The Journey Back: Part II

Evil, and freedom of choice, existed before Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge. But then evil was something external from the person, and the two domains were completely separate. Man’s mission in life was to “work and keep the Garden”–to cultivate the good and keep out the bad. By eating from the Tree, man gained intimate knowledge (daat) of evil, ingesting it into himself and–man being a microcosm of creation–into his world. From that point on the two realms were confused, there being no evil without good and no good without evil. The task of man became the “work of refinement” (avodat habirrurim)–to distinguish and separate good from evil and evil from good. (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi)

There is a story told of three blind men who were asked describe an elephant based on touch alone. The first one grabbed the trunk, and exclaimed: “Ahh… an elephant is just like a snake!” Another felt the leg and disagreed, “No,” he argued, “it’s clear that an elephant is exactly like a tree!” The third blind man grasped the end of the pachyderm tail and insisted: “Ridiculous! Why can’t you both see that an elephant is just like a broom!”

When Adam and Eve ate from the Eitz HaDaat, the self-consciousness that they introduced to the human experience was not merely painful. It was blinding as well.

Our world is vast and infinitely complex. However, our perceptions of it – and even more important, the interpretations we make of those perceptions – are as limited and contradictory as that of the three blind men. And like they, most of us live our lives in the firm conviction that the way we see it is the One and Only Truth.

This perception is inaccurate and deceptive at best. But it becomes truly problematic when the people we live and work with, each with their own unique take on life, feel the same way.

Daat, in Hebrew, means attachment, connection. It means to know something in a way that is personal and meaningful. Daat allows us to care about things, to be attached to people, to be motivated, to follow through. But this very same quality can act as a blindfold as well.

There is only one absolute Truth – G-d’s perspective. The rest of us may think we have a grip on Truth – but most of the time all we have is a leg, a trunk or a tail. The personal take on life that results from our daat-driven perceptions and agendas often bears little resemblance to reality.

Once again, this is no accident. It is a fundamental part of our purpose, of G-d’s plan for creation. The blind self-consciousness of the Tree of Knowledge is not our final stop. It an intermediary state of darkness that is a preface to a far greater level of light. And as dark as it may seem now, the light at the end of the tunnel has never been as close or as bright as it is today.

Seeing Through the Walls

…When G-d created the world, He created the angel of death on the very first day… as it is written, “And darkness was upon the face of the abyss”. Man was created only on the sixth day, and it is a plot that was contrived against him that he is the one who brought death upon the world, as it is written, “For on the day that you eat from it, you shall die”.… Hence (it says in Psalms 66:5): “His fearsome plot upon the children of man.” (Midrash Tanchuma)

Torah is the Blueprint for Creation. As a blueprint precedes the building of a house, Torah – and Kabbalah – preceded and informed the creation of the world.

And in the very first chapter of the Blueprint, the story of Creation describes the fall of man. This steep plummet from light into darkness affected every aspect of existence. Despite the fact that with it the potential for death and incalculable suffering was introduced into the world, because it is part of the Blueprint, it is a inevitable and fundamental part of G-d’s plan for Creation – it had to be.

Death, and the sin that precipitated it, was a precondition necessary to fulfill the purpose for Creation. Only through internalizing the darkness, the all-too-intimate experience of being separate, impermanent, small, and alone, could we slowly, over the course of millions of choices over thousands of years, begin to make that darkness shine. Our darkness is upfront and personal. That’s why we have so much power to turn it into light.

Making the Darkness Shine

Each and every time you make the choice to transcend your limited perceptions, open your mind and heart to the bigger, deeper truth of G-d’s perspective, become more aware of the Divine hand concealed within the glove of our world, you use your power of daat, attachment, to broaden your capacity to see through the walls of exile.

In a general sense, this happens through learning Torah, especially Kabbalah and Chassidut, and through doing the mitzvos. Torah gives us access to the wisdom of the Blueprint, and transforms and expands the capacity of the linear human mind to perceive non-linear Divine Truth. Mitzvos, on the other hand, aren’t limited even by the mind. Each mitzvah is designed by the Creator to pull infinite Divine Light into the finite boundaries of the physical world, making physicality itself more and more receptive to its Divine creative Source.

But in an even more intimate and personal sense, in your ordinary individual life, you can create this transformation at any time. Each time you choose to transcend the limiting ego-based emotions that began with the eating from the Tree of Knowledge, you bring yourself and all of humanity one step closer to its fulfillment.

Whenever you choose trust instead of fear, understanding in place of anger, generosity instead of greed, love and connection instead of ego, you open your heart, transform a piece of darkness into light, and bring the whole world one step closer to its ultimate transformation.

Far from being your problem, your all-too-human flaws are in a sense your biggest asset. It is they that give you the opportunity to transform and transcend – to make the darkness shine, to elevate yourself and the world in ways that you otherwise never could. This is why they’re there in the first place.

**Since the Torah forbids the erasing of G-d’s name, it’s customary to avoid writing it out in full.