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Honey from the Rock: Avoiding History

Ten years ago I visited Cairo, Egypt with my parents. I’ll never forget the time when we went to the Egyptian Museum to see King Tut’s mask. Surprisingly, the most interesting thing about King Tut’s golden mask is not the mask itself, but watching people’s faces as they looked at it. Their eyes revealed a state of mind that can only be described as “captivated”. It was clear to me that after thousands of years, the ancient Egyptians were still masters of the external, material side of existence, but that is all that remains of their culture. Indeed Egyptian history is captivating, but it remains just that…history.

The over focus on externalities is very much a part of modern culture as well, but the issue has its deepest roots in the essence of the creation itself.

To understand this we have to consider a subtle but profound point of breakdown which occurred during the third day of creation. God calls upon the earth to produce “fruit trees that produce fruit”[1] [eitz pri oseh pri], but what happens…the earth produces “trees that produce fruit” [eitz oseh pri]. NOT fruit trees [eitz pri], but trees [eitz]. The Midrash[2] picks up on this discrepancy and Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook explains in Lights of Repentance:

"At the inception of creation it was intended that the tree have the same taste as the fruit….The trees that bear the fruit, with all their necessity for the growth of the fruit have, however, become coarse matter and have lost their taste….But every defect is destined to be mended. Thus we are assured that the day will come when creation will return to its original state, when the taste of the tree will be the same as the taste of the fruit.”

This principal breakdown is expressed yet again in the Torah’s account of Adam and Eve’s eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Adam and Chava were focusing on externals only, i.e., the fruit, that which is produced, rather than the relationship between the inner – process – and the outer expression – fruit. What generated these breakdowns is beyond the scope of this piece, but certainly the consequences are worth considering.

The modern environmental crisis can be interpreted as a manifestation of this breakdown. Modern man sees only production as the means of sustaining economic growth (Gross National Product for example). That which is produced, to the modern mind, is almost entirely disconnected from the processes which are producing the products which are the indicators of “economic health”. What such an imbalanced outlook really produces are products with grave hidden costs for the earth and for human beings.

What the world of production is slowly, maybe too slowly, waking up to is the need for systemic redesign. That is to say, we need to redesign the processes by which we produce and obtain that which we need (and do away with what we don’t need). This may be the beginning of the healing that Rav Kook is referring to, a time when the tree will taste like the fruit, a time when processes of production will be sustainably producing “fruits” and we will sustain the ability “to be” and just maybe we will avoid becoming “history”.



[1] Genesis Chapter 1:12,13

[2] Genesis Rabbah 5:9

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  • Joe Orlow
    February 3, 2011 (9:07 am)

    How about a new index: GNP: Gross Natural Product


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