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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Jan. 7, 2005 /26 Teves, 5765

Serpents of desire: Good and evil in the Garden of Eden — Friedrich Nietzsche and the Disc Jockey

By Rabbi David Fohrman


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The eleventh installment of a weekly series examining themes in the Book of Genesis, with the goal of revealing progressively deeper layers of meaning in what too many dismiss as myth. Links to the previous lessons can be found at the end of the article.



http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | A few years ago, I flipped on the radio while driving in New York City. A disc jockey on one of the music stations was offering to help love-stricken callers sort out their romantic troubles. Listening for a few minutes, I encountered an exchange between the DJ and an earnest young, religious fellow who was explaining why he had chosen to remain sexually abstinent until he was married. The DJ debated with him   —   and to my surprise, advanced a religious argument   —   very pious sounding, actually   —   against the caller. "Tell me", the host began, "are you a normal fellow? Do you have any desires?"

Silence at the other end of the line.

After a suitable pause, the host continued: "Look, why do you think the L-rd placed these desires in you if He didn't want you to act upon them?"

The poor fellow hadn't expected to be attacked on religious grounds   —   and he didn't have much of an answer. As I drove away, my heart went out to the mismatched caller   —   and it struck me that the primal snake, after all these years, is still alive and well. His argument, despite the passage of time, seems as current now as it ever did.


            "Even if G-d said don't eat from the tree... so what?"


"G-d's commands, whatever they may be, are not primary. The real voice of the Divine whispers to you from the inside, through desire and passion that He has instilled in your very being. If your desires were placed inside you by your Creator, then don't you honor Him by doing their bidding?"

Throughout history, opponents of religion have advanced this rather basic argument in a number of forms and guises. In the last hundred or two odd years, one of the more powerful of these attackers was Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher who, fittingly enough, entitled a collection of his essays "Beyond Good and Evil". In those writings and in others, Nietzsche railed against organized Western religion. He decried the tendency of religion to shun worldly pleasures and delights; to avoid them as if they were something to be afraid of. Passion, he declared, was the stuff of life itself. If one avoids passion, if one fails to engage it, he has failed the most basic test of humanity. He has failed to live.

What, really, is the answer to the snake   —   or, for that matter, the answer to any modern purveyor of his argument? Its all very nice to say that passion is for animals and G-d's commands are for humans; that animals obey the voice of G-d inside them and that we obey the voice of G-d that comes to us through G-d's commands   —   but, as humans, are we really ready to consign passion to the dust heap? Desire, when you really think about it, has much to commend it. Passion fires our aesthetic sense: It makes us yearn for beauty; reach out for the spectacular sunset; thrill to the sounds of Yo-Yo-Ma's cello. To at least some extent, Nietzsche was right: Our appreciation of these things, at least in part, is what makes us human. The minute I am devoid of desire, the minute I have no ambition left   —   I have no reason to wake up in the morning. I'm as good as dead.

So where, exactly, was the snake wrong?


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To really respond to the snake effectively, we need to re-calibrate our arguments a bit. We need to take one last, long look at desire, and see if we really want to completely dismiss its charms. After all, one could argue that G-d Himself is nothing if not passionate: He is a Being whose Will is so powerful that it spontaneously manifests itself as reality. G-d desires a universe and out of nothing, it explodes into being. What could be wrong, the snake asks, with a little more passion?

TORAH AND THE SPICE OF LIFE
A good eighteen centuries ago, the Sages of the Talmud anticipated this line of reasoning, and they put forward a pithy but perplexing aphorism that tries, I think, to respond to it. The aphorism was written in Hebrew; here's how it's usually translated:


The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said to Israel: My son, I have created the Evil Inclination; and I have created the Torah, its antidote. If you involve yourself in the Torah, you will not be delivered into its hands... (Tractate Kiddushin, 30b).


At first glance, the Sages seem to be implying that the Evil Inclination is a problem, a sickness, and the Torah is its solution   —   the way to get rid of the sickness. But, as is sometimes the case, a lot has been lost in the translation. In the original Hebrew, the Talmud says that the Almighty created the Torah as "tavlin" for the Evil Inclination. Most translations render that word "tavlin" as "antidote" or "salve" ("if you take the antidote... you will not be delivered into its hands..."), which seems to fit with the context   —   but unfortunately, that's not really what tavlin means. If you go to Israel today and walk into a shop and ask for tavlin, they'll won't direct you to the medicine counter. Instead, they'll walk you over to the spice rack, and give you a choice of parsley, sage, rosemary or thyme. In Hebrew, tavlin means spice.

Well, that certainly throws things for a twist. If tavlin translates as "spice", what does it mean to say that the Torah is "spice" for the Evil Inclination?

What kinds of things do you put spice on?

You put spice on meat; you put spice on food.

Interesting. The Evil Inclination is "meat". What a profoundly different way of looking at things! If you were stuck on a desert island and could be supplied for a year with your choice of either meat or spice, which would your rather have? I'd venture that most of us would opt for the meat. Spice is great, but you can't live on spice. Meat is fuel; meat provides you with the energy to live.

