Parenting in Paradise

As a parent of young children you are prone to be surprised by things you knew were possible but didn’t think likely. Do you know that kids color on walls? Of course. Did you think your kids would use permanent marker on your freshly painted Chantilly Lace walls? Never.

As such, as a parent of young kids, you are likely to say things like “What have you done!”…which is exactly God’s response to Eve when he learns that she has eaten from the tree of knowledge:

“מַה־זֹּ֣את עָשִׂ֑ית” (Geneis 3:13)

To which Eve responds, with the Biblical version of my dog ate my homework, “The serpent duped me, and I ate.”

The Rebuke of Adam and Eve (by Domenichino, 1626, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

God, in a Professor McGonagall manner, turns his attention to all three of them (snake, Eve, Adam), exacting the proper punishment based the severity of their transgression.

I’d like to focus on Adam’s punishment:

By the sweat of your brow

Shall you get bread to eat,

(Genesis 3:19)

What is at the core of this punishment? Is this punishment even so bad? In other words, what style of parenting is God showcasing by telling Adam that his punishment is that he will have to earn his keep?

Alison Gopnik, in her book The Gardener and The Carpenter, posits that there are two types of parents:

  1. Carpenter Parents — believe they should mold their children, working towards a specific outcome — “The idea is that if you just do the right things, get the right skills, read the right books, you’re going to be able to shape your child into a particular kind of adult,”
  2. Gardener Parents — are less concerned with a specific outcome and more focused on “creating a rich, nurturant but also variable, diverse, dynamic ecosystem.”

Gopnik goes on to champion the Gardener approach:

“We’re so concerned about how these children are going to turn out that we’re unwilling to give them the autonomy that they need to be able to take risks and go out and explore the world”

Perhaps what we are seeing here is Biblical parenting advice. In fact, God seems a lot like the Gardener model proposed by Gopnik:

The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom He had formed.

And from the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad…

The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.” (Genesis 2: 8–17)

God has given man life, a home and some loose boundaries — “Don’t run with scissors…”, the rest is up to man. Adam can name the animals, settle the land and raise his family. He just can’t eat from that tree, that tree is off limits. God, in other words, is saying that the tree isn’t who we are. As Gopnik would put it, God is “creating a rich, nurturant but also variable, diverse, dynamic ecosystem” in which mankind can flourish.

It is interesting to consider that when God brought Adam and Eve into the world he didn’t give them the Torah. Perhaps this should suggest to us that the Torah, with its rules and regulations, is not a blueprint for raising a family but rather for structuring a nation, a people. When you break a rule in Torah there are severe consequences, when you break a rule at home you have to learn from your mistakes.

When God turns to Adam to place on him mankind’s eternal punishment for the original sin he is saying: I am surprised and disappointed. I knew this could happen, but I didn’t think that it would happen in our home…but that is ok. I asked you not to eat from that tree because as you parent I knew it wasn’t good for you — but that doesn’t mean you have failed, it just means things may be a little harder than you expected. While this may feel like the end, it isn’t…in fact, your story has just begun.

And so the Bible goes on to proudly tell us of Adam’s progeny, and that man was created in the image of the divine.

“This is the record of Adam’s line. — When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.” (Genesis 5:1)

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