These past few weeks have impressed upon me the importance of acknowledging one’s mishaps, of not denying truths however painful they may be. Upon reflection, it seems Adam failed profoundly in this regard. The relevance of this failure reverberates across creation to the here and now.
Immediately after Adam eats the fruit Eve gives him from the Tree of Moral Knowledge, their eyes become open, they see their nakedness and they sew some provisional clothing. They hear God rustling about the Garden of Eden. They hid among the trees.
God calls out to the man, אַיֶּֽכָּה, “Where are you?”
Adam responds, “I heard your voice in the garden, I was afraid because I am naked, so I hid.”
God inquires, “Who told you you are naked? Did you eat from the tree from which I prohibited you to eat?”
The man replies, “The woman whom you placed by my side, she gave me from the tree and I ate.” (Genesis 3:7-12)
Adam’s folly is profound. To begin with, he did not answer God’s two direct questions. The first question was fact-seeking: who gave him information. This information was not prohibited, nor was it secret. It was merely hitherto unknown to Adam. The second question was historical in nature, inquiring whether X occurred. The way the question is framed, it forces a yes or no answer. It could also be said Adam could not answer the first question, since no one person or creature told him that he is naked. He surmises this fact on his own (albeit, empowered from the fruit of the Tree of Moral Knowledge).
But the second question? What prevents Adam from uttering a positive or negative response?
Instead of saying Yes of No, or even admitting that he does not know whether he ate from the prohibited tree, he says something far worse. He denies responsibility and deflects culpability. Though he is an agent with whom God converses, he claims victimhood. He points the proverbial finger at Eve, someone else, whose presence and proximity he did not request. He proclaims that no less than God put this unwanted person next to him, as if to claim that God, too, is partly responsible for what has transpired. Adam then describes her action that precipitated his, comparatively insignificant, action. On his account, what she did is the far more serious crime. In this way he reveals his logic: he is to be measured not against himself, his own character, but against those around him. He would rather be considered relatively better, not inherently so.
To make himself feel better, he concocts a reason to put her, the other, down. To get her in trouble. To blame her for his own failure to uphold God’s simple instructions not to eat from that particular tree and that were given directly to him, not to her.
By failing to acknowledge his own failure, he denies he’s at fault for any of the ills that, understandably, will come about.
The echo of Adam’s profound failure reverberates today. It is heard in white supremacy, in the common and conscious unwillingness of whites to acknowledge historical facts and truths. In the gestures of whites pointing fingers at others when things go awry. In the impulse by whites to prop themselves up by putting others in harm’s way. In the urgency of whites to proclaim themselves blameless, even victims, of their own wrongdoing. In the repetition of the white refrain, “I’m not guilty of slavery since I don’t own people,” thereby ignoring that though whites today did not initiate the moral crime of slavery they nonetheless benefit from slavery, and by their very denial of this fact, perpetuate its insidious residue; whites may not be guilty of slavery, but they are responsible for its continuation in other forms. In the aversion whites have to admitting white privilege by which they benefit from what they did not earn, and by which they capitalize on the fruits of labor others provided in, at best, dubious circumstances. In the discomfort whites feel when God comes calling, as seen in the white habit to hide behind fences, in forests and cul de sacs, in country clubs and on ocean shores, in e-suite and elected offices — and there proclaim, and only proclaim, that they “hear” what is going on.
I think God’s question remains ever relevant.
אַיֶּֽכָּה — Where are you?
How do you answer?