The Phoenix of Our Desires
“But alas, what should I blame except my irrational desire? It lifts me so aloft, and flies so high in the sky that it reaches the sphere of fire which scorches its wings; then unable to bear me up, it drops me from the sky. But this is not the end of my ordeal, for it sprouts wings anew, and is burned again, so there is never any end to my rise and fall.” (Lodovico Ariosto; Orlando Furioso 1532)
Would I have made the same decision, as did Adam and Eve? I keep on telling myself that I would not. I never stood in their shoes. I have the advantage of hindsight. Do I understand their challenge well enough to know what I would do?
“Havei dan et kol Adam l’kaf Z’chut” – Judge each Adam – person – favorably (Avot 1:6) begins with Adam – the primal human being. We must judge him favorably despite the painful consequences of his actions.
Why does Adam deserve a favorable judgment? Perhaps because it is the only way that we can grant ourselves the same generous perspective. We too stumble. We make mistakes. We do not always succeed in resisting temptation. We, as Adam, often find it difficult to accept responsibility for our actions: “The woman that You gave me made me sin!” It’s someone else’s fault.
We believe that we are familiar with this most basic story, and yet there are many unanswered questions: Adam was the first to give life to another. God took Adam’s rib to construct the woman. Eve then replaced Adam as the one who would bring future generations into the world. Why was Eve standing by herself when approached by the snake? Where was Adam? Why was she alone so soon after her creation? How did the snake know about the tree? God instructed Adam about the trees. Adam taught Eve. Who informed the snake? Did he know about the tree before Eve? Did the snake know directly from God, whereas Eve only knew second-hand through Adam? Why did Adam add on the extra commandment to “not touch the tree”? Did Adam know that the fruit Eve handed him was of the Tree of Knowledge? Why did he eat it without her saying a word? Was this an instance of “He doth protest too much”? Was theirs an “irrational desire” as described by Ariosto?
The Sages never accuse the snake of lying. They describe him as speaking Lashon Harah!
There are so many more questions. We must step into Adam and Eve’s shoes before we can judge them.
Here I stand, having risen aloft even from the heights of Yom Kippur on the wings of Succot and Simchat Torah. These are some of the highest moments of the year. Will I withstand my tests any better than did Adam and Eve?
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