The Origins of Imperfection

The first we hear of Hashem allowing things to go in something other than the ideal way is in the creation of plants.

There is a medrash (Breishis Rabba 5:9) that comments on a change in language in the middle describing of the creation of trees. Hashem orders the earth on the third day to bring forth “eitz peri oseh peri“, fruit trees that make fruit, yet the land actually produces only “eitz oseh peri“. Between the commandment and the fulfillment, something is lost. The medrash explains that originally the wood would have tasted like the fruit, so that it would truly be a “fruit tree”. Instead of the norm being that the wood of the tree would taste like the fruit, this is now the exception. With a couple of exceptions, one of them — note this for later — the esrog, the trees, or the angels entrusted to guard them, were afraid for their survival. If the wood tasted like the fruit, animals would eat the plant rather than the fruit, and they would die out. And so, the earth “disobeyed”.What does this medrash mean? Does the earth have free will, that it can choose to disobey G-d? Rav A.Y. Kook explains:

At the inception of creation it was intended that the tree have the same taste as the fruit. All the supportive actions that sustain any general worthwhile spiritual goal should by right be experienced in the soul with the same feeling of elation and delight as the goal itself is experienced when we envision it. But earthly existence, the instability of life, the weariness of the spirit when confined in a corporate frame brought it about that only the fruition of the final step, which embodies the primary ideal, is experienced in its pleasure and splendor. The trees that bear the fruit, with all their necessity for the growth of the fruit have, however, become coarse matter and have lost their taste. This is the failing of the “earth” because of which it was cursed when Adam was also cursed for his sin.

Orot haTeshuva 6:7
Translation by B. Z. Bokser, The Lights of Penitence in “Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook,” published by Paulist Press in the “Classics of Western Spirituality” series.

According to Rav Kook, the medrash gives the reason why the holiness of our goal is not felt in our day-to-day life. Our physical framework is limited and needs support. It requires our attention. The trees didn’t embody the ideal because they were afraid for their survival. In truth, the mundane only exists to be the means to an end, but because of the needs of survival, it takes on its own reality.

The second step occurs on day four, with Hashem’s creation of the moon. See Mesukim MiDevash for parashas Pinechas for more detail, but here’s the relevent portion of the idea.

In Parshas Bereishis (1:16) the Torah reads: “And G-d made the two large luminaries — the large luminary to rule the day and the small luminary to rule the night — and the stars.”

The gemara (Chulin 60b) points out an inconsistency in the pasuq. R. Shimon ben Pazi asks why the Torah first describes the sun and moon as “the two large luminaries”, but then it calls the sun “the large luminary” and the moon is called the small one. The gemara answers with a story. Originally the sun and moon were the same size. But the moon complained to Hashem, “Can there exist two kings sharing the same crown?” How can both the sun and the moon share the glory? G-d replies, “Go and make yourself smaller.” This pains the moon, and Hashem subsequently offers three consolations. When that fails, Hashem says that we are to bring a qorban to atone for His sin. (Again, see the devar Torah in MmD.)

The Maharsha explains that the story is about the Jewish people and our goals vs the world at large and theirs. The Jews are compared to the moon (see, for example Qidush Levanah). Edom, the dominant power, is the sun. Why do we live in a world that seems to be dominated by Edom’s principal, that might makes right? Why isn’t holiness the dominant idea, and right make might?

This then is the second step. One day 3, the notion of needing to be concerned about the “real world” entered creation, which made it take on a life of its own, hiding its true nature of being merely the means toward holiness. Now, this second thing became a competing power. The moon sees a power struggle between itself, the pursuit of holiness, and the might of the sun.

The gemara (Succah 35a) explains, “‘P’ri eitz hadar’ — that its fruit tastes like the tree.” A defining feature of the esrog is that it did not participate in the rebellion of day three. Based on this, Medrash Rabba (15:6) identifies the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the eitz hada’as, with the esrog. (Although Berachos 40a records a dispute as to whether the “fruit” was wheat, a grape, or a fig, there the dispute is more pragmatic. Wheat is the archetypal food, and requires much human intervention to eat, unlike other fruit. Grapes are associated with wine, and therefore with change of mental state. And since Adam and Chavah subsequently made clothing out of fig leaves, it would seem logical to assume they were next to a fig tree when they ate from the eitz hada’as.)

They ate the fruit bein hashemashos, at the end of the sixth day (Sanhedrin 38b). A period of time when day and night overlap. The sun and moon, might and holiness, vie for rule.

The eating of the fruit, therefore, has much to do with the blending of real and ideal, and internalizing it. And ever since then, every decision man makes is an irbuviah, the product of an inseperable blend of motives.

Rav Nosson Zvi Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka, was once diagnosed with a serious illness; he needed a major medical center. He was given information about each of his choices, and asked which one he would go to. The Alter chose the hospital in St. Petersburg. Upon his return, someone from the community who had noticed that he hadn’t been around asked where he had been. The Alter replied that he had been to St. Petersburg. The man asked why. He answered, “I went to see a push-button umbrella.”

His students asked the Alter of Slabodka why he said this. After all, the decision to go to St. Petersburg was made after hearing all his options, much consideration and deliberation about which was the best hospital for his illness. Why did he say it was about an umbrella?

The Alter explained that a short while earlier, he was traveling around the region on yeshiva business and had arrived in St. Petersburg. He was amazed by this new invention he saw there, an umbrella that opens with the push of the umbrella. Laying in his hospital bed, the Alter realized that the experience colored his decision. A component of the decision was his association of the city with the latest invention and his desire to see them.

Irbuvia. A constant mixture of emotions. No good deed lacks some selfish side-motivation, no matter how small. Which is why many shuls require appeals to publicly announce donations in order to raise enough money to operate. The question is how to clear out that confusion. To choose the holy and the ideal rather than be moved by a mixture of good and evil.

To be continued, be”H…

I would like to leave you with the next paragraph from Orot haTeshuvah:

But every defect is destined to be mended. Thus we are assured that the day will come when creation will return to its original state, when the taste of the tree will be the same as the taste of the fruit. The “earth” will repent of its sin, and the way of the practical life will no longer obstruct the delight of the ideal, which is sustained by appropriate intermediate steps on its way toward realization, and will stimulate its emergence from potentiality to actuality.

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