Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Curiosity vs Patience

    "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
You have no idea how much these words have troubled me. Since I first read The Fountainhead, I have found this concept to be very attractive. There's another place where Ayn Rand phrases it even more seductively; "When Eve first reached for the apple...." and writes something about breaking the chains placed on humanity. I love the idea of rebellion; I love the idea of breaking boundaries in search of something higher and more meaningful. I sometimes convinced myself that man had to fall, that the true test in Eden was whether man would know enough to disobey God rather than to obey him, to choose to fall even if it meant forfeiting life.

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.


e-kvetcher said...

And the LORD God said: 'Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.' 23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

Sorry to say it, but it doesn't sound like G-d intended man to eat from the trees

Anonymous said...

"I do not want to live the questions! I want answers!"
Says Chana

But Chana, you were given answers, you were given answers to your questions, answers that not many people will find, but you rejected them in your zealous haste.

Like you, patients has always been a challenge to me. It was through many years of painful lessons and disipline learned through these life lessons that I began to finally receive answers, answers that were in front of me all along.

The best advice I can give you is not to be curious but to be faithfully patient.

Be well :)

Daniel said...

In The Lonely Man of Faith, there is a footnote (page 18 in my edition; it’s towards the end of the first part) which states that “Maimonides interpreted the story of the fall of man in terms of the betrayal of the intellectual and the ethical for the sake of the aesthetic.” Apparently Maimonides saw it not as the tree of knowledge [= intimate experience] of good and evil, but “the tree of experiencing the pleasant and unpleasant.” I have not seen the Rambam’s analysis of the passage in full (and the footnote doesn’t give a precise reference to where it is), but I have read some other things that shed some light on it.

Chief Rabbi Sacks has written at length on the difference anthropologists make between cultures of the eye and cultures of the ear, and how this applies to Judaism (e.g. here, here and also here, which is where he applies this to Eden). Sight is necessarily superficial, in the literal sense: concerned with surfaces and appearances. In sight cultures, the worst thing that can happen is shame: being seen to do something wrong (in extreme cases, even if you haven’t actually done anything wrong). Sound is concerned with interiors. In sound cultures, the worst thing is guilt: inner voice of conscience that tells you that you have done something wrong, even if no one else knows. Pagan cultures (and most modern cultures) were cultures of the eye: the visual arts were important and the gods were seen in nature. Judaism is one of the few cultures of the ear: we encounter God by listening to His words in the Torah (“Shema Yisrael”).

In the Torah, sight is deceptive. Clothes are used to hide the truth, whether Yaakov disguising himself as Esav, Tamar disguising herself as a prostitute or Yosef’s brothers smearing his coat with blood. What was the problem with eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? “The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and that it was desirable to the eyes and pleasant to become intelligent”, and eating from it “opened their eyes”. It was a tree of the wrong kind of knowledge: knowledge gained from seeing, not knowledge gained from listening.

Perhaps that links to something interesting Rabbi Steinsaltz says here, that Adam did not eat from the Tree of Life, because “after having eaten from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Adam was no longer capable of knowing where the Tree of Life was. The Tree of Life may very well have been right in front of him, but it just did not occur to him that that was it. He probably thought to himself: The Tree of Life cannot possibly be that wretched little shrub over here; it must be something a lot more splendid and sophisticated.”

Do you know how hard it is to live with questions? It is so much harder than living with answers!

Yes, I do know how hard it is to live with questions (and to live without answers, which isn’t exactly the same thing) for many, many years. I’ve mentioned before that I think this is part of being intelligent and growth-orientated, because growth stems from learning, which depends on questioning and doubt, although I know not everyone agrees with this analysis.

Some people are lucky enough to have friends, parents, teachers or books that can easily give them the answer. Some people often don’t even know where to begin looking for the answer, don’t always know how to phrase the question, and have to wait years before stumbling across a clue as to what the answer might be or where to find another clue that can be used to begin to piece together a possible answer. I don’t know which category you fit into; I’m definitely in the second one.

Irina Tsukerman said...

Two points:

* The theory is indeed interesting... but isn't necessarily true. I don't think we'll know the actual answer to that question for a long time, if ever, so that again remains just another theory, no better and no worse than others.

