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The Elements of Jewish Living

The Perils of Sophistry

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

I often decide if I like someone by their eyes and their smile

Right and wrong used to be obvious.

Truth was self-evident. The will of G-d was clear. There was a holy reaction straight from the soul. There was a strong sense of right and wrong. There was an outpouring of kindness and unity. But then we ate from the Eitz HaDaas. The art of pilpul or sophistry kicked in.

We ate from the Eitz HaDaas! The tree from which Adam and Eve ate is correctly translated as the 'tree of knowing good and evil.' Eating from this tree was the supreme sin of massive consequence; the original sin.

What did Adam and Eve do wrong? What could possibly be wrong with knowing good and evil?

According to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, eating the forbidden fruit was a betrayal of self. We lost the Lev LeHavin, the understanding heart. Adam and Eve wanted to get truth from the outside instead of generating truth from one's soul. According to Rav Kook, from the time we ate from the Eitz HaDaas we lost the ability to instinctively distinguish right from wrong. We moved the process from our hearts to our minds.

G-d endows man with the innate ability to distinguish good from evil. Adam and Eve in their pure state had that perfect clarity. It was the nachash, the snake, which seduced man to question that which should be self-evident. When Adam accepted the opinion of the snake he lost himself. As the juice flooded into his mouth upon the first bite, Adam tasted the loss of his core certainty of being. He lost focus of the simplicity of truth. According to the Zohar, the tree of knowledge is the tree of uncertainty. In effect, when man ate the fruit of the tree of good and evil, he brought the uncertainty of the world into his very being. (R. Kook, Orot hakodesh 3:140)

Personally, I am allergic to complicated reasoning. The truest things in history were said clearly and simply. Don't steal, don't kill, and don't take someone else's wife. Freedom is a good thing. There is a G-d in the world. I strive to be a poshute yid. Like everyone else I often decide if I like someone by their eyes and their smile. These are two parts of the person that mirror their soul. If they are simple - I love them.

Over the past year, parsha by parsha, we watched the world develop. Today we turn back to the beginning, we unwind it all, to review the most basic truth, “Breishis bara Elokim…” G-d created the world. We must always go back to the basics. We must always go back to Gan Eden and try to get it right.

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