Parshas Lech Lecha
It's All About Redemption Part III
In Search of Discipline
In last week's issue (Noach) we explained that eating from the Tree Of The
Knowledge Of Good and Evil resulted in total loss and zero gain for Adam
and Chava. The only knowledge they acquired was that they could never
regain their one Mitzvah (commandment) of not eating. They were now "naked
of their one Mitzvah!" Moreover, they had lost their innocence of intent
in exploring the majesty of G-d's world. Before the forbidden fruit their
sole motivation was exploring, experimenting, experiencing, and thereby
recognizing and knowing the Creator. No other personal motive yet existed.
As such, whatever they would do, except eating from the forbidden fruit,
was inherently good and positive. Whatever they did was a means of further
getting to know the greatness and majesty of Hashem (G-d).
After eating from the forbidden fruit their motivation for doing whatever
they would do became suspect. Were they exploring and experiencing life
for the sake of knowing Hashem or were they doing so to fulfill their own
desires and interests? After eating of the forbidden fruit humans would
always have to question if their exploration was the stuff of curiosity
for the sake of knowing the Creator or curiosity for the sake of self-need
and want. The first is a fulfillment of human destiny and the purpose of
creation; the later is the beginnings of idolatry.
The contrast between self-service and service for the sake of knowing G-d
requires further elaboration. To begin, let us revisit the Rambam’s
(Maimonidies) clarification of the two Mitzvos, Loving G-d and Being In
Awe of G-d.
The Rambam explains that the two Mitzvos are distinct but related. Loving
Hashem involves becoming aware of how G-d maintains the universe. Through
observing His actions we should realize that He truly cares for us. We
should recognize and acknowledge the totality of our dependency on Him,
express our appreciation through prayer and action, and grow to love Him.
(This is the same manner of love that a child has for a parent who
lovingly cares for every detail of their well-being.)
We become "in awe of G-d" when we realize that G-d cares for everything in
the universe as completely as He does for each of us. G-d's ability to do
so reveals the unlimited capacity of His power and love. That
overwhelmingly humbling reality is called "Being in Awe of G-d."
The Rambam (Laws of Yisodei Hatorah 2:1) concludes that the Love + Awe
equation makes it clear that the only absolutely significant entity and
therefore value in the universe is G-d and we should therefore desire
nothing else but closeness to His essence. In the physically limiting
reality of our world such closeness can only be realized by listening to
His commandments in contrast to doing as we desire. It is the meaning of
the Mishnah in Avos, “Be as servants who serve their master not for the
sake of receiving a reward." Reward is what we crave, and it is perfectly
OK to crave deserved reward; however, the motivation for serving Hashem
should never be the reward; it should always be the service. The fact that
G-d rewards those who serve Him is the secondary gain in having a
relationship with G-d rather than the goal of the service.
Before eating from the forbidden fruit, service to Hashem was "to serve
and to safe keep." Whatever Adam and Chava would do would be in service to
Hashem. Whatever pleasure they would derive would also be "in service to
Hashem." However; upon eating from the forbidden fruit, Adam and Chava
interjected selfishness into their motivation. They experienced doing
something not in the service of G-d and it proved to be pleasurable and
fulfilling - unfortunately, it was also forbidden. (That's when guilt was
created.) The introduction of selfishness into their motivation
irreparably damaged their innocence. They no longer possessed their Laiv
Tahor – pure heart. Sin had been introduced into the universe.
With the introduction of sin, the need for instruction in how to
distinguish between self-service and service to G-d became essential. As
taught by the Nachash (serpent), ("...and you will be like G-d...") sin is
not always obvious. Most people do not sin for the sake of rebelling. Most
of us sin because of Tayvah - the desire to do what we feel like doing
rather than imposing on ourselves the super-ego of G-d's law. Because we
do not sin for the sake of rebellion we seek to rationalize why we are not
listening to Hashem; why we are not restricting our desires. That is the
real meaning of the "and their eyes were opened and they knew they were
Let me explain.
The forbidden fruit was not magical. It had no magical powers to grant
knowledge or divinity. In essence, the forbidden fruit could have been
anything because G-d’s purpose was to challenge humanity to listen to Him
rather than do as they desire. In other words, because it is human
tendency to desire that which is forbidden, even when everything else in
the world is permitted; G-d nevertheless said, "Do not do as you desire
because I told you not to do so." Simply put, the only difference between
sin and service, between good and evil, between service to self and
service to G-d, is obeying or not obeying G-d's commandments.
What is the Tikun? What can correct the irreversible introduction of
selfish motive (sin) into the workings of human motivation?
