Monday, October 12, 2015

va'yar Elokim ki tov vs. tov l'ma'achal

1. When daughter #2 was preparing for seminary interviews last year (she is thank G-d learning in Israel this year) it was well known that a certain seminary liked to ask applicants the following question: if you could be a tree, what type of tree would you be?  I think questions like this are inane, but to play along I recommended that she answer the “eitz hada’as.”  My daughter did not have the gumption (i.e. chutzpa) to give that answer, and instead replied that she would choose any type of tree that grows.  (The interviewer still pressed her to pick a specific type of tree, which just reinforced my bad impression of the whole exercise.  Inane.)

2. The Shiurei Da’as has a chakirah (that we’ve discussed before) as to whether good and bad are inherent in nature and G-d is like a doctor who reveals what will lead to optimal health, or whether good and bad are functions of G-d’s will, and it is only his decree as king that makes it so.  (The question long predates the Shiurei Da’as, but R’ Bloch applies it nicely to explain a number of difficult Chazals.)   At the end of the day, it’s a combination and overlap of both.  The Shem m’Shmuel (Rosh haShana 5673) doesn’t formulate the chakirah so sharply, but he uses the idea to explain the root of Adam and Chavah’s sin.  He suggests that Chavah’s declaration that the fruit of the eitz ha’da’as was “tov l’ma’achal” itself was wrong because it bifurcated the command not to eat the fruit from the quality of the thing itself.  Chavah saw the tree as inherently good and desirable; it was off-limits s (in her view) only because of G-d’s seemingly arbitrary decree.  She failed to see G-d’s decree as a revelation that the something was inherently wrong with the tree no matter what her own feelings told her.  I would add that in the opening creation story of Braishis, it is G-d and G-d alone who decided and declared what is good: “Va’yar Elokim… ki tov.”  Chavah’s independent assessment and assertion that something was “tov” marks a radical change in attitude even before the fruit has been ingested.

Yet perhaps the word “tov” here is in reality a red herring.  R’ Ahron Lichtenstein distinguishes different uses of “tov” in his lecture "Being Frum and Being Good: On the Relationship Between Religion and Morality."  He uses Chavah’s declaration that the tree was “tov l’ma’achal” as an example of good in the pragmatic sense, with no moral value attached.  It’s like my saying it is “tov” for me to take my car to work instead of walking.  In contrast, when we speak of issurim or mitzvos, we are speaking of a moral assessment of what is good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, not just pragmatics.  If Chavah thought the fruit of the tree looked tasty and might have made a good snack were she hungry – no more than an aesthetic and/or pragmatic judgment call -- does that sense of  it being “tov” really diminish or contradict her appreciation of the moral “lo tov” of G-d’s command not to eat it?  Isn’t the Shem m’Shmuel conflating the two meanings of “tov?" 

On the other hand, lulei d’mistafina I wonder whether R’ Ahron’s reading of Chavah’s words is correct.  If Chavah truly believed the nachash‘s assertion that the eitz ha’da’as was the key to being like G-d, then might not her declaration that the tree was “tov l’ma’achal” in fact be a value statement?  Perhaps she not only thought it might be tasty, but thought the pursuit of knowledge was a moral obligation (see this Meshech Chochmah). 

3. Immediately after Adam’s cheit, the Torah writes (3:8) that Adam heard Hashem, “mis'haleich ba’gan l’ruach hayom,” and he hid.  Hashem then addressed Adam and ask why he was hiding.  The Seforno comments (d”h “l’ruach hayom”) that Hashem was going about doing the things that needed to be done on that day, just like he had done on the other days of creation and the day before the cheit.  Hashem did not come to visit the garden to confront Adam.  It was only after Adam became aware of Hashem and hid that Hashem addressed him and reacted to what had been done. 

Shem m’Shmuel explains that every punishment meted out by Hashem is an opportunity for rehabilitation.  Hashem did not originally address Adam because Adam had not earned the right to be rehabilitated.  It was only when Adam hid and showed an awareness that he had done wrong that Hashem addressed him and provide a punishment/tikun for his wrongdoing.  The first step to getting out of the pit of wrongdoing is to avoid remaining indifferent to the fact that wrongdoing has occurred.

No comments:

Post a Comment