THEIR EYES WERE OPENED (3:7)
We are at our best when we are least aware of ourselves. Consciousness is actually a sign that something is wrong.
THEIR EYES WERE OPENED (3:7)
The story of the world’s first sin - eating the forbidden fruit - has impacted our lives; more than we realize and for the worse. But what could be so terrible about a Tree of Knowledge? After all isn’t education positive? The Bible also exposes their self-inflicted damage: “Their [Adam & Eve] eyes were opened!” But isn’t that a good thing?
Our ability to be conscious of ourselves and others is what makes humans superior over all other creatures: so we are informed. But doesn’t consciousness also suggest that we are disconnected from the thing we are conscious of? Let me explain:
The natural universe (unless upset by man) is seamlessly connected to its purpose. Observe the remarkable symmetry of the natural order where each molecule plays its part in a complex mosaic that complements each other and never wavers from its course. Even the animals seem to be plugged into the Master Plan of the universe and live up to their raison d’être. Humans, on the other hand, are conscious of themselves and thus often disconnect from their purpose.
Consciousness then is actually a misalignment. If you are conscious of the life coursing in your heart, it is a sign that something is wrong with your heart. Health has no sensation. Only when there is pain or illness do we feel something. Simply put: We are at our best when we are least aware of ourselves. The truest experience is when you feel completely immersed in the experience, to the extent in which one cannot distinguish between oneself and the experience. When you are “in the zone” so to speak, you have become one with the experience.
Before Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge they were seamless vehicles for their soul’s mission. Symmetry existed between spirit and matter, between soul and body and between being and purpose. That is why they felt no consciousness about their own nakedness and sexuality (just like a newborn child).
But all that changed when they ate from the Tree. They became detached. Now there was an “I” and a “you,” a creature and a Creator, a means and an end: which is only one step away from the means becoming an end unto itself. By eating they gained ‘Knowledge’, but in turn they lost their innocence. When their ‘eyes were opened’ a life of duality began. Every experience now consists of the experience itself versus how we experience the experience. And duality is but a small step towards duplicity.
History then forged a new path, one that led man away from the Garden of Eden and all of its benefits. Now everything would be an experience; most of them unpleasant; childbirth, relationships, earning a living and, of course, death itself.
Imagine a machine not being used for what its engineers intended. How long would it function, if its purpose was A, and it was being used to accomplish B? People are no different. If you are living a dichotomy, if you are disconnected from your inner calling and your sense of self is separate from your sense of purpose, then your love, your work, your children, your dreams, everything you cherish and aspire to, will suffer from the dissonance.
As soon as we taste the knowledge of self awareness, we stop just being alive: now we start to worry; now we begin to die. At that point, our life activities - even the more beautiful and joyous - are fraught with challenges and anxiety. Don’t believe me! Check out all psychiatrists’ couches bowed under by analysis.
But man was not the only affected party. Adam & Eve introduced a note of discord into the entire universe. As "they opened their eyes,” they simultaneously opened the eyes of every other creature (see Rashi on Bereishis, 3:6). Now, for the first time, a created being had asserted its own will, in defiance of the Divine. There was bound to be a domino effect. The formerly docile animals developed angry and predatory tendencies; the previously generous earth became contrary and unpredictable. Previously synergetic organisms would now be forced to deal with conflict. From that time on, there would be an element of tension between man and the animal kingdom, between the sexes, between man and nature, between parents and children, and perhaps most striking and most devastating of all, within the body itself (All of the above are mentioned in Bereishis 3:14-19). When Adam & Eve chose to set themselves apart from creation, to be independent and liberated, it came at a cost, not only to themselves but to all of creation.
Each of us undergoes a similar transition, from a pre-Tree of Knowledge artlessness to a post-Tree complex. This is easily discerned in our journey from childhood to adulthood. Observe a young child and you will get a sense of unself-conscious behavior. Though some feel that adult life is superior to a naive childhood, the fact remains that we remain drawn to the innocence and enchantment of our youth.
But when one leaves his innocence behind and enters the adult years, then he had better “open his eyes.” In a world deeply divided against itself and everyone else in it, self awareness is suddenly a “healthy” and necessary state. Indeed, it’s not only a prerequisite for survival in our dog-eat-dog culture, it is the most vital tool we possess to reclaim our lost lives.
True there are moments when we are required, and able to achieve a unity with our inner voice that does not require a state of self-awareness. At such times, we need not open our eyes, because we just feel the experience in every fiber of our beings. This is why we cover our eyes when we say the Shema and declare the Divine Unity that is inherent in all of existence. When we are living in a dual universe we must keep “our eyes open.” In a dark world (in which the blind often lead the blind) it wouldn’t be very wise to close our eyes. But when we are immersed in the most intimate experiences of our lives, when we connect in prayer or in love with our Creator, when we throw ourselves totally into serving a Higher Cause, we can have our eyes closed. That works wonders during davening, but would be disastrous while transacting business.
We read the Biblical story of the world’s first sin, not as history, but as a lesson in our own fragmented lives. We retell the tale of the birth of self-consciousness, so that our awareness of our awareness serves as a wake-up call to help us regain our innocence and seamlessly immerse ourselves in the purpose of our lives.