From the Rabbi - May 2009 Print
Dear Friends:

Saturday, May 2 (remember, the Shabbat really begins on Friday night, May 1), is the 7th of Iyar, and it is a day to be reckoned with in biblical history. In the apocryphal book of Jubilees (3:16), it is alleged that this is the exact day in pre-history when the serpent visited Eve in the Garden of Eden.

There are at least two other dating traditions for this event. The Falasha Jews of Ethiopia believe that the encounter occurred nine days later on the 16th of Iyar [Teezaza Sanbat, a book entitled “The Commandment of the Sabbath], while the Talmud fixes the date on the first of Tishri (Rosh HaShanah). [b. Sanhedrin 38b]

There are consequences for each of these different understandings. If the serpent tempted Eve on Rosh HaShanah, a day that is also supposed to be the birthday of the world in rabbinic tradition, we would need to assume that temptation was present in human life from its very beginning. On the other hand, if the serpent waited until Iyar, about seven months later, might we be justified in thinking that the concept of temptation can only occur when people have matured a bit.

I don’t know when temptation first reared its head in human life, but I do know that there is scarcely an hour, or at least a day, when we are not beset by tempting choices. Some choices offer temptations which are easy enough to reject; they involve choices between something evil and something good or between two bads. But most of the time, the image is hardly black and white; the choices are between values and things that might be considered good and might, but under other circumstances, be thought of as bad. And, as if that were not difficult enough, the Jewish tradition says that something in one light might be evil (like sex turned to incest or child abuse) might in other guises be the root of procreation and enjoyment. In other words, good is not always so good and bad is not always so bad; there are rarely absolutes; everything depends on the context.

Our role in the face of temptation is to make thoughtful and mature choices. Judaism can help us do this, because rabbis and scholars over the millennia have recorded the struggles they went through to find the right path. I commend to you some of the great volumes of the Jewish tradition in this respect. Luzzato’s The Path of the Righteous is a good place to begin. You will not find them wanting for sage advice and copious wisdom.

Shalom,
Kenneth D. Roseman