Adam and Eve were living a carefree life in the Garden of Eden. They had only one restriction. G-d commanded them not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. However, forbidden fruits tend to seem more tasty to people. In addition, having a seductive snake around encouraging them to eat it made the challenge all the more difficult.
This part of the story most people are familiar with. However a little less familiar is what the snake really said to them to lure them into the sin. The snake did not say, “Hey, you know what? G-d doesn’t want you to eat from that tree because He knows that the day you eat from it, you’ll be rich.” The snake knew that deep down inside, people are not really motivated by wealth; it’s not money they want. The snake also did not seduce them by telling them that they would become famous. Fame does not attract people either. And the snake did not even use sex as bait. He did not claim that the forbidden fruit would give them a great sex life.
According to the Torah sex really has no appeal to human beings. In other words, this story is teaching us that wealth, fame, or sex cannot really seduce people into doing wrong. They are just counterfeits to what we really want to accomplish. The snake knew what was the true desire of human beings. The snake said, “G-d does not want you to eat of that tree because if you do, then you too will be like G-d.” Now, that is appealing!
The snake knew the human secret, but he was seducing Adam and Eve into a counterfeit of the real thing.
According to the Torah, the root of all drives and ambitions of humanity is to be divine. Wealth, fame, and sexual pleasure appeal to us only as accoutrements of this most basic drive to be all-powerful and G-dlike. But they do not fulfill our genuine inner desires.
This story is teaching us that in the depths of our souls we want to be who we are. Because our true inner selves are actually a manifestation of divine immanence, we want to achieve the status of being a G-d. Therefore, even when we do wrong, it is in an effort to claim our right to be our own G-d. That’s what’s wrong about it. We are created in the image of G-d, but we are not gods.
All we want to achieve in our lives is to be who we are. True freedom is the freedom to be true to ourselves. I want to be free to be me. The manifestation of divine immanence is bursting forth from within me, seeking to be expressed.
This was the underlying dilemma of Adam and Eve. In effect, they had to ask themselves: “Do we surrender our freedom and obey G-d, or do we affirm ourselves and do what we want?” They didn’t realize that the answer is not either/or — it is yes and yes.
Our challenge is to realize that the very power within us is completely one with the power beyond us. When we obey and surrender to the voice of G-d commanding us from without, we actually give expression and affirmation to the voice of G-d within us. This is the irony, mystery, and ecstasy of divine oneness. Suddenly we experience our surrender of self as an affirmation of self. Our surrender to G-d beyond us actually reveals that aspect of G-d within us — the soul.
It is like running your finger along a Möbius strip — a continuous one-sided surface that can be formed from a rectangular strip by rotating one end 180 degrees and attaching it to the other end. At first you are on the outside, and then you mysteriously find yourself on the inside. But when you continue forward, you again find yourself on the outside.
Adam and Eve did not understand this. They thought that they could establish and affirm their true selves by defying the command of G-d. However, when they boldly defied the will of G-d, rather than feeling empowered by this courageous affirmation of self, they suddenly felt weak and scared. Before this act of defiance, they felt comfortable in the presence of G-d, but afterward they hid. In other words, their affirmation of self in defiance of the will of G-d actually ended up as a surrender of self — a loss of self.
Kabbalah explains that Adam and Eve separated the Shechinah (the manifestation of Divine immanence) from the “Holy One, Blessed Be He” (the manifestation of divine transcendence). This is the dynamic of all wrongdoing. When we divorce the Divine “within” from the Divine “beyond,” then our innermost self is dwarfed. It is severed from its source and uprooted from its ground. Not only can we not face G-d, but our self-esteem is severely diminished.
According to the metaphor of Kabbalah, when the manifestation of divine immanence is disconnected from the manifestation of divine transcendence, the Shechinah no longer faces and reflects the greatness of divine transcendence — the Holy One, Blessed Be He — and thereby shrinks in stature.
Kabbalah teaches that the light of the moon symbolizes the light of divine immanence, and the light of the sun symbolizes the light of divine transcendence. The ideal relationship, figuratively speaking, is when the sun and the moon are face to face. Then the light of the moon is a bright and full reflection of the light of the sun. However, when the moon is not face to face with the sun, then its light is diminished down to a fraction.
Kabbalah teaches that originally the light of the moon was as bright as the sun. However, after Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge in defiance of G-d’s commandment, the light of the moon was diminished. In the messianic age the light of the moon will be restored and will shine as full and bright as the sun. This will happen when humanity returns to G-d and the consciousness of G-d will fill the earth as the water fills the oceans. In other words, the mysterious oneness of G-d that is beyond and within time, space, and humanity will be experienced and consciously realized by all.
Until Abraham, people were stuck in the either/or mode of thinking. They either believed that they were gods or believed they were nothing. In other words, they believed either that Divinity was completely within them and they were divine, or that Divinity was completely beyond them and they were nothing. Divine immanence and Divine transcendence were mutually exclusive terms.
This seems to be the story of all religious and political philosophies. Humanity is on a seesaw, bouncing up and down from one extreme to another. Either the Divine is perceived to be within us, and therefore the individual is all that matters and is free to do as he or she pleases; or the Divine is beyond humanity, and the individual must sacrifice everything for the greater whole.
Abraham, however, set the cornerstone for a new way — beyond either/or — the way of oneness and love.