THE RABBI RESPONDS
Since our last class we received a number of extremely perceptive and downright profound letters. Some were even essays in and of themselves. The rabbi has answered a number of questions and commented on others via Real Audio. Click HERE to listen.

Again, this series was designed to be interactive, we encourage you to challenge the rabbi. Don't feel shy about doing so! Use the link in the bio at the bottom of this article to e-mail him.


At first blush, it seems surprising, even blasphemous, to see things this way: How dare you say that the Evil Inclination is more "essential", somehow, than Torah! But hold your horses and think a bit about what the Sages are saying here. For its not just the word "tavlin" in this aphorism that defies easy translation; the term "Evil Inclination"   —   that thing for which the Torah is meant as tavlin   —   is just as slippery a concept to get a handle on.

What, exactly, is this thing named "the Evil Inclination"? Is it the Dark Side of the Force? Is it some horned devil, complete with pitchfork and bright red suit? Is it some scorned angel with a little too much time on his hands who perches above our left shoulder and whispers bad advice in our ear? When we think about the Evil Inclination, we often envision something darkly metaphysical or faintly childish. But in "real life", what is this thing?

If we exchange the language of the rabbis for modern, psychological language, we might say that the Evil Inclination is nothing more or less than our passions, our drives, our desires. In fact, we might go a bit farther. In Hebrew, the term for "Evil Inclination" is yetzer hara. The root of the word yetzer is y'tz'r   —   which, fascinatingly, means: "to create". If we translate yetzer hara quite literally, it would seem to connote   —   get ready for this: The drive to create, [in] evil [form]. Or, perhaps, more succinctly: Yetzer Hara = "creativity gone awry"...

Our passions fuel us; they are engines that makes us go. Our drive to create, in particular, is one of the deepest and most fundamental of these passions. It, indeed, has many outlets: Sexuality; artistic endeavor; the yearning to be an inventor; ambition of almost any sort   —   you name it; they are all expressions of creativity at some level. The Talmud, centuries before Freud and Nietzsche, insisted that such forces our essential to our humanity. Without energy, without "meat", you are dead.

But, the Talmud adds, the meat can still use some spice. Let's think about this carefully. What, exactly, does spice do for meat?

It gives direction to it; it makes it taste one way rather than another. Without any spice; meat is bland; with the proper spices, it's the dish of kings.

Maybe this explains the rabbis' insistence that Torah is the tavlin, the spice, for the Evil Inclination. The Torah gives direction to our most basic, most powerful, drives. Sexuality, ambition; these things are the highly flammable fuel that combusts inside us and makes us go. It is tempting for religion to look at such raw, daunting forces and to frown upon them; to try and suppress them. The Talmud is saying, though, that the answer to the fearsome power of passion is not to go and take the engines out of our cars; to renounce "meat" and starve. No, the Torah is designed not to extinguish passion but to complement it; to provide spice   —   direction   —   for it; to make desire taste like something. The Torah's commands seek to direct passion towards productive ends; towards worthwhile, even holy, endeavors. Feel your passion, your sexuality, your ambition, the Torah says; don't destroy it. But direct it this way, rather than that way. Steer it; don't let it steer you.

THE ADVENT OF IMBALANCE
There was a time, I would submit, when this task of steering was not as difficult a job as it now seems to us. In the pre-tree world, when passion and intellect were more naturally in balance, "moral clarity" was easier to come by. We could make decisions with unfiltered vision, without undue fear that our desires distorted the moral landscape; without worrying quite so much that the way we perceived the Will of our Creator was subtly corrupted by our own passions; by our own will to create.

That world changed   —   we changed   —   when we ate of the Tree of Knowledge. After partaking from this wellspring of desire, I would suggest, Adam and Eve sensed that the engine that burned inside them was more powerful than it had been before. Yes, their heightened desire made them greater beings, more like G-d Himself, the Ultimate Creator:


            ...you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil... (Genesis 3:5)...


But there was a hitch: Humanity traded in its engine for a more powerful one   —   but it was still left with the same steering wheel as it had before. The delicate balance between passion and intellect was altered. In the post-tree world, Adam and Eve   —   all of us, really   —   were left to struggle with the dilemma: How does one direct a powerful, massive engine, with a small, easily overmatched intellect?

A NEWFOUND FEAR
Now let's re-read our story one last time, focusing on what happens immediately after Adam and Eve eat from the Tree.

In the immediate aftermath of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam hears "the voice of G-d strolling in the Garden", and he hides, aware that he is naked. It is interesting that it is the hearing of G-d's voice   —   not anything in particular that G-d says, but just the awareness of His voice   —   that prompts Adam's anxiety. Having just hearkened to the snake's gambit, having accepted, if only because he wanted to, the idea that G-d really speaks to me through my instinct, through the voice inside me   —   at that moment, hearing the voice of G-d coming from the outside was especially jarring. It was a stark reminder that G-d does, indeed, speak to man with words; that His expectations go beyond our simply yielding to the engine inside us, letting it take us where it will.

