Parshas Bereishis-Torah Or-The Danger of having exposure to evil behavior through media, and television

Vayomer Hashem Elokim Hen Adam….…”

[Torah Or p. 5b]

The book of Bereishis is filled with exciting tales of history, beginning with the creation of the world and the formation of man. It touches on the greatest mysteries of the ages in terms of how the Creation took place and what the purpose of man is in this world. One of the most well-known details of the period of creation is the infamous sin of the Tree of Knowledge, when Adam and Chava tasted from the forbidden fruit and caused harm and retribution for all future generations. Until the coming of Moshiach and the resurrection of the dead, the purpose of our Divine service relates to fixing the damage of this grave sin and returning the world to the refined state that it was in prior to the sin. Obviously, an event of such magnitude that affected all generations requires proper understanding as to the essence of the sin and why it had such a grave effect on us all. At first glance, many of the details of this story appear puzzling and lacking sense. What is so bad about eating from a fruit tree? The verse states that the fruit gave man the knowledge of good and evil, likening him to G-d. What is wrong with this? Don’t we all go to great lengths to educate our children in identifying good and evil? Furthermore, how did the Nachash have more knowledge of the power of this fruit than even Adam, the wisest of all beings? This Mamar deals with these queries and leads us through one of the most amazing discoveries of the essence of evil, and the dangerous impact that the fruit had upon Adam and all his children thereon. 

 

Explorations of the Mamar

1.      What was the severity of the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge?

2.      What is wrong in having knowledge of good and evil?

3.      The difference in personality between man and the angels.

4.      Being a Penimi; taking to heart what you see and learn.

 

 

The Questions:

The verse[1] states, “And Hashem said: ‘Man has become like one of us to know good and evil, and now he may take from the Tree of Life and he will eat it and live forever.’ And Hashem then expelled them from Gan Eden.” This verse describes the after-effects of the sin committed by Adam and Chava by eating the forbidden fruit. They did not merely transgress a command of Hashem, but they also became physically affected by this fruit, having it change their essential nature and personality. It opened their minds and hearts to the concept of good and evil. There are several elements of this story that require clarification. What was so negative about the fact that man would now know the concept of good and evil? Is this not a fundament of education and religion, to have knowledge of that which is good and allowed and that which is evil and forbidden? Furthermore, Hashem even states in the verse that man has become like G-d, due to this knowledge. What possibly could be wrong with Adam receiving the knowledge of evil and being like G-d? On the contrary, this should be viewed as a positive act that would help them to serve Hashem and avoid doing wrong. Why then did Hashem prohibit them from eating from the tree, and why did He feel so threatened after it was done? Likewise, why was Hashem so worried that Adam would now eat from the Tree of Life and live forever? Why did Hashem care if man lived forever? After all, the entire reason for commanding against eating from the forbidden fruit was because man would die as a result, so why was Hashem now opposed to Adam fixing the situation and once again being able to live forever? Another most fundamental query is regarding the Nachash; how did the Nachash know that through eating the forbidden fruit the eyes of Adam would be opened? If Adam, who was commanded against eating from the tree due to it causing death, did not know this, how did the Nachash know? It is not recorded anywhere that the Nachash was even present at the time when the command was given, and even if he had been, how would he have greater foresight and understanding than Adam himself? The conclusion that the Nachash was even greater than Adam is itself puzzling and wondrous. To understand this, we must first introduce the concept of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

The danger of obtaining knowledge of good and evil:

Hashem turned to the angels and told them, “Now man is like one of us and has the knowledge of good and evil.” There is an essential difference between the knowledge of good and evil possessed by spiritual beings and that of man. The knowledge of good and evil of the angels is simply a matter of knowing the facts, knowing what is good and what is evil. This knowledge does not affect them in any negative way and does not make them attracted to the evil. On the contrary, this knowledge allows them to stay far from the evil due to their lack of a Yeitzer Hara. However, man’s knowledge of good and evil has a very different effect. As soon as man has knowledge of evil, a subconscious lust for this newly recognized evil enters into his heart and becomes expressed in his attraction to experiencing the evil act. Furthermore, this mixture of good and evil causes not only an emotional lust for the evil, but a twisted conception of the boundaries of good and evil, at times mistaking good for evil and at times mistaking evil for good. The effect that knowing evil has on man is similar to the level of evil that was found in the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. This tree was called “the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil”, as it contained both good and evil. The good in the tree was mixed with the evil in the tree, and it became an inseparable entity of good and evil. This is similar to the effect that the knowledge of evil had on man, as it caused the evil to now become mixed and intertwined within his good, resulting in him carrying simultaneous feelings for good and evil, as well as a warped conception of the boundaries of good and evil. It remains, however, to be understood why eating from this tree brought evil into the heart of man if in truth the tree was only meant to give knowledge of good and evil, as is hinted by its name. Why then does obtaining this knowledge affect man so greatly, while in the upper spheres the knowledge of evil does not affect them at all?