* I doubt that the gods would have given Prometheus the fire. If you like at the way the gods were portrayed in the myths, they had many distinct anthropomorphic characteristics, not the least of which was the lust for power. Fire would liberate people from complete subordination to their will, and that's not what the gods wanted.

Anonymous said...

I am usually just a "lurker" and very much enjoy your blog, even though I wonder, how you have time to write it - I can never find enough time to read it!

There are traditional sources which say that the prohibition of eating from the tree of knowledge was only meant for three hours, till the Sabbath would begin, and that once the world was elevated through the Shabbat, the tree would have been permitted.

There are also Chassidic sources which explain that not only were Adam and Eve meant to eat from the tree; they were meant to eat from it exactly as they did, because it was G-d's plan that we struggle with good and evil. Even before Eve's creation, G-d tells Adam, "because on the day you will eat from it (the tree), you shall begin to die". There are those who see it as a prediction that he would eat from the tree.

One can ask, if G-d intended us to struggle with the evil inclination, why didn't He just bestow it on us, why did it have to result from eating the tree? And the answer is given that man needs to know that his essential self is only good - as man was originally. Man allowed the evil to become part of him and now he must try to vanquish it, and return to his original pristine state.

This explanation can answer the question posed by many: How could Adam and Eve have defied G-d, before they had an evil inclination? Saying that they were persuaded by the snake is not really satisfactory; after all someone really virtuous would not allow himself to be persuaded to defy G-d! So there are those who say that Adam and Eve committed an act of great self sacrifice, knowing that this was really G-d's plan, and knowing that the process of ridding ourselves of the evil would require exile from Eden, death, and over 5767 years, they still took this job on themselves since it was G-d's plan. And we owe them a debt. It is the result of their sacrifice that we are given the privilege of restoring G-d's glory to the world.

This can also help us understand an otherwise mysterious Midrash, that Adam donated 70 years of his life to David, who, interestingly enough was only meant to live for three hours (perhaps this refers to living for those three hours till the Shabbat would come in as a part of Adam's great soul?). By Adam's sin, he made it possible for David's great and eventually successful struggle with evil. Had Adam not eaten from the tree of knowledge, David's 70 years of life, vanquishing the evil inclination, could never have taken place. The Midrash also quotes an opinion that Adam gave seventy years of his life to each of us. Had Adam not sinned the original Shabbat would have ushered in an era of eternal perfection, and we would not have our chance to be active participants. So, thank G-d, and thank Adam and Eve!

Anonymous said...

Hello Curious Jew,

Without questions we cannot have answers. However, true answers can only come from Torah alone and not from Hellenistic legend or pagan logic.

Please remember to keep Torah separate from legend.

Should Adam have eaten the fruit of the tree? No. Was Adam created to eat the fruit? Yes.

In my humble opinion Adam was created to serve G-d by ridding creation of the evil inclination that was present in the otherwise perfect creation, a creation that was meant to be perfect and without the evil inclination. Adam was to be a partner of G-d in the Tikkun olam, but the problem in this fact was that Adam was created perfect as was the evil inclination in a way. Adam in eating the fruit became imperfect, but more importantly put himself under the influence or power of the evil inclination precisely to bring the evil inclination itself to a place of imperfection and weakness causing the eventual removal of it from the olam through the work of man and judgements of the Heavenly court against it.

So, man was created to serve G-d through eating the fruit even though G-d did not want or intend the suffering of man to happen as a result of that necessary but unpleasant action.

You could almost compare the creation of man to the baiting of a fish hook, and the eating of the fruit to the bait entering the fishes' mouth (Adam being the bait the fish being the e.i.). Adam was the bait with the hook placed inside lowered into the the cosmic lake to catch and remove the e. i. from creation.

In the end it's all about G-d, His will, and His way of perfecting creation.

Keep questioning everything, but don't waste your time searching the hellenistic world for answers they don't have. You are given Torah!

Peace and joy to you Chana.

I hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

Knowledge of good and knowledge of evil. God certainly has infinite knowledge of both. Perhapes a few of the creation questioned Gods authority and ability to rule perfectly, truthfully and completely in their best interest.
Did God create the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to make available to some who questioned his authority a way to choose and test the rightfullness of his rule. Perhapes. If yes, than the lesson has been extremely sobering.