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There’s barely a person in the world who hasn’t heard the story of Adam and Eve: The planet’s first man and woman are told by God that they can eat from any tree in the newly-created world, except for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Along comes the evil snake who manages to convince Eve to take a bite of the forbidden fruit, and voila – the world is plunged into a state of chaos, death and destruction that it still hasn’t recovered from.

That’s the basic story – but as our deeper Jewish sources teach us, there is far more going on here than meets the eye. The Jewish mystic Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai famously wrote a whole book discussing the 70 hidden meanings that were contained in the word ‘Bereishit’ (lit: in the beginning), the first word in the Torah alone. So what’s the real story behind Adam and Eve, and what lessons can we learn from it today?

Adam’s sin.

The first surprise: we’re all to blame for Adam’s sin. Jewish sources explain that Adam, the first man, contained the souls of every man, woman and child who’d come after him – currently seven billion odd people. Now, here’s the thing: before chowing down on the forbidden fruit, Adam held an internal debate with all the souls he contained to see whether they wanted him to eat it or not.

Forbidden fruit.

The second surprise: Adam thought he’d be making God happy by eating the forbidden fruit. It’s hard to believe, but the main reason Adam et al. wanted to eat the fruit is precisely because they knew it would make the world a much more complex place for humanity to live in. Sure, they were living in the Garden of Eden, with no war, no illness, abundant food, peace, happiness – in short, paradise on earth – but Adam felt like life was a bit too easy. Where was the spiritual challenge when God was literally giving him everything on a plate? Adam decided that he wanted to show God that he was a serious spiritual striver, willing to serve God in even the most challenging and dark circumstances. Bizarrely, he thought that would make God really happy, but as he found out afterward, he completely miscalculated.

The original snake.

The third surprise: The original snake had legs and could talk. God stripped the snake of its legs as part of its punishment for enticing Eve to sin, but that first snake was nothing like the slithering suckers we’ve got these days. First of all, it could talk. Second, it walked upright, and it looked far more like a human being than a reptile. And lastly, it was the embodiment of evil in the world. Standing up to something that cunning, that clever and that calculating was no easy feat. Its main bargaining chip was that if Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then they’d stop being innocent no-nothings, and they’d be just like God. The human ego being what it is, that argument proved irresistible, and you know the rest of the story.

Fallout from the original sin.

The fourth surprise: We’re still trying to fix the fallout from the original sin, even today. Again, we have to go a bit deeper to understand what exactly it is that humanity still needs to fix, but in a nutshell, you can sum it up like this: human arrogance and thinking that we know better than God. God didn’t want to create a world where people suffer and where our spiritual essence and Divine connection would be covered over by so many layers of physicality and materialism that millions of people would forget they even had a soul in the first place.

God created the world and people to give them unlimited good. He had just one rule for the first couple: don’t eat from that tree! And they (we) blew it. They (we) thought we knew better than God and that we were intellectually on a par with our Creator.

So, how do we fix all this? In his book ‘The Garden of Knowledge,’ which takes an in-depth look at what really happened back in the Garden of Eden, Rabbi Shalom Arush puts it like this: “The correction of the world depends on humility…since mutual respect, peace and harmony all stem from humility.” To put it another way, every time we accept our limitations and try to put God more in the picture, we are taking a huge step towards fixing the original sin.

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