 

The effects of movies, novels, and newspapers:

One of the greatest effects on the morals and ethics of modern society is the exposure people have to acts of evil through media, novels, and movies. When one becomes exposed to these matters, it not only gives him the awareness that evil exists, but it actually brings an inner lust for depravity into the makeup of his soul and personality and stains the moral sensibility his soul once contained. It not only gives evildoers evil ideas and ways to perform them, but it actually creates and arouses the perverted feeling of lust within their once-innocent souls. Some are affected more than others, depending on their personality. So, while one person may still maintain his ethics and sense of morality despite the newly invited evil into his soul’s system, another person may take the invitation of evil in its full capacity and begin to entertain it in his thoughts and actions. In the words of the Academy of Pediatrics: “More than one thousand scientific studies and reviews conclude that significant exposure to media violence increases the risk of aggressive behavior in certain children, desensitizes them to violence, and makes them believe that the world is a ‘meaner and scarier’ place than it is.”  The Rebbe[2] severely warned against the negative effect of movies and violence in society, and how it increases crime and evil in the world. The reason why these images have such an effect on the person is because when man has knowledge of evil, it unites with his soul and becomes part of his emotions, and does not simply sit in the back of his mind as an intellectual piece of history. It, however, remains to be understood why man’s knowledge causes this effect, as will be explained in the next paragraph.

 

Nazi and Islamic extremists’ confusion between good and evil:

There is no greater example in modern history than the atrocities against humanity performed by the Nazi regime and its local collaborators.[3] The Nazis and their anti-Semitic agenda were not just motivated by a deep emotional hatred for the Jews, but also by an ideological perversion of the boundaries of good and evil. Many of us carry hatred in our hearts for different people that hurt us, although we still make boundaries between what is right and wrong in relation to how we act towards that person. The Nazis, on the other hand, allowed this hatred to cause an ideological distortion of reality, convincing themselves and the German populace that they were doing a favor for the world by ridding it of the Jews and implementing the Final Solution. They convinced themselves that the Jews were total evil, the cause of World War I, the economic downfall of Germany, and the rates of poverty, rapes, and murders that occurred in society. Their hatred and anti-Semitism poisoned not only their hearts, but even more so their minds and they therefore performed the greatest atrocities in history due to their perversion of the concept of evil. Unfortunately, this can also be seen today among the Islamic enemies of Israel, who have a warped ideology in which the most evil of acts, which is murder, becomes to them the greatest virtue that they can aspire to reach. The poisoning of the mind’s correct perception of good and evil is the soul and source of its implementation. Adam’s eating from the Tree of Knowledge caused this perversion and confusion to enter into the hearts and minds of all his future descendants. Obviously, this effect of Adam’s sin does not remove man’s freedom of choice to choose good over evil, and to choose to have morally honest perspectives over ones of perversion. However, it caused the battle for good over evil to become that much harder. A comforting message is related in the famous prayer of Av Harachamim, in which we state that all of these perpetrators of atrocities will one day have to reckon for their ways, and the blood they spilled will be avenged. The Talmud states that the Reshaim of the world, including evil gentile nations, will be resurrected in the future in the same bodies that committed the evil and face the great Day of Judgment, on which they will receive eternal retribution for their ways.

  

Man is a Penimi-Why man’s knowledge of evil negatively affects him:

There is a great difference between the personality of man and that of the angels. The angels, and other supernal beings, are from the level of Makkif. This means that they do not internalize the knowledge they have. Thus, their knowledge of evil is simply an awareness of the facts of right and wrong and does not affect them in any way. They do not become attracted to evil and remain emotionally distanced from it just as they were prior to attaining this knowledge. They have no lusts or desires for evil either before or after their knowledge of the identity of evil, and hence for them the knowledge of good and evil is a virtue that assists their service of Hashem. Angels are instinctive beings that are created with a certain nature that does not change with time or study. Man, however, comes from the level of Mimalei and is called a Penimi. This means that he internalizes the subjects he learns and his nature is liable to change based on his knowledge of the subject. Hence, not only does his knowledge of evil not give him any awareness of right and wrong, but it actually attracts him to the newly discovered evil and creates within him a lust for this evil. The evil mixes with the good that was within man prior to the knowledge, and he now carries opposing feelings for good and evil. Furthermore, it causes his mind to blur the boundaries of good and bad, as the understanding of good that his mind had before the knowledge is now tainted with the knowledge of evil, which causes a perversion of the true identity of good. It is not possible for man to retain this knowledge of evil and remain immune to it affecting his nature.

