Reflections on Hartman

Being in Jerusalem reminds me of two facts that are, I believe, inctontrovertible:

  1. There is no city in the world like Jerusalem.
  2. There is no place like home.

It is both invigorating and exhausting to be here.  The children are slowly acclimating to the new time, new place, new routine, now camps…  It is only recently that I have come to appreciate jet-lag as contagious – you can catch it from your children.

The Hartman Institute is truly amazing.  We have been studying tikkun olam in the morning and The Kuzari in the afternoon.  Each morning we are visited by a leading Israeli teacher to share their understanding of the concept of ‘fixing the world.’  We spend time preparing source material and then there is a shiur for the entire group.

On Thursday we heard from a scholar of Kabbalah, Melila Hellner.  She is working on creating a language of discourse for enviromentalism by borrowing from the mystical tradition.  One of the sources that she shared was from the Zohar and it really places the story of the garden in a different light.  We are familiar with the commandment from the second chapter of Genesis from every tree of the garden you are free to eat, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.  The Zohar, is a bold re-reading of this text says as follows:

Everything {including the tree of knowledge} was permitted to him is eaten in oneness.  For we see that Abraham ate, Issac and Jacob they all ate and endured.  But this tree is a tree of death, whosoever eats it by itself dies…

What was the sin according to this passage?  It seems that sin of adam and chava was not that they ate from the tree, but rather that they ate from the tree of knowledge by itself.  When eaten together, the tree of knowledge was not a problem, when eaten by itself, it was a deadly poison.

Melila expanded on this with the following idea – overdosing on the tree of knowledge was an attempt to fulfill the insatiable desire for knowing (truth).  She pointed out that “insatiable is unsustainable”.  That ultimately the sin of Adam was his inability to take benefit from this world with appropriate caution.  By consuming the tree of knowledge by itself, he overstepped his relationship with the created world and created a situation of insustainability.

All of a sudden the entire garden narrative is placed in a different light.  Not only was Adam permitted to eat from the tree, he was even commanded to do so!  The avot themselves even ate from the tree.  Adam was simply required to eat in the right way.  Unfortunately, he did not take responsibility for his surroundings and the sin occurred.

This also places a responsibility on each one of us to learn to be more sensative to our surroundings. 


One Response to Reflections on Hartman

  1. Evenewra says:

    Is the problem that they got greedy for knowledge?

    Or is the problem that they wanted knowledge without tempering it without also using the knowledge in this world.

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