Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Garden State

One of my neighbors made a "Shalom Zachor" this week - I think this is their 7th child. Anyway, his Rav spoke, and one of the things he said made me think about the creation of Man, and the Garden of Eden.

According to Midrash, someone once asked a Tanna (I don't remember either of their names. I didn't actually look into the Midrash; I'm just using his explanation of it.): "If God saw fit to create men with an orlah (foreskin), why do we believe that we should remove it?"

The answer given was, "Do bread and wine grow on trees? Just as they are raw materials that need to be made into a final product, so too Man is born 'unfinished' and needs to be completed."
A worthy question, and answer, frankly.

But then he went on to describe Gan Eden. He said that originally, Adam was created with a Milah, in other words, without an orlah, and bread and wine grew on trees. This is God's conceptual image of the world, but we screwed it up. Given the curses God pronounced when casting us from Gan Eden, this makes some manner of sense.

Gen. 3:16 To the woman He said, "I will greatly increase your suffering and your childbearing; in pain shall you bear children. Yet your craving shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."

In other words, until this point, the intent had been that women would be truly equal, and would bear children without much discomfort. More on this later.

Gen. 3:17-19 To Adam He said, "Because you listened to the voice of your wife and ate of the tree about which I commanded you saying, 'You shall not eat of it,' accursed is the ground because of you; through suffering shall you eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread until you return to the ground, from which you were taken: For you are dust, and to dust shall you return."

In other words, until this point, our sustenance came easily to us. We did not have to struggle and work hard in order to provide food for ourselves and our families.

But I was thinking about this a bit, and came to the conclusion that I don't think this Midrash is meant literally. I don't think it's rational to believe that the trees literally produced wine and bread, etc. I think there's another way to consider it.

Perhaps the truth is that the changes that took place weren't to the World, but rather to Humanity itself. Maybe, just as we changed in respect to being born without an orlah, so too we were changed in other ways. The results are interesting, at least to me:

Animals do not prepare their food. Cows don't go cooking the grass in the pasture. Lions and tigers don't season their prey first. (Gators and crocs do, but what they do is pretty gross, and beyond my scope here.) Animals basically take the world as it comes, and the world provides complete foods for them without further preparation. Perhaps, then, Man was also physiologically different in that he was able to directly use the produce of the world, without further preparation. Thus when it says that bread grew on the trees, it doesn't literally mean that you had white, rye and pumpernickel trees there. Rather, it means that the plants available were, for them, as complete as we would view bread. In fact, there are also Midrashic sources that describe the trees of Gan Eden as being edible. Again, perhaps it wasn't the trees that changed, but rather us. We used to be able to eat trees, just as well as their fruit.

Similarly, the issue of childbirth. For example, even the largest kangaroos, which grow to slightly larger than man-sized, give birth to tiny joeys, which then climb their way into their mothers' pouches, and continue to grow until they are big enough to leave the pouch. So mother kangaroos don't really have birthpangs, like human women do. The darned things are too small to cause that much difficulty. No, I'm not suggesting that we started off as marsupials, but I am suggesting that it is conceivable (no pun intended) for us to have started off having tiny babies, that grew large outside the mother's body.

Now, if what I'm suggesting is right, then it comes out that the Garden of Eden is not so much a place as a physical state. The Garden State, as it were. And that Brit Milah is our attempt, to quote CSNY much out of context, "...to get ourselves back to the Garden..."

I'm not entirely sure any of this makes sense... just a thought.

2 comments:

richardf8 said...

This is rather a nice reading of Brit Milah, but what about ha'olam haba? Will there be no pumpernickel there?

The Half-Heretic said...

Actually, maybe there will be.

Your comment actually made me realize something important. We don't look back. We aren't really trying to get back to our pre-sin state, at least not in a physical sense. That would mean that, as a species, it is our belief that we should be trying to devolve; to get back to where our physical existence was cruder, and our needs simpler. Sort of like, Extreme Camping , but on a permanent basis, and without the modern gear. I don't think that's actually ever going to happen. In fact, I don't even think Chazal had that in mind. I don't recall them discussing what it will be like, b'y'mot ha'Moshiach, when we're all running around naked in the Garden of Eden. So, in the physical sense, that's not going to happen.

As for Olam ha'Ba, heck that's not even a physical existence per se anyway. So if you want the spiritual equivalent to pumpernickel, I'm sure God can arrange it.

Oh, and thanks for your kind words. :)