 

The results of Adam’s sin:

Adam’s knowledge of evil and its subsequent inheritance to all his descendants created a great battle within the hearts of man for all generations to come, with regard to suppressing this evil. At times, the evil in man wins this battle, and at times the good is victorious. This can be vividly seen throughout Jewish history, in which each generation experienced different outcomes of this battle. In some generations, Jewish souls overcame evil and were on great spiritual levels, while in other generations the evil greatly overcame them, and as a result they were great Reshaim. This is all because these generations came from Adam, who himself began to experience this battle after his sin. At times, he won, and at times the evil overcame him. In each generation, the battle against evil is great and very difficult, and at times one wins and at times he does not. This change in Adam can be seen from the fact that prior to the sin Adam and Chava were unclothed and engaged in marital intercourse for the sake of having children. There was no shame in doing this act publicly, as to them it was just like eating and drinking, as it was being done solely due to the command of Hashem [and not due to lust for the act]. They had no awareness at all that there was any lust involved in this act.[4] However, after they ate from the Tree of Knowledge and became aware that in truth there is great lust involved in this act, they actually acquired this desire and it became very hard for them to separate from it. This is the reason why Hashem did not want Adam to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, as to Adam this knowledge was harmful. Hashem desired that Adam remained sheltered from having any knowledge of the existence of evil, and thus be completely holy. Hashem did not want to bring man into this great battle.

 

The reason Hashem expelled Adam from Gan Eden, due to the fear of eating from the Tree of Life:  

After Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge, they were expelled from Gan Eden due to the fear that they may eat from the Tree of Life and live forever. At first, this fear of Hashem is not understood, as the entire reason why He stated that they may not eat from the Tree of Knowledge was because it would cause them to die. So, what harm would it be if they now ate from the Tree of Life and rectified the damage caused by the Tree of Knowledge? The explanation is as follows: Once man has eaten from the Tree of Knowledge and brought evil into the structure of his soul, he is obliged to die in order for this evil to die with him. If he lives forever in this state, it would mean that evil would remain everlasting, and the purpose of the world’s creation would never be fulfilled. Thus, Hashem had no choice but to expel man from the Gan Eden and prevent him from eating from the Tree of Life, so that man could eventually reach his goal and fulfill his purpose of eradicating evil and making the world a dwelling place for G-d.

 

The power held in the Tree of Life:

How does the Tree of Life contain this great power of being able to give eternal life to man? Furthermore, why does it have the strength to do so even to a man that has sinned and become soiled with evil? If man could have lived eternally without the Tree of Life prior to the sin, then what purpose would it serve if after the sin man was banished from Gan Eden in case he ate from it? The explanation is as follows: The Tree of Life is rooted in a level that is above the chain of worlds called Seder Hishtalshilus. On this level, there is no sin or merit and all are equal before Him. On this level, even Adam in his soiled state of sin can be viewed meritoriously and receive eternal life. This is a level of Divine mercy and is the level of Kesser, which is above the level of Chochmah. However, as Adam tainted his soul with sin and required the cleansing of his soul in order to help G-d fulfill His desire and purpose for creation, Hashem did not want him to access this Divine mercy, which would in truth serve to his detriment. Hashem therefore expelled Adam from Gan Eden so that he could begin to refine his soul and elevate the Divine sparks of the world. 

 

The Avodas Habeirurim that began with the expulsion of man from Gan Eden:

When Adam was expelled from Gan Eden, he began the Avoda known as Avodas Habeirurim, the refinement of the Divine sparks. The creations of the world are filled with Divine sparks that are in a concealed state. Even the evil in the world contains these Divine sparks, and in order to fulfill G-d’s mission of making the lower realms a dwelling place for Him, it is the job of man to release these sparks from the evil. Once the sparks are released and returned to their source, it is possible for the evil to be eradicated and make the world a receptacle for G-dly revelation. As a result of the sin, Adam was now expected to perform double work, as in addition to refining the world from its evil, he now also needed to refine his own soul, which became intertwined with the same evil that he was given to eradicate. This, however, raises a question: How would Adam have refined the world of its evil if he did not sin? How would he even be aware that evil exists and requires refinement? How would he be able to fulfill the intent of Creation without having eaten from the Tree of Knowledge?

