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 The Torah at its onset here in the parsha of Bereshith describes itself as being “the book of the generations of humankind.” Although the literal context of this verse of the Torah is referring to the generations and descendants of the first human being Adam, it has been widely interpreted by Jewish traditional scholars, in its broadest meaning, to refer to all of the generations and the human beings that have inhabited this planet over the many millennia.

Jewish tradition, in adopting this expansive interpretation, means to imply that all of the challenges, greatness, frailties and failures of our common ancestor Adam still exist in all of our societies and personalities. We are all trying somehow to get back into the Garden of Eden and we find the path to enter constantly blocked by fearsome angels.
In fact, if we wish to summarize all of human history it can be done by understanding the inability of humans and their societies to regain entrance into the paradise from which they were driven. In his classic work, Paradise Lost, John Milton summarized this theme. This loss of paradise haunts humankind till today.
It is what forces people and governments to search for scapegoats and to victimize others for the fact that we have not yet achieved entry into paradise. It is the source of war and violence, crime and terrorism and also of creativity, invention and the progress of technology. In a very simple metaphor, it describes the struggles of humanity in all ages and circumstances since the dawn of history.
In granting humanity the gifts of free will and action and of collective and personal memory, the Lord, so to speak, allowed human beings to remember that they were once in paradise and to allow them to pursue the goal of returning there once again. We all somehow remember ourselves as once being there. But the enormous frustration of not achieving this goal of returning distorts our lives.
The generations of Adam have always fallen prey to the weaknesses of temptation and immorality and are unable to regain their footing and begin their return trek to paradise. We cannot resist the temptations placed before us by the snake that is always there to entrap us. Every generation thrashes about with new ideas as to how to reach paradise or even, more dangerously, to redefine what paradise really is and what it should look like.
The Soviet Union called itself “the workers’ paradise,” even though it certainly was much more hell than heaven. All of the new social correctness, that has so weakened the moral stature of human beings and religion over the past few decades, is only a feeble attempt to redefine paradise. It is another way to avoid the harsh challenge of finding our way back and standing against the fearsome angels who inhabit our personalities and mindsets.
This entire preface to the story of Abraham and the beginnings of the Jewish people is meant to teach us that the Lord expects that the Chosen People will provide an example for the rest of humanity and mark the road that truly leads to the paradise of human happiness and serenity.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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