Weekly Sidra: Bereshit (In beginning)
Torah Portion: Bereshit / Genesis 1:1-6:8
Haftorah: Yeshayahu / Isaiah 42:5-42:21
One of the fundamental questions we face as the Torah begins is the question of what is good and evil. To examine this question we will look at two figures – Adam and Cain.
We see that Adam was placed in a garden where he had access to everything. Seeing all of this bounty he hears a voice charging him “And the Lord HaShem commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die." (Gen. 2:16, 17)
We cannot assume that the tree of the knowledge of good and bad was different from any other tree. The only difference was that Adam was aware of the consequences of eating its fruit. This tree was essentially the same as all other trees. It differed in the fact that it revealed to Adam the fundamental doctrine of good and evil being the will of HaShem. He was made to realize that human reasoning should not be the arbiter in determining moral values. Based on the commandment Adam was simply expected to obey the divine edict.
In this first rebellion of man against the will of HaShem we see the root of all physical evil and the origin of death. In his pride for independence, Adam was ambitious to set his own standards of good and evil based on his own human reasoning thus defying his Creator’s moral judgment. Adam had been put to the test of human subordination to the moral standards ordained by HaShem –and he failed.
According to Torah the norms for good and evil are imposed upon us by the authority of our creator, transcending human reasoning and judgment. We are also introduced to moral evil by the killing of Abel by Cain. Whereas, Adam’s sin gave rise to physical evil (death, sickness, toil, etc) Cain’s murder of Abel initiated moral evil.
A comparison of the two events shows the absence of a warning and threat of punishment prior to Cain’s sin. Adam was specifically warned not to eat the fruit of a particular tree under penalty of death. In the case of Cain we find no such injunction. Cain was advised that “Sin couches at the door; its urge is toward you, yet you can be its master." He was not told “Thou shall not murder” announcing the penalty along with the sin.
The Torah in this case uses the descriptive rather than the normative approach to teach that there are moral codes which are know innately to every human being without Divine revelation. He who has been created in the image of HaShem must realize that the taking of human life is forbidden.
Thus we see the beginnings of physical and moral evil and we are left to ponder the origins of the yatzer harah (evil inclination) in us all.
Tags: abel, arbiter, bereshit, edict, evil death, first rebellion, fundamental doctrine, fundamental questions, genesis 1, HaShem, human reasoning, isaiah 42, moral evil, moral judgment, moral standards, moral values, subordination, torah portion, tree of knowledge, yetzer hara, yetzer hatov
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