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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Wheat Tree? (Part 4: Philosophy)

An interesting observation is that the Torah does not tell us what kind of fruit it was.  One would think that this would be part of the story.  Perhaps Rabbi Nechemia's approach is in line with this omission.  Human psychology, as well as idolatrous religions, tend to identify certain physical objects as evil, or taboo, and others as good, or lucky. The Torah rejects such thinking.  Rather, sin is evil and observance is good. There was nothing evil or magical about the fruit which caused Adam's downfall, but it was his decision to eat from the forbidden fruit which was the mistake.

Hashem didn't want Adam, and all future men, to respond to sin by externalizing it.  By projecting evil onto an object, man seeks to rid himself of the sin.  Man must recognize that the place of sin is his internal world.  The taboo is comforting to a person, in so far as it enables him to view the evil in the external world and not part of himself.  This prevents a person from truly correcting the sin through changing his internal world and returning to Hashem.

Therefore, Hashem set it up that the same object which caused his downfall was the very same object which assisted him in his recovery from his downfall.  The net result is that Adam, and all future generations could not stigmatize the fig tree, but would be forced to look inwards.  For this reason, perhaps the Torah did not reveal to us the identity of the fruit - it would distract us from the essence of the story, the harm of sin and following one's evil inclination.

The Torah's deemphasis  on objects and redirection of man's energies towards perfection and sin, is a theme found many places in the Torah.  Chazal say that one should not say that he cannot possibly eat pig meat...but should instead say that he would like to, but his Father in heaven prohibits him from it.  There is nothing taboo against pig.  Our focus must be on the sin of eating pig and on our study of the halachos associated with it.  We thereby subordinate our appetitive instinct to our minds and embody the ideal of kedusha.

The Torah's utilization of the same object for both positive and negative purposes in order to redirect us away from the object and towards the human decision is found in other places besides for the fig tree. In the story of Korach, the ketores (incense) was used as a vehicle of both destruction and salvation (see Bamidbar 17:13, Rashi).  In the story of the copper serpent (Bamidbar 21), the snake was used both to attack the people and to heal the people.

This psychological defense we employ, of projecting an evil that is part of our internal world onto the external world, is used on people as well as objects.  Chazal say "one who disqualifies others...is doing so from own flaws"  The intended effects of projecting our defects onto others is to rid ourselves of them.  The unintended effects, are often strife and resentment.

How one changes their natural inclination to look outward instead of inward, is a different topic of teshuva.  The first step of teshuva is recognition of the sin.  While the awareness of this psychological mechanism alone will not really change a person, it might assist in allowing one to recognize a flaw and begin the process of change.

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