Below is the text of Rabbi Cahana’s sermon.
Yom Kippur 5774: Reduced and Contained
So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
Genesis chapter2:21 – 3:10
It is very important for the Rabbis to report in their midrashim that two figures of the bible were born circumcised: Adam, the primordial man and Moses, the humblest prophet of the Jewish people. The circumcised membrane on the Jewish male newborn presents a partnership, a covenant, a bris with G-d that to create life with a woman, man must never use his stronger power to overpower her. Power in Judaism is never to oppress, but to uplift. In community the downtrodden must be upheld, life is for protection and enduring love for the delicate, fragile and vulnerable. Judaism teaches that man should seek the splendor of beauty found deep within a woman, through her natural qualities of compassion and exquisite kindness, as it’s recited when men put tefillin onto their weaker arm every morning: “I betrothe myself to you forever… I betrothe myself to you with kindness and sublime compassion.”
There are two forms of knowledge, teach our sages. Firstly, knowledge is meant to discern between what promotes closeness to G-d and what distances from him. This is what is meant by the injunction not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Evil keeps G-d apace, the good draws us nearer. The other form of knowledge, the Torah explains is intimate knowledge. The Torah says Adam knew his wife and then child birthing was in process. This is how life is in partnership with G-d. Creation happens through soul-to-soul knowledge between two human neshamasas opposed to biological procreation, which is found throughout nature.
It is so strange to read the story of the fall of Adam and Eve on account of eating fruit. Could this really be defiance to the Creator of the universe? Additionally, the text says that Eve saw the beauty of the fruit and therefore wanted to consume it. It was sight over taste that was the undoing. What is it that we really want when we take things not given to us? What are we trying to find? What is missing for our feeling of completeness? On Yom Kippur we try to get to the bare bones of the matter. Who am I? What is there there at essence? I obviously have these questions in me swirling and echoing throughout my body. Where is the I inside my I? In other words how do I know that I have a soul? Today our senses have been working in withdrawal. We do not taste. We minimize fragrance and color. White is the absence of a variety of hues. We are told to seek the still small voice inside us. A real prayer is recited in silence like the Amida. We are living a full day of sensory deprivation just to find what is real at core. And there we present ourselves to the G-d we think we know and who we want to judge us. There is our judgment on Judgment Day today. Today we establish the breadth of our value systems, our reference points and our ownership of what our effect is in G-d’s world, which is not our own.
Chapter two of the book of Genesis ends with the sentence “A man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife.” The next chapter begins with the statement that the snake was the most conniving/naked of all creatures. We wonder why was the snake at the very center of paradise, wrapped around the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? How did G-d allow Evil there at all? And where was Adam who was supposed to be cleaving to Eve during her exchange with the snake? Adam was told previously that he couldn’t eat from the tree of knowledge, but Eve wasn’t given that restriction. It was when Adam ate the fruit indiscriminately that a spiritual death was introduced to humankind. What looked good to Eve was a poisonous death knell to Adam. This was the point of no return to Eden. Eden in Hebrew means delight, but we know there is heavenly delight and animal delight. Human beings decide whether they are at base animalistic or angelic. Each of us has to know if we are looking to control our universe, which is what animals do, or if we are willing to trust any universe we inherit from G-d and grow to stature and substance within. G-d is the gardener of Eden, and we, our lives, are its produce. The moral tenor of our actions make the senses replete. Our actions, when honoring, have a sweet savor to G-d. G-d hears the language of our heart and signals an acceptance if we are genuine. G-d calls out to Adam: Tell me what you know? He hears the emptiness in Adam’s reply: I am naked. He finds Adam and Eve clutching each other, trembling and hiding. Exposed but hidden from themselves. Their translucent skin lost their light and G-d clothed them with skin (that covers us to this day). They had become conniving like the snake and now they were robed in leather. This is what it is.
Have you come to Yom Kippur hiding beneath layers of self-made false fronts? You are not a profession. You are not even a mother or a father. There was a time that you weren’t and there will be a time when your children will leave you. You are not even defined as a person that loves. We all know how fickle affection plays with our emotions. What we were given was an image of G-d inside us, a potential to be a creator. We are souls that want to define the glory of G-d in our lives. How above the ground can we rise? The midrash tells us that Adam was created from the ground of all the corners of the earth. And many people believe that we will be buried in that ground as well. From dust to dust. Yom Kippur speaks to a lofty creation that we make in partnership with G-d, a spiritual height of being, a skyward aspiration of our space.
I obviously live now in a reduced place. I am confined, constricted, refrained and contained. That may be the reality objectively to everyone else. But it is not mine. I feel my life force coming through. No barriers but me in freefall happiness. I’m jumping here and everywhere endlessly and without restraint. A mind believes what it wants to believe, and my mind believes that G-d owns the future and gives it to me now. I feel like a pioneer, introduced to my body at first glance and able to enter each sub-atomic particle and chart its dimensions. I have been allowed a world of timelessness, a Shabbos forever to investigate the pure unmitigated energies of life. Why be anywhere else? We live in the possible, not the improbable. This is why a person can look forward to the day of judgment and not tremble beneath it.
How could Adam and Eve leave a father and mother that they never had, unless of course G-d was the mother and father that they did leave in the attempt to shortcut their way to eternal life? The text says the snake was naked, meaning exposed to its raw being of convolution and connivance. In Hebrew the word snake, nachash, means to guess, to approximate. It is always the opposite of true knowledge. The snake was on the bark of the tree and Adam was on the other side of Eve. Eve, in Hebrew, Chava, means innocent existence – existence without judgment. The innocent is always the target of Evil; also, the innocent is the desire of Good. The snake began its chatter to Eve to separate Adam from her, and to separate G-d from them both. That is what Evil means in Judaism, to interfere with a relationship with G-d, to create doubt. Evil cajoles the Good. It flatters us into thinking that we are really self-made, that we play the only part in our own creation stories.
What did the snake gain from this encounter? And what is it that Eve found in the appearance of the fruit that delighted her?
Here is my radical conclusion. Please do not be offended. The rabbis don’t know what this fruit is. Some say an apple. Some say an etrog. Others say the grape. I am in a state now of being reduced and confined. Restraint and constraint. I’ve had this time to try to understand where lies my purpose in life. We are all born flailing and wailing. We are all body. The self of our body is in our mouth. We find nourishment and the suckle of our mother. We are born with contact. Once from inside our mother’s womb, and now outside at her breast. I believe that the fruit that Eve saw was the breast that gave her knowledge of the world outside herself. G-d did not tell her do not eat from the tree of knowledge. It was Adam who had to first go through a Shabbat of heavenly repose in order to prepare himself to know how to discern the fruit of Good and Evil. The breast has been either the downfall of man or the celestial heights of holiness. That is why I believe it was not two trees at all, but one tree rooted on the bottom into the ground as the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and above it, the tree of Eternal Life. For man, learning how to honor the woman brings him directly above the tree of knowledge unto the tree of Eternal Life. How we employ our sexual encounters with our spouse either debases our lives or spiritualizes us. This is why the story of G-d and the snake are presented as the first act of the couple Adam and Eve. It is the judgment of all of us. Do we live in precious realization of what this life means?
May your judgment be pure because you have known eternal life in your own life, Amen.
Rabbi Ronnie Cahana
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