From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
It’s not as though there was nothing else for them to eat. In fact, it was a vegetarian’s dream delight—fruits and vegetables of all kinds, including the fruit of one tree that, if partaken from, would have given them either eternal life or, according to some commentaries, a quality of life above all others. But the three of them—Adam, Eve, and the snake—opted to forgo that which was permitted, that which would have provided for long-term gain, and instead chose the quick fix in satisfying their curiosity.
Eat from the Tree of Life and you see things with a sense of clarity that you could never have imagined. Eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, and you live a life of pain and toil. Seems like a pretty clear choice; yet Man seemed confused, choosing what was behind “door number one” when the real prize was behind “door number two.”
But here is the strangest part of the whole encounter. After being told that they could eat from the Tree of Life, their banishment was to prevent them from eating from the Tree of Life. G‑d says: Now that you have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, now I fear you might eat from the Tree of Life, and now I must banish you from a life of paradise.
Why the fear, if they were originally permitted to eat from the Tree of Life? I would understand the punishment if the verse had stated: Now that you ate from the Tree of Knowledge, now that you have defied My word, now I will no longer provide for you here in paradise. But that is not what the verse says. It is clear. G‑d says: Now you must go because I am afraid that you will be tempted to eat from the Tree of Life—a tree that originally was permitted to mankind. Because one performs a forbidden act, why would it matter if he would then be tempted to perform a permitted act? “No harm, no foul,” as they say.
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I will be a bit lonely the next few months, as my best friend and neighbor and his wife and children have relocated temporarily to Far Rockaway. They are adding on to their home. Not to bask in a Five Towns luxury home; rather, they are adding on to their existing structure for the single most important reason one could imagine: His parents, may they live and be well, will be moving in and occupying the new additional space.
And I watch every day as the construction unfolds, and it is truly amazing. None of it would be possible without the tons of concrete being poured to create a foundation that, when the edifice is completed, will not be visible to anyone. But it’s all in the foundation.
In pouring that foundation of concrete, they are building a foundation of education for their children and all of us who have parents and grandparents as to what it is that truly establishes a Jewish home. It’s neither brick nor mortar; not glass, steel, or iron. It is parents and grandparents. For assisting Jewish children in witnessing this level of caring is the greatest building a parent can do.
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Want to really become confused? The famous commentator Ohr HaChaim states that if Adam and Eve had eaten from the Tree of Life first, they would have been permitted to subsequently dine at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad.
But now it is clear. Now we can see the forest from the trees. It’s all in the foundation, it’s all in what comes first, in what one sets as his priority.
The Tree of Life was the repository of all that is true, all that is universally accepted as what is right for mankind. Conversely, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad was the home of subjectivity, for what is good for one is usually not good for another. One man’s apple is another man’s poison.
If one’s foundation is universal truth, then one can begin to dabble in subjective reasoning, sometimes putting his or her needs in front of another’s. Confident that a foundation of universal truth has been created, man can be trusted to inch forward ever so delicately to advance his causes. So, explains the Ohr HaChaim, if Man had established that foundation of universal truth first by eating from the Tree of Life, he would have been trusted to nourish himself from the Tree of Knowledge.
But by tasting subjectivity first, by laying a foundation of subjectivity first, man could no longer be trusted to eat from the Tree of Life. Because that very tree which smelled and tasted of objectivity was now tainted and colored by subjectivity. Mankind could no longer agree on when life begins, when it ends, when it should end—by abortion, euthanasia, or the death penalty.
Even the value of human life would be so greatly diminished that people would kill over road rage, over ownership of cell phones, over being terminated from a job, and even over allegiance to sports teams. No longer would the sanctity of life be so universally held that senseless killings over the most meaningless subjective likes and dislikes would be commonplace.
Simply going to the movies or a restaurant or a shopping mall brings with it an entire new set of concerns and worries. Somehow, someway, somewhere, humanity must be redirected to the concept of the value of life. My neighbors have laid a great foundation. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.