Hello Rabbi and Mrs. Lapin,
I am wondering if it is possible to gain “too much” knowledge. We know that Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden because of their disobedience, eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil when instructed not to. However, as I have grown to understand it, their transgression was more in trying to “…be like God” and have His knowledge.
I love learning. I learn any way I can. I have a book in my hand (electronic or printed) almost all the time when I’m not occupied at work or with family. Am I potentially being sinful in my pursuit of knowledge?
What an interesting question! Before we move on to our answer we just want to say that ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizes (as you correctly wrote) that Adam and Eve ate, not from the Tree of Knowledge which might have suggested that knowledge itself was part of the problem, but from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Till that fateful bite, we humans had the ability to instantly and reliably know whether a particular action was good or evil. That ancient surrender to tasty temptation forever confused us. Now, in virtually every wrong and prohibited action, it is tragically possible to identify good, and in every good action it is sadly possible to see bad.
For instance, shouldn’t we generally endorse and support homosexual marriage because after all, isn’t marriage good, and don’t we wish to see loving relationships? Or, perhaps we should ban Bibles in public places since it surely is wrong to make some people feel distressed and excluded?
As you know these fallacious arguments are being advanced every day by those who view Judeo-Christian principles, not as vital for this nation but as primitive obstacles to progress. And these mendacious twists persuade many. Thank the serpent!
Back to your question. Like you, we are avid readers. When we moved, books made up the majority of our boxes. Yet, you are correct that the pursuit of knowledge (like so many other things taken to an extreme) can become a false god. We know of men who acquire degree after degree but never use any of what they learn to contribute to the world. We also know of those who worship pursuit of “expertise” and when God’s word conflicts with the experts, His is the one they choose to ignore.
We doubt that any of this applies to you. You mention having both work and family which means that reading is not stopping you from living. We assume that you are judicious in choosing what you read and avoid books that have no redeeming value.
However, since you are raising the question, we would encourage you to ask whether you are a bit out of balance. Only you can answer if you are sometimes giving too much time to reading. Should you be spending more time with people, both family and community? Should you be exercising more or putting in more hours at work? Is your mind preoccupied with what you are reading so that you aren’t giving proper attention to other things? Is your pursuit of knowledge an end in itself or does it serve the purpose of making you a bigger person more capable of contributing to the world?
Answering these questions you tell you if you are being consistent with, “The beginning of knowledge is the acknowledgment of God.”
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin