but what about Eve? The second wife, the second thought. Not a whole creature but crafted out of a rib. The image of the serpent snaked around the Tree of Knowledge, of Good and Evil, tempting the naive woman, has led to cultural and political norms so internalized that we don’t even notice them: Eve disobeyed G-d, she let herself be seduced and then tricked her husband into eating the Forbidden Fruit. Ergo, woman cannot be trusted: we are temptresses – dumb at best, immoral at worst. We must be tightly controlled and regulated lest we cause Paradise Lost…again. Pretty heavy consequences for eating a piece of fruit.
It’s a bit of a mind-game to imagine an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Creator allowing the first woman to fail so spectacularly. It seems unfair, like a gotcha, and to those paying attention, it doesn’t make much sense. Elohim just created the entire universe but couldn’t conjure up a little reverse psychology to save the day?
Kabbalistic writings propose another perspective: None of this is a surprise to G-d; there is no sin here. This was the plan all along. In the beginning, Eve and Adam were innocent children with no shame or pain or problems. As they got older, they realize the world is not perfect so they seek wisdom to understand right and wrong. Eve first, followed by Adam, defy their “parent” and choose, for good or bad, to become fully aware and actualized human beings. Their story is our story – an allegory for coming of age.
“G-d expels Adam and Eve from Eden, which can be seen as a punishment. But it can also be seen as a painful but necessary ‘graduation’ from the innocence of childhood to the problem-laden world of living as morally responsible adults” (Eitz Chayyim, p. 18).
Rabbi Niles Goldstein says, “By acting with free will, Adam and Eve begin the process of individuation from God, psychologically and existentially. They are now on their own. They, like each of us, are now ready to go forth into the unknown.”
In the mystical tradition, G-d stopped work on the sixth day to allow humans a turn to be partners in tikkun olam – the repair of the world. Eve and then Adam ate from the tree because it was time to become full partners with G-d.
Yes, it seems like G-d was delaying the inevitable, but who wouldn’t? For those of us who are parents, watching our children mature and make mistakes is frightening and heartbreaking, but we still have to let our children grow up and away from us.
In life, as in The Matrix, it’s tempting to stay innocent in Gan Eden, to take the blue pill and stay ignorant of the stress and toil of reality. But that existence infantilizes us and prevents us from becoming the developed partners that G-d needs. As painful and counterintuitive as it seems, it is part of our contract with G-d to take the red pill. As Eve realized, we are only truly human when we act with the courage and strength to grow up and eat that fruit.
Ilana Krygier Lapides is a Jewish educator and storyteller in Calgary. She is currently attending the online Rabbinic School, the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute (JSLI) in New York, and will be ordained in December 2020.