Thursday, October 24, 2019

Bereishit: Natural Consequences

I've written before extensively on reading parshat Bereishit, and the narrative in the Garden of Eden as metaphor. A slight rehash: I think that such a reading should arise from text-internal concerns indicating its genre rather than from discomfort with accepting its claims as true at face-value. An author can write a story as fiction (Goldilocks and the Three Bears) without it containing some deep allegorical meaning, and an author can write falsehoods due to primitive / mistaken beliefs or due to malice (e.g. UFO stories) without it containing some deep allegorical meaning. With that said, I think that use of prototypes and the nature of the punishment as establishing the natural order, or the existence of a compelling allegory that works well with many of the details (the beginning of civilization / agriculture) would argue in favor of an allegorical meaning.

This year, I have been thinking about natural consequences. A surface read of the story certainly presents these changes to the natural order as a penalty from On High, because Adam and Chava did something wrong. But it can be viewed as a natural consequence. (See here for how it is used as a discipline strategy.)

Humankind was not meant to be a primitive primate, or an unblemished angel, or an unthinking automaton. God granted mankind with a Tzelem Elokim, that is, freedom of thought and choice, to be able to chose from good and evil. This design, briefly described in Genesis 1 (27), is described in greater detail in Genesis 3. Man is naked and uncomplicated, a wordplay / opposite of the serpent's cunning. He / she internalizes the ability to choose between bad and good by eating the Forbidden Fruit. The action, not the fruit, brings from potential to actuality the ability to make such a selection. What the snake says is as least partly correct, as is God's command, that הֵן הָאָדָם הָיָה כְּאַחַד מִמֶּנּוּ, לָדַעַת, טוֹב וָרָע. In this way Adam and Eve are "in His form and in His image". Such a human cannot remain in a Garden, but is properly meant to interact with the world.

The punishments are the way things should be. Mankind needs to and is meant to strive to produce, rather than being granted the rewards on a platter. That plays out in conventional historical human society, classically, as men sweating in the field to produce grain and as women enduring the pain of childbirth. The snake is a stand-in for humankind's struggle with their Evil Inclination. There is a love-hate relationship. There is constant struggle between them, and the snake is never really satisfied with its food.

A relative noted an interesting natural consequence. Other female primates - monkeys, chimpanzees, gorillas, do not suffer the pain of childbirth. Only humans do (and Neanderthals did). In Bereishit 3:

טז  אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה אָמַר, הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבוֹנֵךְ וְהֵרֹנֵךְ--בְּעֶצֶב, תֵּלְדִי בָנִים; וְאֶל-אִישֵׁךְ, תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ, וְהוּא, יִמְשָׁל-בָּךְ.  {ס}16 Unto the woman He said: 'I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy travail; in pain thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.' {S}

What causes this pain is the larger infant head size, in order to contain the larger human brain. So, in fact, the pain of childbirth is a natural consequence of this ability to reason and choose.
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