Raising Wise Humans

Learning from the Garden of Eden
by Sarai Shapiro, Wilderness Torah Youth Programs Director
5 Adar I 5774 | February 5, 2014

How have you truly learned, grown, and gained wisdom in your life? It is often in taking the risks that scare us the most when we are rewarded with the greatest personal growth and wisdom.

Although part of us would like to stay in the Garden of Eden forever, a place where there is no hardship, we are inevitably called to eat from the tree of knowledge and be exposed all of life’s possibilities, including the hard ones. If we choose to learn from the challenging lessons, we become an active and wise participant in creation.

B’reisheit, our creation story, illustrates the first example of a parent (God) navigating this challenging transition from innocence to self-consciousness of her/his children (Adam and Eve).

And the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, and the tree was desirable to make one wise; so she took of its fruit, and she ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked (Genesis 3: 6–7).

The Parent/Child Archetype

God, the original parent, created Adam and Eve, who were born into a perfect and overflowing garden, which allowed them to remain in a state of childlike innocence. God knew that there was a vast world beyond the garden that included the difficult, shadowy aspects of life, the realities that include suffering and toil and even tragedy. In an initial attempt to protect Eve and Adam from this, God instructed them not to eat from the tree of good and evil, of light and dark.

Eve then does something courageous and follows the human instinct to explore beyond the world of her parent, to learn to engage with life as an individual with free will, and therefore gain wisdom. By eating from this tree, Eve and Adam will no longer only experience eternal life, but all of the beauty and hardships that come with life AND death.

From At-One-Ness to Self-Awareness

When Adam and Eve eat from the tree, they realize their own nakedness. This illustrates moving from a place of relative at-one-ness when a child is young, to becoming conscious of their own self as separate from others as they come into their pre-teen years.

How do we balance the need to provide safety and protect our children’s innocence with the need to let them learn their own lessons?

For our younger children, it is our job to create an environment of safety and support that allows for their innate wonder and curiosity to thrive, similar to the life of Adam and Eve in the Garden. As our children grow, we must support them in eating from this metaphorical tree where Eve went to seek wisdom.

To prepare them for experiencing life beyond the garden, we must provide safe challenges that develop their abilities to handle conflict in the wider world.

Leaving the Garden & Accepting Responsibility

When the children eat front he tree of knowledge and leave the garden, Even is given the power of birth and Adam is told that he will have to work the land in order to receive the gifts and bounty of creation. They both become active participants in the creation process, no longer able to rely on their eternal parent who provided everything without struggle or hard work.

As a child goes through their Bar/Bat Mitzvah process, we are collectively acknowledging that the innocent and carefree nature of childhood is coming to an end. They now must both take responsibility for their own experience of life, and extend that out to caring for others.

Admittedly, God was a little harsh with this process, literally banishing the children from the garden. In modern, more holistic parenting and mentoring, there is a gentler process in moving from one phase to the next.

How Wilderness Torah Supports Youth on this Journey

We take this story from our tradition to heart in designing our youth programs. In B’hootz, our Sunday school in the woods for grades K–5, and B’naiture, our coming of age nature mentorship for grades 6–8, we provide a soul-centric, developmental approach to mentoring youth on their journey from the proverbial Garden of Eden into the greater reality that the tree of good and evil reveals.

By cultivating their natural wonder and curiosity, and providing age appropriate challenges that test the edges of their physical, emotional, and spiritual abilities, we provide opportunities and tools for our youth to become wise humans — knowing their own abilities and how to respond to the world around them with grace, responsibility, and awareness.