- "That man, the unsubmissive and the first, stands in the opening chapter of every legend mankind has recorded about its beginning. Prometheus was chained to a rock and torn by vultures- because he had stolen the fire of the gods. Adam was condemned to suffer- because he had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Whatever the legend, somewhere in the shadows of its memory mankind knew that its glory began with one and that that one paid for his courage."
~The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, page 710
This is because I really believe that curiosity should know no boundaries, that we must always search and rebel against any obstacle that impedes the searching.
But tonight I have finally found an answer that satisfies me to some extent, so I can lay my five-year question to rest. Five years is a long time to wrestle with something, especially when you are trying to pretend to yourself that you aren't wrestling at all.
Here's what I read tonight:
- Metaphysical man is pursued by two major fears- death and ignorance. Man wants to know all and he wants to live forever. The two trees which God planted were the antidotes for these two fears. Had man been patient, he would have been allowed to eat from these trees (why else were they created?), but man was impatient and forever lost his chance. Man had passed that boundary which must be placed on curiosity.
Fantasy, dreaming, knows no bounds. Left alone, man's curiousity would never have stopped after God's arousing it by placing man in the Garden with all of its temptations. Almost at the same time that man was placed in the Garden, God speaks to man, "And God spoke concerning man saying from all the trees of the Garden, you shall eat...But from the tree discerning good and evil..." God here commanded man concerning man. Man's progress is called to a halt by a confrontation with the will of God. Man was told that he cannot exist without a moral imperative. Halakha, which represents God's will, has sounded a call for man to retreat. One who ignores the command, one who eats from all trees, is not metaphysical man but natural man simply living to gratify his every desire.
~Shiurei HaRav, "Adam and Eve," pages 140-141
Finally! Finally an answer that makes sense!
God did not want to stilt man's creativity, to force him away from knowledge, to stop his path toward discovery. He wanted to teach him patience. Everything must be understood and realized in its own time; one cannot simply reach for what one wants without the necessary background. Or as Rilke would phrase it, "...I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
Naftali tried to teach me this, but I couldn't understand. I have always been frustrated and yes, still am frustrated, by being told that I must have patience and I must live the questions. I do not want to live the questions! I want answers! But this is precisely what Adam and Eve were commanded to do. They were commanded to live with questions. Why? That is what they would have asked, every single day of their life, looking upon that one forbidden tree. Why may I not take from it? Is it, as the serpent says, because God does not wish me to be like Him? Why? I do not understand; my reason does not allow me to understand! And God has not provided me with an answer- a punishment, yes; He has said that I will die. But he has not explained why I cannot take from the tree.
Do you know how hard it is to live with questions? It is so much harder than living with answers! A religious life is a life filled with questions, as the Rav states, "the beauty of religion, with its grandiose vistas, reveals itself to man not in solutions but in problems, not in harmony but in the constant conflict of diversified forces and trends" (Sacred and Profane, 6). And damn it! I hate having to live with questions and I hate not being given answers; I hate asking why and desperately wanting to know and not having my curiosity satisfied. I hate it all but I understand it.
But see, the Rav's approach is so much grander than mine. He takes it for granted that Adam and Eve would have been allowed to have eaten from the trees- "why else were they created?"- if they had only been patient. Had they the patience and the courage to live with the questions, in the end they would have been rewarded. Perhaps it is the same with me. Perhaps in the end, I will understand.
It's a very long time to go with so many questions, but don't we see that's how it is throughout Tanakh? Abraham must have had so many questions when he was told to offer up Isaac, but he did it without protesting. And there is Job, who asks so many questions and is not given a satisfying answer. But this is what they all do, our protagonists in Tanakh; they struggle and fight in order to live with questions.
I am not a patient person. But I see that sometimes curiosity must be set aside for a higher purpose- to teach us the value of patience. This is what Ayn Rand did not understand when she depicted the sudden, grasping man. Perhaps the gods would have given Prometheus fire! Perhaps God would have allowed Adam and Eve to eat! They would have had to have been patient in order to find out. It's much easier to rebel and to take rather than to wait for something to be given, especially when there is the chance that it will never be granted and all of our waiting will have been in vain. But who said this was easy? Religion is never easy. I will struggle and I will have all my questions and I will be curious for the answers but I will also know that at least part of this is to teach me the value of patience. And I will hate it, I will hate it! But I will understand.