Come see the doings of G-d, His fearsome plot on the children of man
And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat and desirable to the eyes … and she took of its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband, and he ate with her
What would have happened if Adam and Eve had not eaten from the tree of knowledge?
The purpose of a business venture is to make a profit. No self-respecting businessman would invest capital and expend time and talent where the figures did not show a definitive potential for profit.
And yet, the greatest profits are to be harvested under the very conditions that the responsible businessman seeks most to avoid: in the wake of completely unforseeable developments, in environments over which he has no control and in which his entire venture (and perhaps his own self) are in jeopardy.
Thus, the mind of the businessman can be said to operate on two levels. On the manifest level, he seeks stability and control. On this level, “being caught unawares” is anathema to business. While he knows that there are risks to every venture, his aim is to avoid the risks, to steer clear of the unforeseeable, to have a contingency plan for every possibility.
But on a deeper, subconscious level, the businessman craves the unforeseeable. In his heart of hearts, he wants to be caught unawares, to be plunged into the very circumstances that his business is structured to avoid. For here, and only here, lies the potential for profits greater than any analyst could forecast. On this level, having “everything go according to plan” would be a disappointment rather than an achievement.
These are scenarios that he will never present to his investors, or even to his own conscious self. But in the final analysis, it is these very possibilities, lurking behind the official figures and projections, that are his greatest motivation for engaging in business.
The Fearsome Plot
Our sages tell us that “The kingdom of Heaven is similar to the kingdom of earth” 1—that the structures of human society and the patterns of human behavior reflect the manner in which the Creator relates to and runs His world.
G-d has a “business strategy”: the Torah—which is “G-d’s blueprint for creation” 2 —defines the “profit” that the Creator desires to see from His enterprise. The Torah’s laws detail what should and what should not be done, and what should and what should not happen, to safeguard the divine investment in creation and assure its profitability.
But on the very first business day of history, the plan went awry. Adam and Eve, by eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, violated the first mitzvah (divine commandment) commanded to them. Their deed jeopardized the entire venture, unleashing a chaos of good and evil upon the controlled, orderly world into which they were born.
Yet our sages tell us that this was G-d’s “fearsome plot upon the children of man.” 3 as it is written, ‘For on the day that you eat from it, you shall die’ (ibid. 2:17).
“What is this comparable to? To one who wished to divorce his wife. On the way home, he has a bill of divorce written up. He comes home, with the bill of divorce in his hand, plotting a way to give it to her. He says to her: ‘Pour me a cup, that I may drink.’ She pours out a cup for him. As soon as he takes the cup from her hand, he says to her: ‘Here is your divorce.’ Says she to him: ‘What is my crime?’ Says he to her: ‘Leave my house, for you have poured me a lukewarm cup.’ Says she to him: ‘You knew in advance that I would pour you a lukewarm cup—you have already written the bill of divorce and brought it with you in your hand!’
“By the same token, Adam said to G-d: ‘Master of the World! For two thousand years before You created Your world, the Torah was safeguarded with You… and in it is written, “This is the law: If a man should die in a tent….” (Numbers 19:14). Had You not prepared death for Your creatures, would You have so written? And then You come and attach the blame to me.’ Hence [the Psalmist says]: ‘His fearsome plot upon the children of man.’” (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeishev 4)] “It is I who caused them to sin,” G-d admitted to Elijah the Prophet, “by creating them with an inclination to evil.” 4
For it is the process of teshuvah (“return”) from sin that yields the greatest “profits” of the endeavor of life. There is no greater love than the love experienced from afar, and no greater passion than the quest to return to a forsaken home and an alienated self. When a soul’s bond to G-d is stretched to the breaking point, the force with which it rebounds to its Source is greater than anything that can be generated by the soul that never leaves the divine orbit. And when a soul wanders off to the most alien corners of life, and exploits the very negativity and evil of its environment as the impetus to return to G-d, it redeems those parts of G-d’s creation that lie beyond the pale of a righteous life.
This is G-d’s “fearsome plot” upon the children of man: to create man with an inclination to evil, so that when he succumbs to it, he should rebound with a greater love for G-d, and with a greater harvest of transformed and redeemed resources, than is generated by a life lived in conformity with the divine will.
Surely, however, it cannot be said that G-d wanted that man should sin: a sin, by definition, is an act that G-d does not want done. Also, if G-d’s “plan” was that man should sin, this raises the question of what would have happened if Adam and Eve had not chosen 5 to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Would the purpose of G-d’s creation not have been realized?
What G-d Wants
As is the case with the conventional businessman, there are two levels of “motivation” behind the divine act of creation.
On the manifest level, the world was designed and created to carry out the plan outlined by the Torah. This plan calls for the existence of an inclination to evil in the heart of man, in order that our conformity to the divine will should have meaning and significance. In the words of Maimonides,
License is given to every man: if he desires to follow the path of good and be a righteous person, the choice to do so is in his hands; and if he desires to follow the path of evil and be a wicked person, the choice to do so is in his hands…. This is a major principle, and a mainstay of the Torah and the commandments…. For if G-d were to decree that a person be righteous or wicked, of if there were to exist something in the essence of a person’s nature which would compel him toward a specific path … how could G-d command us through the prophets, ‘Do this’ and ‘Do not do this’?… What place would the entire Torah have? And by what measure of justice would G-d punish the wicked and reward the righteous…? 6
This plan does not require the existence of evil—only the potential for its existence. It must be possible for us to violate the divine will, so that our not violating it should be a moral triumph for us and a source of pleasure for G-d. It must be possible for us not to do good, so that our good deeds should have value and significance. The risks must be there—they are what make the business venture rewarding and profitable—but the point of it all is that they be avoided.
But on a deeper, “subconscious” level, G-d plots man’s succumbing to sin. This is not what He “wants”—indeed, it is at variance with His express will. But when it does happen, it unleashes a wealth of possibilities that are infinitely more potent than anything the “official” business plan could have yielded. And it is these possibilities, lurking behind the official figures and projections, that are His ultimate motivation for investing in the business of human life.
Based on the Rebbe’s writings and talks. 7 Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Yanki Tauber.
- Talmud, Berachot 58a; Zohar, part I, 157a. ↩
- Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 1:2. ↩
- Psalms 66:5; in the words of the Midrash: “The fearsome things You bring upon us, You bring about by contrivance. Look: when G-d created the world, He created the angel of death on the very first day… as it is written, ‘And darkness was upon the face of the abyss’ (Genesis 1:2). Man was created only on the sixth day, and it is a plot that was contrived against him that he is the one who brought death upon the world [by eating from the Tree of Knowledge ↩
- Rashi, Berachot 32a, s.v. dichtiv. ↩
- For this was an act of choice on their part—had it not been, it would not have been a sin. See quote from Maimonides, further on in text. ↩
- Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 5:3-4. ↩
- Sefer HaMaamarim Melukat, vol. III, p. 247; ibid., vol. I, pp. 366-368; Likkutei Sichot, vol. VII, pp. 22-23; ibid., vol. XXV, p. 429, note 52; Reshimot #12; et al. ↩