Although we are about to read Parshas Noach, I feel compelled to write this column, which seems more fitting for a column for Parshas Bereishis, for the simple reason that it spells out certain fundamental and essential hashkafos. One of the ironies of the Jewish calendar is that we usually have very little time to study Parshas Bereishis, although it contains basic Jewish ideas and the foundations of so much of what we believe, and it introduces us to primary Jewish values and attitudes. (If it were up to me, I would’ve given it a month, at least!)
In any event, we will pick up from where we left off — Sukkos, and its ubiquitous esrog. The Gemara (Maseches Sukkah 35A) derives that when the Torah describes the fruit to be taken as a pri etz hadar, it implies a fruit in which the taste of the bark (the tree) and the fruit are similar — hence, the esrog. Interestingly enough, this very issue reappears immediately after Sukkos — in Bereishis. The Torah states, “HaShem said, ‘Let the earth sprout… trees of fruit yielding fruit each after its own kind…’ ” (Bereishis 1:11) The next pasuk says, “And the earth brought forth… trees yielding fruit.” Rashi points out the inconsistency in the wording between the first pasuk (trees of fruit yielding fruit) and the second (trees yielding fruit) and explains, “Trees of fruit [means] that the flavor of the tree should be like the flavor of the fruit. But the earth did not do that; rather, as the verse states, the earth brought forth only trees yielding fruit, but the ‘tree’ itself was not ‘fruit’ ” (see Rashi).
The questions here are obvious: If HaShem created the world, making trees of fruit in a particular way (and, presumably, for a particular reason), it is inconceivable to even imagine something happening not as decreed! Does a tree have the ability to decide how it will be? Does it have bechirah, especially in the very essence of its creation!?
The answer, which deserves far more explanation than this column can give, would seem to be along these lines: We know that there are the “upper spheres,” or we shall call them the world or worlds of ruchniyus, spirituality; and the lower ones, the world we know of, the temporal world, the world of gashmiyus and physicality. The purpose of creating anything physical was that the physical stands in contrast, as it were, to G-d, who is anything but physical. The physical is then sanctified through man’s actions towards G-dliness and spirituality (through doing and not doing what HaShem tells us, we move towards, or away from, spirituality). And for this to be accomplished, there must be bechirah, for it is man who sanctifies the physical through the choice that he makes.
In the original “game plan,” meaning in the theoretical ideal world, evil, or anti-ratzon HaShem as we might call it, has to exist as a possibility, for that is the essence of bechirah. Yet all evil, in this “pristine” state, would be the same as, say, murder and eating bacon and driving on Shabbos is to us now — possible, yes, but not something we have to struggle with. So the possibility is there, bechirah is there, but in a “not on my radar screen” state. And as the physical is used in the service of good, of G-d, of the spiritual, we thus sanctify it, as there is still a bechirah; the person is still, after all, still choosing to not “mess up.”
Even before the creation of man, this was to be expressed in the beriah as a tree (to which a person is compared; see Devarim 20:19 and Avos 3:22 for two examples), where the “tree” (the producer of the fruit) tastes the same as the fruit. Thus it is crystal clear that the entire purpose of the tree is for the fruit. Although it is theoretically possible to use the tree for other, destructive purposes, that would be “off the radar,” since the goal is embedded in the channels which create the goal, i.e. the tree tastes like the fruit. The physical, in other words, is clearly here to be used in the service of the spiritual, and would naturally do so, although it is theoretically possible to perversely use it for “physical” things.
HaShem, knowing that Adam would indeed choose to sin, decided that this sin would fundamentally change the world in so many ways, one of them being to introduce sin into the world as an option; that there would now be a confusion between good and evil; that the physical would now take on a “reality” of its own; that the default option would no longer be “good, G-dly, spiritual,” but that now bechirah would be a hard choice of two options — that evil would “exist” in the world as much as good (seemingly) does; that man would be forced to choose between good and evil, not just choose to not do evil, not mess up. And He embedded that new reality into the beri’ah from the start, conceptually “paving the way” for the new post-sin reality. As a precursor to Adam’s sin, the trees grew out of the ground with the “tree,” the channel for the fruit, the physical, not having the taste of the fruit, meaning taking on a reality of its own, not only being the default “producer of fruit.”
And what this means to us on a practical, avodas HaShem level, is an idea stated by many ba’alei mussar, especially Rav Yerucham Levovitz zt”l: A person’s best, most successful bechirah choices should involve creating situations where he, so to speak, no longer has bechirah! Take the chavrusah who will demand to know why you were missing. Be friends with someone that would make you ashamed to dress or act a certain way. Tell everyone you know that you’ve stopped smoking, that you’ve started dieting. Join a study group where you have to speak and express your ideas. Daven in a place where they will notice that you are missing. Accept the burden of writing a column in a small-town paper, just for the sake of being forced to put down thoughts on paper every single week.
“Make yourself into a muchrach!”
And in light of what we have seen above, we can succinctly sum up this derech as: Try to make your bechirah be the ideal, original, before-the-sin-of-Adam bechirah. Create your world as a world in which spirituality and doing the right thing is the “default” option. Create a world in which you really have to struggle to do what’s wrong!