Gardeners or Warriors
Xenophon’s Anabasis tells the story of ten thousand Greek mercenaries who were hired under false pretences by a Persian prince, Cyrus the Younger, for an expedition into the hinterland of Asia Minor. Cyrus’ true aim was to oust his brother, Ataxerxes II. They were defeated at the battle of Cunaxa, and now leaderless and far from their native land, they have to find a way back home amidst very hostile people. All they want is to go back home, but everything they do constitutes a public menace: there are ten thousand of them, armed, but without food, so wherever the go they ravage and destroy the land like a swarm of locusts, and carry in their wake a huge following of women.
Sounds to me like echoes of Bereishit: Adam and Eve and in Paradise, a magnificent and almost perfect garden. They rebelled against the Creator and were eventually sent into exile. Adam began his existence as a garden dweller. He had no idea how to live in the ‘outside’ world. We know that he was not a fighter because we never read of an attempt to overpower the Cherub guarding Adam’s old garden.
He, as were the Xenophon’s mercenaries, was lost, away from home, without the perfect food that was prepared for him in the Garden. He would now have to make his way in the world.
He recalled God’s words: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea, the bird of the sky, and every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) The garden dweller had to become a fighter. He understood that in order to survive and subdue and rule the fish, birds, and every living thing, he could no longer be the quiet gardener. He would become the subduer, which is exactly the story we read in the opening portion of the Torah.
We often wonder how quickly humanity fell from the Garden in Eden to the point at which God decides to flood the earth. However, we must ask whether Adam and his progeny were adequately prepared for life outside the Garden.
The earth was cursed. He had to forage for food, and we can easily picture the rest of creation perceiving the Adamsons as a public menace. In fact, they too carried a following of women in their wake: “And it came to pass when Man began to increase upon the face of the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of the rulers saw that the daughters of man were good and they took themselves wives from whomever they chose.” (6:1)
Was Adam’s struggle with his new role any different from so many nations that win their independence only to falter and breed corruption? The story we read is the story of humanity. It is the story of human beings lost, far away from home, without a sense of direction and purpose. We fight for survival and often pose a threat to others.
It is interesting that the first Creation story is not of a gardener, but of a conqueror and ruler. God’s instructions do not make sense for an Adam who will live out his life in a safe and enclosed Garden in Eden.
We tend to think of the Garden as the beginning. After all, it makes the better story! However, which story is ours?
In truth, it is a choice: We can assume either role, that of Adam the Gardener or of Adam the Conqueror. We can approach life as gardeners learning how to nurture and patiently work to grow and tend our souls. We can also look out at the world and assume the role of subduer, become fighters, hopefully rulers.
Many people do approach life as a battle to survive. Our vocabulary includes countless battles: The War on Drugs, the War on Cancer, we fight disease and poverty. We struggle to survive. We fight our internal battles with the Yetzer Harah – the Evil Inclination.
We are stepping away from our little gardens, our Succot. We spent the past month tending, weeding, growing and nurturing. I think I’ll hang around my garden for now. If I must fight, I choose to confront the Angel guarding the path to the Tree of Life, rather than retreat and battle the world for yet another year.
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