Garden of Eden

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However, the answer does not entirely eliminate the paradox. It leaves it in a form that makes it conceivable that, in the Divine perspective, it makes no difference whether man acts in accordance with G-d's command or whether it is only from the human point of view that acting in accordance with G-d's command is preferable to a course of revolt and compensatory consequence; that G-d gives preference to the first alternative merely in His relation to man, not so far as He Himself is concerned. Is it conceivable that, sometimes, G-d does not object to the second kind of development? It must be admitted here that a strange but deliberate uncertainty as to G-d's will is maintained in the story of the Garden of Eden.

The first contradiction is stated boldly. G-d says to Adam: "For in the day that you eat therefrom you shall surely die" (Gen. II v.17) and the serpent says to the woman: "You shall surely not die, for G-d does know that in the day that you eat therefrom, then your eyes shall be opened"(Gen. III v.4,5). That contradiction is, of course easily removed by the realisation that there is no real contradiction here at all, only a clash between a seeming truth that the serpent speaks and the actual, material truth that G-d speaks, since Adam really does become a mortal being from the day that he eats from the tree of knowledge. A second ambiguity is implied in Adam's plea, in which he traces his transgression back to G-d Himself: "The woman that You have given me.." (ibid. .v.12). This is left without comment. Third comes the fact that the constitution of man, once endowed with the faculty of discernment and knowledge, would now seem to represent a higher form of life, that this, in some way, counterbalances the lost good of immortality and is so intended by G-d. This assumption, which emerges clearly from the story, does not cancel out the impression in favour of immortality that follows from the nature of G-d, the opponent of death and of nothing. The emergence of two most highly valued goods, individuality and knowledge, is brought about by man's disobedience, without which the world could have been a stable and changeless one, an arrested Creation, as it were. The equal value G-d attaches to either course enables Him to withdraw from a vast realm of decisions altogether and to create the being He intended, capable of making those decisions entirely on his own account. That is tantamount to saying that the story is concerned with the genesis of that which is, perhaps, the most fundamental attribute of life:

7. The creation of human freedom. It is evident that without a knowledge of opposites, represented in the story by the pairing of good and evil, there can be no choice in the true sense and that without the possibility of choosing between different courses of action, there can be no freedom. The origin of freedom as the most essential characteristic of the nature of man who, in turn, is regarded as the acme and essence of Creation, is one of the main themes of the story. This has been stressed so often that it needs no elaboration here. As Buber put it, "The world was created for the sake of the choice of the being who is capable of choosing". It would seem clear that G-d wants the existence of a being who will bring about increase in the fullness and range of reality and that the existence of such a being requires an act of self-limitation by G-d, a sort of withdrawal and self restriction that is the only kind of adding-on and enlargement conceivable in the Infinite and Perfect Being. Man is the only being capable of discovering and realising, from his finiteness, the ways of G-d implied in His infinity. It follows that the finite being must, for this purpose, be given autonomy and that G-d allows, as he first act of that being, the autonomous seizing of the tool for his task:

8. The genesis of knowledge. It is evident that the nature of man, as we know it, would not have been complete, indeed would not have come into existence at all, without the emergence of the faculty of knowledge. Although loosely interconnected with and dependent upon the components of man's nature, sex, mortality, individuality and freedom, knowledge alone is the distinguishing human characteristic that makes man what he is among living creatures. And, while sex, birth and death are cyclic phenomena, it is freedom and, most especially knowledge that initiate, as it were, a directed linear course, a development, in short a history. And, as the history of mankind as seen by the Hebrew myth is the kernel of the history of the world, knowledge is the driving force in a continued Creation in which man is G-d's autonomous instrument. Everything that follows in the Books of the Pentateuch is the story of the formation of that instrument. But, in order that man may play out his part, his knowledge must be prevented from penetrating and mastering the secret of life immediately. That would mean neutralising all the impulses in man that keep his development going and would, from the outset, by making him immortal, give him a divine status. As an individual, he is not sufficiently mature for this, nor is he destined for that from the beginning. All this conveys one of the deepest realisations in the myth of the Garden of Eden:

9. The antagonism between knowledge and life. This dualism is expressed, in mythological language, by the image of the two trees. Formulated in conceptual language, the same antithesis is visible in a long series of contrasts. It is inherent in pair-functions that oppose one another, such as a tendency to give free rein to all natural desires and passions and the tendency to check these through detached reasoning about their, either useful or harmful, impact, about their 'value'. The antinomy is not only present in such opposites as nature and morality, impulse and reason, instinct and intellect, it even underlies such fundamental distinctions as living matter and external form. Lastly, it cannot be overlooked that the whole content of human consciousness is divided into the domains of immediate 'experience' and reflections on that experience. It has been argued that, ultimately, knowledge is an organ of life and that thought, abstraction, theory, though seemingly opposed to the full blooded vitality of conscious existence, are actually the means to an enhancement of the enjoyment of life. Life itself, it is said, has produced the organ of thought and knowledge for its own purposes. Like the sense of sight, knowledge is used by life to find its way through the labyrinth of reality. But even if that is so, the antagonism between life and knowledge is not thereby abolished. For knowledge fulfils the function of serving as an instrument of life on one condition only: that it preserves its full autonomy and remains adamant against all urges and products of life that have not been subjected to an examination by the intellect and received its sanction. In other words, knowledge serves life only as its counterpart, on equal terms. These and many other phenomena are implied in the dualism of life and knowledge, symbolised by the two trees in our story. Let us look at hints to one further meaning. Knowledge, which itself has a history of development is, as has been said, the factor that starts the history of mankind, that is, drives life out of its cyclic, recurring way into the limitless, linear direction indicated by ever new phenomena, happenings and phases. And, so that the faculty of knowledge may not, at the very beginning, reach is goal and realise the unlimited possibilities open to it, G-d curtailed it and thereby, simultaneously forced it to strive after that realisation in the course of a long development, in the course of the history of mankind. G-d promoted the evolution of the faculty of knowledge and the unfolding of the history of man in one single act: the expulsion of man from the Garden of Eden, thereby barring the access to the Tree of Life.