Adam the first man and the Garden of Eden

    January 2009            
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Dancing between Beasts and Angels

By Gershon Winkler

The ancient rabbis taught that the human is a creature of limbo, a being with no definition of its own, half angel, half animal. “In three ways are humans like the ministering angels: They have understanding like ministering angels, they walk erect like ministering angels, they can speak like ministering angels. And in three ways they are like animals: They eat and drink like animals, they procreate like animals, and they defecate like animals” (Talmud, Chaggigah 16a).

This may sound disconcerting to those of us who really care, and may explain why so many humans flock to self-discovery seminars. Who the hell are we? Better yet: what are we? While all the animals have been assigned names to identify their uniqueness, as have plants and trees, stars and planets, the human is simply referred to as “adam”, Hebrew for Earth, or earth being (Genesis 2:7 and 5:2). Basically, while all other beings of the physical and spiritual universes are assigned brand names, the human remains generic.

There is an ancient midrash that goes something like this:

When Creator was about to create the primeval human, He consulted the ministering angels and said to them: “Shall I make humans?”

And they said: What is the human that you even bother thinking about such a creature?” (Psalms 8:5). The Creator replied: “Well, for one thing, its wisdom is superior to yours.”

The angels said: "In what way?" Creator then gathered all the animals, wildlife, fish, and birds, and stood them all before the angels and challenged them: “Okay, assign them names.” The angels were dumbfounded and didn’t know what to call them. Creator then made the First Human and brought all the creatures of the earth together and asked the human to assign them names. The human replied: “Master of all the universes! It is fitting that this one be called buffalo, and to this one it is fitting to call lion, and to this one horse, and to that one camel, and to the other one eagle,” and so with all the other creatures. When the human was done, the Creator asked: And what shall be your name?” Human thought for a moment and said: “Adam (earth being), because I was created from the earth” (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 7:32).

Earth Being. A very generic name, a very general term. It describes nothing in particular. It means nothing specifically. One can equally apply such a name to any creature of the earth, since all the animals in our creation story were created out of the earth (Genesis 1:24 and 2:19). Perhaps it is in this light that we can better understand why the first humans were so easily sold on the benefits of the proverbial Forbidden Fruit and also understand more clearly the strange nature of the very first conversation in the Torah between God and humans, which took place immediately afterward.

What was the selling point of the Forbidden Fruit? That it grew from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad; the Tree of Opposites. The salesman in the story, Mr. Snake (“nachash” in Hebrew) convinced them to eat from this tree by claiming that it would ”open their eyes and they would gain the consciousness of the angels and become knowledgeable in the subject of Good and Evil” (Genesis 3:5). That selling point, especially the one about enlightening them “opening their eyes“ was a vital marketing ploy that worked like a charm on this creature that was bereft of identity, of feeling unique, of possessing definition. They were hungry for any information that would illuminate their awareness, specifically their self-awareness.

What follows in their desperate search for self-discovery is the encounter with Creator who had warned them not to eat of that tree. Self-knowledge is a dangerous obsession if you haven’t first eaten of the Tree of Life, which had been planted first, before the Tree of Knowledge of Good and not so Good (Genesis 2:8). To eat of the Tree of Knowledge before tasting the Tree of Life is like building an upper floor of a structure before building the first level.

In the discussions of the ancient sages Hillel and Shammai whether God first made the heavens and then the earth, or vice-versa, Shammai argued that the heavens were made first, as it is only logical that one would first construct a throne for the king and only thereafter a footstool (referring to Isaiah 66:1 -- “The heavens are my throne; the earth my footstool”). Hillel argued that the earth was constructed first, as one would logically first construct the first level of a house before constructing the upper level. The sages reconciled both arguments by quoting from the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 48:13) who described God as creating both simultaneously (Midrash Yalko’t Shim’onee on Genesis 4). So which came first: the chicken or the egg? Now you know the answer to that one -- finally.

And so the first humans, in their urgency to self-actualize skipped the basic fundamental phases of consciousness, the Tree of Life, and went straight for the gusto. And gusto they got, albeit sorely unprepared for its consequences psychically and spiritually. Being half angel and half animal they desired to first attain the knowledge of the angels, not realizing that the path to spirit is via earth. And God, not being the condemning type, asked: “Where are you?” as opposed to “What have you done?” in order to give them the benefit of doubt, that maybe, perchance, they were mature enough to do good without having dessert before the meal.

"Where are you?" was perhaps then a question that implied "Where are you? In the heavenly consciousness of angels or in earthly consciousness of animals, plants and rocks? Have you at least achieved one or the other?" Unfortunately, the response implied that neither consciousness was attained: “I heard your voice in the Garden and I was afraid because I felt naked, and so I hid” (Genesis 1:10). In other words, I would have felt enrobed, empowered, embraced, had I first eaten of the Tree of Life, but instead I feel bereft, as naked as I did before, as empty of what I hoped I’d get from the Tree of Knowledge as I did before I ate of it. My eyes have indeed been opened -- to that, to this sad frustration, to the pain of it, and to the regrets that come with it, to what I ought to have done first."

And so the act of hiding was a huge part of the problem -- not of eating the forbidden fruit. Hiding was in essence the sublimation of what could have been enlightened self-discovery. And thus it is to this day that we continue to look for ourselves, still in hiding, dancing in limbo between animals and angels, and still trying to figure ourselves out.

The Voice of God is not so scary, not anything to hide from; it is a voice that would not have been experienced as intimidating to First Humans had they partaken first of the Tree of Life, to familiarize themselves with simply being alive. In taking time out to be, and to marvel at the magic of everything around us, we discover more and more of who we are. Everything around us, the birds, the trees, the sky, the earth, other folks, carries a piece of the clue, for we are all of it. Creator, after all, made us in the image of all that had been created before us, in the image of all of the earth’s creatures, as well as the heavenly ones (Genesis 1:26; Midrash Ha’ne’elam, Vol. 1, folio 16b; Mishnah Avot D’Rebbe Natan, end of Ch. 31). As the Zohar teaches: “The souls of humans and animals are imprinted one in the other” (Vol. 1, folio 20b). The 13th- century Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet went a step further and taught that “the souls of animals are sparks of the human soul” (Manuscript Parma de Rossi 1221, folio 288b).

What we seek to learn about ourselves is thus to be found every day anew, every moment, and in everything that dwells in, on, and above our earth. We are indeed Earth Beings. And endeavoring to live our lives to its fullest restores to us the fragrance and flavor of that tree we neglected to eat from first, the tree we now write myriad books about and create symbols of: the Tree of Life. Every day, the Zohar teaches, we are created anew, fresh, as on the first day of the first human (Vol. 1, folios 19a-b). And every day, then, we are given the opportunity to start over, to step back from our premature urgency to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, and instead first avail ourselves of the simplicity of being, of the fruit of the Tree of -- simply -- Life. L’Chayyim!!


from the Februrary 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine