Naked in Paradise

Rabbi Reuven Mann 

This week's Parsha, Bereishit, depicts the creation of the universe including plant, animal and human life. Of all Hashem's creations man is unique for only he was created in the "image of G-D". No comparison can be made between man and the animal kingdom. The intellectual gap between man and the most advanced animal is unbridgeable. Only man is capable of abstract rational thought. This is the basis of the mastery of nature which he has obtained. Animals live in the same condition as when they were created. No progress is possible with creatures who lack the "divine soul".

This idea is vital to human existence. Our self identity is intrinsic to to the type of life we choose to live and the goals we strive for. Each person must ask; is man basically an animal, albeit superior to all others, or is he a unique spiritual being who happens to partake of an instinctual makeup?

The Creation narrative deals with the issue of clothing. Quite surprisingly we learn that, at the outset, Adam and Eve were naked and felt no shame. This is quite strange as clothing is the most distinctive feature which differentiates man from animals.

The natural state of nudity did not last very long. The humans were commanded not to eat of Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve succumbed to temptation and ate the prohibited fruit. She then gave it to the man "with her" and he too ate.

The immediate consequence of the transgression was that they realized they were naked and were ashamed. They felt impelled to cover themselves with fig leaves.

It is not clear what brought about the sense of embarrassment. We should have expected them to feel guilt about the sin but, instead it was their nudity which suddenly bothered them. What caused the transformation from being unaware of their physical exposure to being profoundly ashamed of it?

According to Maimonides, man did not possess the faculty of shame at creation. He was a creature of reason who had a physical makeup. The power of reason was superior to that of instinct which the Rabbis say was "external". They mean that, by nature, man gravitated toward  the love of wisdom and his instincts needed an external stimulus to be aroused. As long as he was engrossed in the pursuit of knowledge his rational faculty, alone, could control his physical urges.

The sin transformed him into a being who intrinsically lusted after his carnal cravings. According to the Rabbis the "evil inclination" now was internalized. Man's intellect was not powerful enough to subdue the newly strengthened instincts. Hashem then created the Superego which combats the Id through the powerful emotions of guilt and shame. Without the counterforce of conscience man's instincts would reign supreme and true human existence would be impossible.

The essence of man is his "divine soul". His mission is to live a life of wisdom in which he masters his instincts and utilizes them for their intended purpose. Our society glorifies hedonistic pleasures and urges man to live a life of unlimited instinctual gratification. 

Our mission, as Jews, is to proclaim that the true dignity of man resides in the fact that "In the Image of Hashem created He man, male and female created He them". Man must never allow himself to descend to the level of an animalistic existence.

Shabbat shalom