Adam's anxiety takes the form of discomfort over his nakedness. Interestingly, the emotion Adam talks about here is not embarrassment   —   what we might have expected from someone who just realized he is naked   —   but fear:

  —   I was afraid because I was naked and I hid (ibid. 3:10).

Fear is a world away from embarrassment. I become embarrassed when a peer teases me, when I make a gaffe in public; I am afraid, on the other hand, of something I sense is bigger than me, of something beyond my control, of something that can crush me. Before he ate from the tree, Adam was well aware that he was naked; he just wasn't afraid of it. Sexuality, in the old world, had been just a natural part of life   —   why bother with clothes? Now, though, things felt different. Sexuality   —   the biological manifestation of our drive to create   —   was stronger, more overwhelming, now. Nakedness   —   direct, unfiltered confrontation with our own sexuality   —   is now a source of fear.

These newly powerful passions, this drive to create   —   it may be godly; it may be intoxicating; but it can also crush me, can't it? How does one steer an engine as fearsome as this?

THE PRICE OF POWER
After Adam and Eve eat from the tree, G-d imposes upon them what seems to be a grab-bag of punishments: Death, pain in childbirth, difficulty farming; the snake crawls on his belly and eats dust. But are these "punishments" really as random as they seem?

Let's start with the snake. Adam and Eve were beguiled by a walking, talking serpent into losing sight of the essential differences between themselves and the animal world. Now, in the aftermath of that failure, G-d removed that particular source of confusion: No longer would the animal world seem quite so nearly human. The snake now crawls on its belly and loses its legs   —   and, presumably, its ability to speak as well. Moreover, there is the promise of hatred between the children of Eve and the descendants of the snake. Humankind, having once mistaken itself for snakes, will be less likely to do so in the future.

As for the punishments that affect Adam and Eve, are they really punishments at all   —   or perhaps just consequences? Let's go back to the "engine and steering wheel" analogy. Imagine you had a car built by a supremely competent manufacturer. It works in complete harmony with everything else built by the same manufacturer   —   and it works in complete harmony with itself. Now let's ask some questions:

If there is no friction between the moving parts of the car, for how long does it last?

It lasts forever.

OK. But let's say you take the car and fiddle with the engine. You rebuild your V4 engine and give yourself the more powerful V8. Well, now you've got more power, but at a price. The harmony is gone.

Internally, friction is introduced into the system. The parts, ever so slightly out of balance, grind and eventually wear out. The system will one day break down. Death has become a reality for mankind.

And the "grinding" has other manifestations, too. Just as mankind grinds within himself, he grinds to reproduce himself, too: Childbirth   —   previously an effortless experience, now becomes a pain-wracked ordeal. Creativity, the creation of new life, is more jarring now.

Mankind feels the loss of harmony in other ways, too. We find ourselves slightly out of sync with everything else built by the Manufacturer. In the past, the world of nature would effortlessly provide its bounty for Adam. Now, Adam must beat sustenance out of the ground by the sweat of his brow. In the past, we were perfectly in tune with the world around us. Now, when a tsunami stalks silently towards shore, it is the animal world that senses instinctively that something is amiss; it is they that head knowingly for high ground. Man remains enclosed in a world of his own, on vacation at the beach, oblivious to the subtle shrieking of the natural world all around him.

A final manifestation of this disharmony: We must pick up and go, now. As a reader of this column, Machla Abramovitz, remarked to me in an email: Mankind, no longer at home with himself, finds himself no longer at home in the world created for him either. He suffers exile from the Garden, and must make the best of it in new and vaguely foreign terrain.

We are nearing the end of our look at Adam and Eve in the Garden. In our final week, we'll tie things together with an exploration of the Almighty's seemingly unnecessary question to Adam, "where are you?". A closer look at the Hebrew, will, I think, reveal some haunting dimensions to this question   —   including the intriguing possibility that it may not even be a question at all...

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. I'll see you next week.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes inspirational articles. Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Check out Rabbi Fohrman's spanking new website at http://www.jewishexplorations.com. Read fascinating responses on the Serpents of Desire articles, get discounts on tapes and CD lectures by Rabbi Fohrman, explore presentations in the multimedia section, and more.

JWR contributor Rabbi David Fohrman directs the Hoffberger Foundation for Torah Studies, and is an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches Biblical Themes. He has also authored several volumes of the ArtScroll Talmud.

No need to be shy! To comment or ask a question, please click here.


PREVIOUSLY:

It's All in the I of the Beholder
A Dark and Rainy Night in Manhattan
A World of Broccoli and Pizza
Beauty and the Beast
What's in it for the Snake?
The naked Truth
The dark side of paradise
A Tale of Two Trees
Adam, Eve, and the Elephant in the Room
Serpents of desire: Good and evil in the Garden of Eden





© 2004, Rabbi David Fohrman