A Puzzling Friday Afternoon in Paradise
The story of Mankind begins on a sunny Friday afternoon in the Garden of Eden as Adam strolls through Paradise with an unparralleled closeness to God. For six days, the world was being created and formed and at every step of the way, God looks with approval and says "It is good"! And it is this "good world" that Adam is put into, in what seems to be the ideal situation.
But then, the Torah takes through a very bizzarre sequence of events that teaches us an important lesson about the purpose and mission of humankind.
First, Hashem gives Adam his first commandment not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. And then, suddenly, we find a flaw in creation. For the first time in six days Hashem says that something isn't good.
It isn't good for man to be alone; I will create a helper opposite him.
With this introduction, God "splits Adam" and creates Eve, his female counterpart, with whom he will build the world. And we all know what comes next. The tree, the snake, the women, the Sin, the shame, the curses, and ultimately the eviction from the Garden of Eden.
This whole sequence seems awefully puzzling. What was the point of God creating a Tree that was not supposed to be eaten from? And why did it suddenly open the door for God to "notice" an imperfection in Creation, that Adam shouldn't be alone? And the logic of creating a "helper" for Adam seems to have backfired. Some help was she! It was only a couple of hours later that Eve's poor decision-making got them both thrown out of the Garden and made them vulnerable to all of the temptations of the world. So, how can we understand God's decision to create Eve coming immediately after he commanded Adam not to eat from the Tree, the very commandment that would be broken as a result of the creation of Eve?
What Doesn't Kill Us Makes us Stronger
If we take a closer look at God's statement, we find the answer to our questions and a timeless lesson. God says, It isn't good for man to be alone. I will create a helper opposite him. If we understand the words "opposite him" as meaning "to challenge him," it is as if God is saying, "It isn't good that man be alone and perfect without any challenges; let me create another who will help him by challenging him. Through those challenges, man will be able to reach an even higher state than before." Even though these challenges might lead to falls, even to getting kicked out of the Garden, ultimately this is the formula that will lead man to true inner greatness. Hence, with the creation of Eve, God introduced a force that can present Adam with spiritual challenges but ultimately can cause him to become greater.
In fact, this was the very essence of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Whereas the Tree of Life would have propelled Adam and Eve into a constant state of euphoria and bliss, living with a constant clarity and awareness of God in their life, the Tree of Knowledge of Good was a ticket into a world where man is smack in the middle of a pull between what is good and bad. In essence, this Tree was the Tree of Free choice, the Tree of Struggle.
Perfecting a Perfectly Imperfect World
This concept of struggling for the sake of reaching an even higher place is so integral to our mission in this world, it is eluded to in the very opening of the Book of Genesis. the second verse of the Torah states “And the world was void and desolate with darkness on the face of the depth”, which our Sages enigmatically explain is a reference to the pain and exile that would be experienced in the future.
One might wonder, why would the Almighty, who is nothing but perfection, create a world that is dark and imperfect?
The great kabbalist and philosopher Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto explains, that the Almighty created a world that is imperfect in order to give us the opportunity to perfect it. By doing so, we become an active partner in building the world. Could God have created a perfect world? Of course he could have. But what would be our role than? If everything was just handed to us on a silver platter, would we really find satisfaction out of life.
So instead God created a world that was less than perfect, or more accurately, perfectly imperfect, a calculated effort to set the stage for us to enter and do our part, by using the tools that we have been given to restore the world to its original potential. But the process is certainly painful.
When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, the collective soul of humanity fell from their exalted level. The body and the negative character traits that lie in the lowest parts of souls were brought front and center and concealed that original light. Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden and it would be the job their descendants- every one of us- to restore those souls to their original greatness.
The very first lesson the Almighty teaches us is one that, it turns out, we need to carry with us for all of history to make sense out of all the trials and tribulations that we go through. The lesson is that through struggling and falling, through getting back up and shaking off the dust, that we are able to reach true inner greatness and the happiness that we are all searching for as well as perfecting the world.
As the sun set that night and the world entered into its first Shabbat, the Torah tells us that "God saw all that he had made and behold it was very good”. Though Man had fallen hard that day to the point that he was evicted from the Garden of Eden and sentenced to a life of struggle, Hashem looked at the world and for the first time says the words "It is very good". A world without struggle is "no good". A world with struggle isn't just good. It is very good.