Monday, October 3, 2011

As if He had destroyed the world...

We had to end last week in the middle of a section, so I will pick right back up. As Avital wrote, last week’s learning concluded with the sad fact that, as a result of the expulsion from Gan Eden, we lost special magical/helper scorpions. A verse from Tehillim is then quoted: “V’adam bikar bal yalin nimshal ka’behemot nidmu, Man doesn’t last even a day in honor, he is like a best that perished”. The classic “point followed by proof text” formula is reversed here, as the pasuk is first quoted and then examples are given to back it up. The text goes on to emphasize that on the same day Adam’s form and limbs and innards were created, his soul was given to him, he stood on his own two feet, he named the animals, he was joined with Chava, he entered into Gan Eden, God commanded him what to eat/what not to eat, he sinned, and he was banished from the Garden. All in a day’s work. Adam, as recounted in Tehillim, did not last for even a day in honor. (The first thing that came to mind when we learned this part was the line from The Crucible by Arthur Miller in which Reverend Hale states: ‘Man, remember, until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought him beautiful in Heaven.’ I have tried to banish that image from my mind, though, because it is definitely not how I want to think about either God or Adam.)

We are then told that ten punishments were given to both Adam and Chava, although we are never given the full list of these ten. Basically, it explains that Adam will have to work the land to provide food, and Chava will have to endure various types of pain (there is a lot of detail about this) in bearing children. The word used for punishment “gzeirah” is reminiscent of the High Holiday liturgy we read this past week: “U’teshuva u’tfillah u’tzedakah ma’avirin et roa ha’gzeirah, And repentance, prayer, and tzedakah lessen the severity of the decree”. Maybe if Adam and Chava had known these three we wouldn’t still be under the gzeirot given to them…

My favorite part of the text comes next: “At evening time, Adam HaRishon saw that darkness was coming onto the western part of the world. ‘Woe is me, because I have sinned the Holy One Blessed Be He is darkening the whole world!’ And he didn’t know that this was the way of the world. At dawn, when he saw the world lighting up from the East, he was gladdened with a great happiness.” He then builds an alter and sacrifices to God. “At this time, three groups of ministering angels came down, and in their hands were violins and harps and all the instruments of song. They sang a song with him: ‘Mizmor shir l’yom HaShabbat tov l’hodot l’Hashem, A song for Shabbat, it is good to praise God’”. (This is the traditional psalm of the day for Shabbat.) I was particularly struck by the fact that, in this story, Adam thinks that Hashem is ending the world because he has sinned. He believes in a God that punishes directly and harshly. But he doesn’t yet know that the darkness is a part of how the world works, not the work of a malicious God conspiring against him. It makes sense that in the daily Maariv prayers, we praise God as “ha’maariv aravim, the One who evenings the evening”, as a sort of reminder of Adam’s fear of a God who “machshich alai et ha’olam, darkens the world to me”. Adam’s joy upon waking up to a world of light is very real and gives a nice context to the line in Shacharit “ha’meir l’aretz u’l’dvarim aleyah b’rachamim uv’tuvo mechadesh b’chol yom tamid maaseh breisheet, In compassion, He gives light to the Earth and its inhabitants, and in His goodness continually renews every day the work of creation”. After Adam’s personal journey of sorts through the long night, the angels coming down to praise God with him is a lovely image of Heaven and Earth working together.

The text sees the fact that the Psalm for Shabbat has just been related as a perfect opportunity to go through the psalms for each day of the week and explain the connection between that day’s psalm and what happened on that day in creation. The perek closes with the statement that if God hadn’t punished the serpent, Adam, and Chava, it would have been as if He had destroyed the whole world. That is something interesting to ponder as we contemplate justice and mercy during these Days of Repentance. Feel free to comment with thoughts!

This is the first perek that we have finished, right in time for Rosh HaShanah, so we were quite excited.

Gmar chatima tova!

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