EXPERIENCING LIFE or LIVING IT? (9:20)
Noach walked in the footsteps of Adam. Big mistake!
EXPERIENCING LIFE or LIVING IT? (9:20)
After saving humanity and the animal kingdom from oblivion, Noah is given no rest. Once again he is charged with a Divine mission; rebuild civilization! So the one time shipbuilder and zookeeper embarks on a new project. He plants a vineyard. Unfortunately, it did not end there. He becomes drunk and uncovers himself in his tent. What is the meaning behind this strange episode? Why did Noah, formerly called “a saint and perfectly complete,” start drinking?
Could it simply be that Noah cracked under the strain? Was this Noah's method of dealing with a completely devastated world? Instead of joining the Twelve-Step Program, he went for the bottle! This may be an all-too-familiar human failing, but for Noah! One who “walked with G-d”! Could Noah not have opened an AA chapter!
One more question. Noah lived another 350 years after the flood. Yet, we are told absolutely nothing of what he did during all this time, save the one incident of his intoxication. Since Torah stories serve as a blueprint for life, it follows that Noah's drinking is relevant today. How so?
The Talmud provides a hint. Some 1,500 years before Noah, Adam and Eve betrayed G-d's explicit command by eating the fruit of The Tree of Knowledge. The results were life-changing. Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, while struggle, pain and death became the plight of the human condition. One Talmudic opinion is that the tree was a grapevine. Eve squeezed the grapes and presented Adam with a goblet of wine. So G-d said: Noah, you should have learned from Adam. Here we learn of a link between Adam and Noah. Both degraded and debased themselves through wine. The great foundational work of Kabbala, the Zohar, takes this a step further. Noah was determined to fix Adam’s mistake by redefining the act of drinking. Unfortunately, he also failed.
Let’s retrace history. What was so tempting about the Tree of Knowledge? True, “It was a delight to the eyes, and attractive as a means to wisdom.” But was this the only attractive tree in Paradise? Answer: This tree was not merely tasty, delightful and attractive. It embodied the very experience of taste, delight and attraction. Originally, Adam & Eve did not feel themselves; they lacked self-consciousness. They did not experience taste, delight or attraction - because they did not experience themselves.
It is difficult for us today to comprehend what this even means. We, who process all of life via awareness of the self, cannot appreciate man’s psyche prior to the forbidden fruit. In fact, in our culture, a person who does not experience himself is seen as dysfunctional and is sent to a therapist. In truth, Original Man’s lack of self was a symptom of the ultimate healthy life.
How do you know when your body is healthy? When you don't feel it! When you feel a body part - because of pain or for any other reason - it is a sign that something is wrong. The healthier the body, the less you sense it. This is true not only in respect to our physical; it is equally valid for our psyche. How do you know when your psyche is healthy? When you don't feel it! Artists are keenly aware of this axiom. When writers or musicians cease to be conscious of their existence as an independent entity, when they solely experience themselves as conduits for a deeper creative spirit, it is then that the artist performs best. His self has seamlessly merged with his work. They are not separate.
Another example: A two-year-old playing in the mud. Ask him: Do you feel good about your life? Do you feel worthwhile? The toddler will look at you strangely, implying: How would I know; I'm too busy living. When you're busy living life, the "you" does not occupy independent space. This was man’s initial condition. But Eve was tempted. The snake stopped her in her tracks and offered her the one thing she lacked.
The Hebrew term for knowledge-da’as, can also be translated as experience. Eve now encountered for the first time something completely unfamiliar - the reality of experience. Eve learned that a human being could experience reality in terms of “I like; I feel; I crave.” Till then, she had not experienced life; she was living it. So Eve and her husband reasoned that this would be a better way to live and thus serve G-d. They decided to experience what it was like to have an experience. So they partook of the Tree of Experience.
This also explains G-d’s question to Adam, “Ayekah! Where are you!” At first glance, this seems strange. Was G-d truly ignorant of Adam's location? No! G-d’s “Where are you?” contained a profound psychological query. Until then, Adam knew exactly who he was. He was one with life, one with the music and rhythm of reality. He was unaware of how he was feeling because he did not feel himself. But once he ate from the Tree, he began to experience his “I” as a detached, separate existence. At that moment, he - and by extension, us - became consumed: Am I happy or miserable? Do I like myself? Am I secure? Am I normal? So G-d asked, "Where are you? Where have you gone? How did you get so lost from yourself?”
Until then, the first human beings, “were naked and they were not embarrassed.” But now, they were ashamed of their nudity. When there is no sense of self or ego, being naked does not matter. You are as innocent as a naked newborn, and similarly unembarrassed. But when Adam & Eve began to experience themselves, they could no longer ignore their nakedness.
The birth of the human ego, man's perception of a self divorced from G-d’s intentions for humanity, became the root of moral degeneration and led to the total destruction of civilization. So Noah decided to go back to the source of the problem and fix it. Noah reasoned that Adam & Eve used wine as a means to experience themselves; he would use wine as a means to forget about himself. They savored every drop, relishing the experience of having an experience. Noah would drink in order to cease having experiences; he would become drunk, uncover himself, and become one with life itself.
Many alcoholics and addicts have followed Noah’s path. Like him, they hoped to liberate themselves of their self-conscious perceptions. Noah's intentions may have been profound. But the results were horrible. Intoxication only gives one the illusion of self-transcendence; in reality it merely confuses the mind and alienates the drinker from feeling what is going on inside his self.
So what path leads to self-redemption? We’re no longer innocent. The paradise of Adam & Eve no longer exists. The stupor of Noah also holds no answers. Is there any hope for man? A few hundred years later, another individual planted grapevines. Abraham “planted an orchard in Be’er-Sheva, and there he proclaimed the name of Hashem, G-d of the universe.” Abraham understood that we cannot escape the self. Our job is to search through the self, and discover in the very vestige of self, the hidden light of G-d. That story will be told next week.