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Growing Up

I see traces of the Bible in contemporary events. Perhaps I can’t help it. I am a rabbi. And yet the contours of its revelatory truths appear clearer today than in many previous years.

Soon after God creates the world in all its beauty, splendor and majesty, God fashions man out of the earth. The world is still imperfect. Loneliness must be corrected. So God creates woman out of man’s rib. Adam and Even are happy and content in that idyllic garden of Eden. God gives them one warning: “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it.” (Genesis 2)

Once, when my children were in high school, Susie and I left them home alone. (Our children would say that it was on more than one occasion.) We gave them one warning: “We are going to the city for a wedding this evening. We won’t be home until late. Don’t throw any parties at the house.” We trusted them. We knew they were responsible. We might not find out what really happened until their confirmation hearings.

About Adam and Eve, however, we know what happens. They eat the forbidden fruit. The rabbis, by the way, suggest it was an etrog. That beautiful Sukkot lemon offers a sweet smell, but a bitter taste. God gets angry. Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the serpent. Really, it is the talking snake’s fault? Really, you did not enjoy the taste of the fruit?

They are banished from paradise. The rest is history. And the remainder our story.

Perhaps this particular tale is meant to teach us about taking responsibility for our actions and owning our mistakes. God means to test Adam and Eve. God tests us each and every day. God asks: “Ayekah—where are you?” God knows where Adam and Eve are. They, however, do not know where they stand. They do not recognize their mistakes and failures. Until that is done a person does not know where they are.

As we begin the Torah reading anew I am given to recall that it means to teach us about taking responsibility. To be sure, many of the Torah’s stories are about our heroes’ failures to live up to their responsibilities. We gain lessons from their mistakes. We gain lessons from our mistakes.

Among the more frustrating, and upsetting, refrains heard during this past week is: “It was high school.” Almost everyone I know did stupid things in high school. I most certainly did things I now regret. But youth, and the garden, are supposed to be about learning from those mistakes and growing from them.

God banishes Adam and Eve not because they ate the fruit. It is instead because when given the opportunity to admit their mistakes they blame others. “My friend made me play the drinking game” is not, for example, a statement about growing and learning.

Denial and blame are not roads to adulthood. We can only truly know where we are when we admit our mistakes.

It is a difficult test, to be sure, but one that most certainly leads to nobility.

The Torah continues to reveal.