 

The form of Avodas Habeirurim if Adam were to remain in Gan Eden:

Even prior to the sin, evil existed in the world that required man’s refinement. It was precisely for this reason that Hashem created man, for him to fulfill this work. Nonetheless, the original intent of Hashem was for man to fulfill this task in a tranquil manner, without having to fight with the evil and face it head-on. Adam was meant to remain in Gan Eden and invest all his time and energy in serving G-d through fulfilling the 248 spiritual Mitzvos that existed in his era. These Mitzvos would draw down a great energy of G-dliness into the world, which would attract all of the Divine sparks found in all of Creation. Once the Divine sparks would leave the powers of evil, evil would cease to exist and the Divine intent of Creation would be fulfilled. There was no need for Adam to leave Gan Eden and actually use and experience the physical objects in order to refine them. Thus, Hashem created the most opportune manner for Adam to fulfill his mission in this world without resorting to the battlefield of evil. However, after the sin, Adam now had to face the evil head-on, and engage it in battle in order to refine its Divine sparks. The Divine sparks were no longer attracted to Adam by his mere acts of goodness and holiness. It is understood from this that there was no need for Adam to be aware of the existence of evil, as it would have become refined as a consequence of his Divine service, regardless of his acknowledgment of its existence.   

 

 

A Parable:

All relationships are built on the performance of positive actions and refraining from negative actions. When there is no negativity present between the two partners in the relationship, a positive action from one towards the other has the power to draw the other person even closer. However, if one has performed a negative action and hurt the relationship, it no longer suffices to perform a positive action in order to attract the other person. Rather, one must involve himself in amending his sin by asking the other person for forgiveness and so forth, and only then can these positive actions have their proper effect. Adam Harishon before the sin was on a very high level and his positive actions of Mitzvos automatically attracted the sparks of holiness found within the creations. However, as a result of the sin, the level of Adam Harishon was tremendously diminished and he no longer had the power to attract sparks of Holiness through his Divine service. Rather, he now had to descend to the evil and deal with it directly in order to personally persuade and release the sparks of Holiness it contained.

 

The knowledge of the Nachash:

Earlier, we asked how the Nachash knew of the power contained within the Tree of Knowledge, and why he was so determined to make man sin. The knowledge of the Nachash did not come about due to him being smarter than man, or better informed of the secrets of Creation, but rather simply because his very life came from the Tree of Knowledge, as he was rooted in the same form of evil as the tree itself. Both the tree and the Nachash were rooted in the Kelipa that contains good and bad. The Nachash’s knowledge of the tree’s power was simply knowledge of his own personality and the source from which it derived. It is for this reason that the Nachash was so adamant to cause Adam to sin, as his very existence was in jeopardy if Adam succeeded in refining the world of evil. He was furthermore infuriated by the fact that Adam was not even required to engage him in battle and could simply ignore his existence and refine the world through the service of G-d in the positive commandments. He therefore put all his energy into seducing Chava and Adam to eat from the tree, thus opening their eyes to his existence, so that at the very least he would enter into the battlefield with them. At times, they would win and at times he would win. Accordingly, when the Nachash told Adam and Chava about the effects of the tree and how it would give them knowledge of good and evil just like G-d, he was not lying, although he failed to mention that for man this knowledge would have a very negative effect and bring evil into his soul.

 

Lessons of the Mamar

·         In today’s society, people are very easily exposed to all forms of sin and evil. Some may erroneously think that this exposure contains no harm: “I am not taking part in the evil and I do not ever contemplate performing it.” However, in truth this exposure contaminates the soul and brings a person towards lusts and attractions for matters of sin and evil that were never before a part of his nature.

·         People need to shelter themselves from exposure to violence, immorality, acts of depravity, and evil, whether it be through media, pictures, movies, or the Internet. It is the job of all parents and educators to ensure that their children and students are properly sheltered from the evil portrayed in the above media outlets, in order to assure their healthy spiritual and moral upbringing.   

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[1] Bereishis 3:22

[2] See Likkutei Sichos 18/459

[3] Many of the mass murders carried out in German-controlled territories occurred with the assistance and organization of the local population and at times were even committed directly by them. In Eastern Europe, many of the mass murders of Jews were committed by local Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Polish police, and citizens in the German-controlled areas.

[4] To understand this concept a little better, one can compare this to those men who have no drive for intimacy. [See Tanya chapter 30] It is nevertheless possible for them to perform the act and have children, although they remain emotionally distanced from it. 

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