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The path of the Tree of Knowledge presented a choice to live as a free, independent individual, to commence a quest to fully realize potentialities, to break the umbilical cord tying man to the bliss-font of the innocence of Edena319 Man risks death in order to fully live 1ife.320

Man is indeed free. Even prior to eating from the Tree of Knowledge, man had free will. He could act contrary to a Divine admonition.321

One cannot easily conclude that Adam and Eve “sinned,” and were consequently “punished” per se, as sin is somewhat problematical pre-Tree of Knowledge.322 That which on the surface seems to be recorded as “punishment” for “original sin” is in actuality man, in concert with the primordial cosmic thrust, choosing the set of dynamics noted in biblical shorthand as the Tree of Knowledge.323

In fact, the relationship between freedom, privacy, Providence, and suffering is crucial to the events of the Garden of Eden. Once man asserts his freedom and tastes of knowledge, the immediate and direct result is an end to the eternal life of bliss and the expulsion from the care of the Garden of Eden, the essence of providential care.

Man’s choice was not only between knowledge and eternal life; it was between knowledge/freedom/potential and a “gilded cage” existence. In fact, even the infinitely powerful and wise Deity, who tried to direct man away from the Tree of Knowledge, was unwilling? if indeed able, to forcefully foreclose the option.324

In many ways the Nazi plague was a direct attack on these very eternal values of liberty, individualism, and the value of the creative human spirit. But the Nazi would replace the gilded cage of eternal bliss of the Garden of Eden with the concentration camp of debasement and death of Auschwitz. Evil incarnate would pervert/invert the essence of creation, and its primal target would also inexorably be the primal carrier of the Divine word.

The psychic force of the event of mankind’s grand choice exerts its pull on us through the millennia, notwithstanding the

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319 See Herder, Ideas for a Philosophy of History, bk. IV, pt. VI, as cited in Barnard, J. G. Herder on Social and Political Culture, p. 265. “Man is the first of nature’s creatures to be set free; he stands erect. He can weigh up good against evil, truth against falsehood; he can explore possibilities and choose between alternatives.”

320 See Merton, The New Man, p. 13.
Cf. Kaplan, The New World of Philosophy, p. 108. “[Existentialism maintains that] In every choice I am responsible for the fate of mankind. . . . This is why Kierkegaard says we choose only ‘in fear and trembling,’ why he speaks of the ‘dizziness of freedom,’ why Sartre says that man is ‘condemned to be free.’ ”

321 See Abravanel as cited in Leibowitz, Studies in Bereshit, p. 18. “. . .the whole perfection of man lay in his possession of the capacity to choose freely between evil and good. Otherwise he could not have been human and God could not have commanded him: ‘from all the trees of the garden you may eat but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you may not eat thereof; since a command can only apply to one who possesses a free choice and will.”

322 See the question posed by the third-century Syrian philosopher Porphyrius (in his controversy with the Christians): “Is it not very odd that [what is described as] the punishment for disobedience should be the attain- ment of a perfection which he [man] had never possessed, namely-intelli- gence?” As cited by Heinemann in his “Abarbanels Lehre vom Niedergang der Menscheit,” Monatsschrift fum Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, 1938, pp. 38 1-400, as cited in Leibowitz, Studies in Bereshit, p. 26.

323 See the question posed by Abravanel: “If it is maintained that the eating of the tree [of Knowledge] did harm because it involved the knowing of evil, surely it was, at the same time beneficial, in involving the knowledge of good?” As cited in Leibowitz, Studies in Bmeshit, p. 17.

324 See Seltzer, Jewish People, Jewish Thought, p. 756. “Jewish observance can be described only in polarities: on the one hand, stability, repetitiveness, and regularity, but on the other hand, inwardness, spontaneity, freedom.”


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