We’ve all heard the traditional interpretation of the story of the Garden of Eden, but Rabbi Harold Kushner (best known for his book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”) offers a different take on the story.
God tells Adam, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:17-18) When Adam and Eve break the rules and are banished from the garden, it is not as punishment, but rather because, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” (Genesis 3:22) In other words, we don’t want Man becoming a god. (Yes, there is a plural reference here, another story for another day.)
Two things happen when they eat the fruit. First, “the eyes of both of them were opened.” Second, “they realized they were naked.” (Genesis 3:7) When God discovers their disobedience, they are cursed to have to work the land for food and to have pain upon childbirth. They are sent from the garden, and the gate is barred so they may never return.
Previous to partaking of the fruit, the two were unaware they would die, unaware of their nakedness, without morality. In other words, they were unconscious, not fully human, simply another among the animals. In following her intuition, Eve traded humankind’s ignorance for knowledge, with all the fear, exposure, pain, and toil it requires. With this knowledge, they could no longer remain in the garden of paradise. However, the story of humanity began.
A change of interpretation removes original sin from the equation. Just maybe human nature is not sinful, but curious and courageous.