We have stated that the loss of Adam and Chava’s one Mitzvah, left
humanity naked of Mitzvos. Their “nakedness” left them without direction
as how to purely and selflessly serve G-d. They could no longer depend on
their natural inclinations to be in the service of Hashem. Therefore, they
needed more Mitzvos. The introduction of the Seven Mitzvos given to the
Sons of Noach was the beginning of fixing the irreversible damage of Adam
and Chava's sin.
How were these new Mitzvos presented and what did they accomplish?
The medium through which the new Mitzvos were given was prophecy, and
their purposes were more than obvious. The most obvious advantage was the
knowledge of what G-d wanted and how to serve Him. The less obvious
advantages involved such distinctions and processes as “doing Mitzvos for
self-serving reasons but still getting credit for serving G-d.” In other
words, doing a Mitzvah "not for the sake of Heaven," and it was still a
Mitzvah. The nature of humanity is such that Hashem expected us to
struggle with the imposition of His will over and above our own. G-d did
not expect immediate perfection of motive or performance. Instead, as the
true behaviorist that He is, G-d was content to wait for pure motive to
catch up. (See the Rambam’s introduction to Moreh Nivuchim.) (Naaseh
before Nishmah) Hashem is confident that the discipline and consistency of
performance will eventually result in doing Mitzvos L’ishmah (for the
sake of serving Hashem). Actions will create the emotions. (Rambam’s
clarification of Love and Awe.)
Furthermore, by defining specific commandments G-d allowed for the
creation of a life style that frames human behavior in purpose and
service. Before the Forbidden Fruit all behavior was framed in purpose and
service. After the introduction of selfishness (sin) all actions were
suspect. With the commandment of Mitzvos, G-d again allowed humanity the
ease of exploration and discovery so long as they maintained the basic
tenets of their life style. Hashem did not ask for much.
The method of presenting the Mitzvos was prophecy. G-d spoke to Adam,
Chanoch, Misushelach, Lemech and Noach and told them what He wanted. They
in turn told their immediate families and all who cared to know (and many
who didn’t) what G-d had commanded. So began the classic concept of the
Mesora (transmission of Divine will from generation to generation).
As with the Mitzvos themselves, the Mesora had obvious and not so obvious
advantages. The obvious advantages were the presentation of G-d’s
commandments. How else would humanity know what to do and what not to do?
The less obvious advantage was the osmotic training humanity would receive
toward greater discipline and acceptance of authority. If sin means the
lack of discipline in imposing divine will over our own, than training
toward greater discipline and acceptance is a significant component of the
correction process. The notion of G-d speaking to one or a few individuals
and everyone else having to accept their teachings as the truth was that
Some basics of prophecy and transmission.
G-d does not speak to everyone. More accurately put, not everyone can hear
G-d speak. Because G-d only speaks to a few individuals, the individuals
so gifted must transmit G-d’s words and instructions. For the prophet to
do anything less is a denial of G-d’s intentions and the forfeiting of his
own life. The rest of humanity then has a choice. To listen or not to
listen – that is the choice.
Regardless of whether humanity listens or not, humanity must still
ascertain the purpose of their existence and the values they will espouse
as truth. If they choose not to listen to the prophet they must create
their own truths and values. If they choose to design their own truth they
must also accept that the subsequent generations will do the same,
changing the truths of the past in favor of their own “designer truths.”
Unfortunately, human history has proven through great suffering and
tragedy that designer truths are but an elegant presentation of chaos and
anarchy. Seldom if ever are the initial motives pure and truthful, and
even if they start as pure and true they result in self-service and evil.
The alternative is to accept that there is absolute truths in the universe
commanded by the existence of a Creator to the gifted recipients of His
prophecy. For the prophet the absolutes are simple. “G-d spoke to me
therefore I know that He exists and that His commandments are true.”
For the rest of humanity the absolutes are more challenging. First you
must believe that G-d exists. Secondly you must believe that G-d speaks to
prophets. Thirdly, you must believe that the information being transmitted
to you by the prophet is accurate and unaltered.
Let’s consider another scenario. You are not a prophet and G-d does not
speak to you. Yet, you are a seeker of truth and in search of absolutes
that transcend time and circumstance. What is a good person to do? How is
that person supposed to find the absolutes? We must assume that one of two
things will happen. Either G-d will bring you in contact with one of His
prophets or He will reward your goodness and motives by making you a
prophet. However, what does the seeker of truth, the good person, do in
The only possible answer is for the seeker to attempt to design truths to
the best of his ability and hope for the best. Therein lays the overview
of Torah history from Noach to Nimrod to Avraham to Avimelech to the
Akeidah with everything else in between. G-d willing, the next issues will
elaborate on the history of absolute truths as they relate to the
transmission of G-d‘s laws and the search for redemption.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley
Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.