Tuesday, October 30, 2012

There Is Nothing Jewish About Halloween

Tomorrow is Halloween, and that means events such as costume parties, pumpkin carving, watching horror movies, and children trick-or-treating. While it might be a fun time of year for many of those around me, it made me ask whether this celebration is or can be Jewish in nature. After giving much thought to the matter, I have answered in the negative for the following reasons:

1) Halloween's origins. In contrast to the holiday of Thanksgiving, Halloween's origins are decidedly non-secular in nature. For many historians, Halloween has pagan origins (Celtic holiday dating back to the 5th century BCE), and was subsequently influenced by Christianity to become All Hallow's Eve, the day preceding All Saint's Day. Due to its religious origins, a Jew is forbidden to celebrate it. One can argue that the religious elements of Halloween have been extracted from the holiday, and now, it's only a secular holiday in which children eat lots of candy. Although it is [theoretically] possible to remove religious origins from a holiday, it is still difficult, if not impossible, to remove it completely. And even if you want to ignore traditional Judaism's prohibition on observing religious holidays of non-Jewish origin, there are other Jewish reasons not to celebrate Halloween.

2) Imitating the non-Jew. Based on Leviticus 18:3, Tosafot laid out two different types of actions done by the non-Jew that cannot be imitated (Avodah Zarah 11a). The first is idolatrous acts. Even if you want to argue that Halloween is not "idolatrous," there is still the matter of the second category: foolish customs found in the Gentile/non-Jewish community. In order for an action to be disqualified from this categorization (e.g., a physician wearing a special garment to identify himself as a doctor), one needs to be able to explain the rationales of the actions independent of Halloween. Since none of the Halloween traditions can be explained in such a rational manner, Halloween and the customs that come along with it have to be considered un-Jewish. 

3) Choosing Life. Deuteronomy 30:19 tells us to choose between life and death, and how we approach Halloween is no exception. With all of the skeletons, ghosts, and zombies, not to mention having a goal of "scaring people to death," Halloween is a glorification of death. No matter how you market it, Halloween is very much rooted in the motif of death, and that has no place in Jewish life. 

4) "Trick or Treat." Think about that phrase for a moment. "Trick or treat." What first and foremost annoys me about the practice about trick-or-treating is the presumptuous self-entitlement mentality that comes along with it. Not only is it belligerently demanding to say "Trick or treat" because you feel entitled to candy from your neighbors, but if you don't give candy, you threaten your neighbor with a "trick" (read: punish your neighbor for not giving into your indulgence, i.e., that coercion is strong enough where one could make a halachic argument for giving candy only). Commanding that someone give you something for nothing while threatening the individual with a "trick" does not line up with Jewish values in the slightest.

5) Taking versus Giving. If you, as a Jew, are worried about not being able to dress up in a costume, don't worry because we have a time of year for that. It's called Purim. Rather than inculcate the mentality of taking like Halloween does while perpetuating an obesity problem, what Purim does is inculcate the joy of giving by requiring two mitzvahs: a) sending baskets of food to at least two family members or friends (משלוח מנות), and b) giving money to at least two poor people

To live a Jewish live does not mean to live a monastic lifestyle. It doesn't mean self-deprivation, and it certainly doesn't mean living separately from people who aren't Jewish. However, it does means in order to live Jewishly, there are certain distinctions we have to make because Jews have a different mission in life, and as such, certain boundaries have to be drawn. Halloween is a holiday for certain non-Jews, and Jews have their own holidays. There are certain holidays, such as Thanksgiving or Fourth of July, where the Jew and the non-Jew can come together because there are no religious qualms to speak of. Conversely, there are certain holidays such as Halloween, Christmas, and Easter, and these are instances in which Jews need to say "Look, they have their holidays. We have our holidays. What makes this pluralistic society so wonderful is that we can each observe our own holidays in the same country, and it doesn't cause conflict." Jews don't need to celebrate every non-Jewish holiday out there because quite honestly, there are more than plenty of Jewish holidays that a Jew can celebrate.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Capitalism and What It Really Means to Be Pro-Life

About two months ago, I wrote a blog post on what it really means to be pro-choice. If those who self-identify as pro-choice were to take the concept of choice seriously, being "pro-choice" would go well beyond abortion. It would only be fair if I put this scrutiny under the other side's label of being "pro-life." I want to do this not only out of a sense of fairness, but also because Thomas Friedman recently wrote a piece entitled "Why I Am Pro-Life." I was happy to see that much like I did with the label of being "pro-choice," he sought to apply the label of "pro-life" beyond the abortion debate. He said that letting Democrats call themselves "pro-choice" and Republicans call themselves "pro-life" is highly distorting, and I agree. I also agree with his definition of pro-life, which is it "should be shorthand for the sanctity of life," which is a good springboard for discussion. If we're going to take the idea of pro-life as seriously as the idea of pro-choice, the pro-life label needs to go beyond the issue of abortion. The issues of life and death are much more complex than that of being pro-choice. After briefly looking at a couple of issues that directly relate to the idea of being pro-life, I want to take the "pro-life" label to a whole different level.

The first is the issue with the death penalty. Proponents of the death penalty say that the heinous level of disrespect that a murderer shows is so high that we need a punishment austere enough to a) reaffirm the sanctity of life, and b) have proportionality to the crime committed. Those against the death penalty say that our reverence for life should be so high that we that should apply that to all individuals, even murderers. I certainly worry about the state having power over life and death while at the same time ensure that people who commit murder are adequately punished for their crimes. This is why I am cautiously anti-death penalty. Since both sides make arguments based on the idea of respect for life, it is probably why pro-life groups don't take official stances on the death penalty.

Then there is the matter of war. Self-defense is easily justifiable on the individual level, so analogously, a pre-emptive war in the name of self-defense is equally justifiable. Aside from that, it is way more difficult to justify war because historically speaking, most wars have not been due to self-defense, but rather desires of expansion and conquest. Inefficient use of resources notwithstanding, the amount of casualties is certainly does not justify the aforementioned avarice. As such, short of wars in self-defense, I would have to contend that being anti-war is pro-life.

I can continue with other questions such as "Does our definition of 'pro-life' extend to zygotes or animals," but I would rather avoid such contentious topics and bring up a very important factor in this discussion: there is more to this discussion than just the preservation of life, which is a quantitative factor. There is a qualitative argument about, well, the quality of life itself. As Friedman points out in his article, "Respect for life has to include respect for how that live is lived, enhanced and protected--not only at the moment of conception but afterwards, in the course of that life." This makes sense because if you truly care about something, you want it to be the best that it can be.

By the end of his article, Friedman manages to take a jump into the deep end. He goes and says policies such as soda bans, smoking bans in bars, gun control, and climate change legislation are all "pro-life." Essentially, to be pro-life, at least according to Friedman, means support of the nanny state. If we are going to make such qualitative statements, let me assert the following: Capitalism is pro-life. Not only does capitalism give us the freedom to live our lives as we see fit, which helps make it a morally superior option to socialism, but it also historically provided more wealth and prosperity than socialism, mercantilism, communism, or any other economic model based on authoritarian tendencies.

I can definitely write more, but I would say this: Amongst other goals, my blog has been an endeavor of pointing out the flaws of nanny-state socialism and why liberalizing the markets is so much more preferable than letting a bunch of bureaucrats determine how individuals should go about "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness." So if you want more specifics, I welcome you to search my blog because it addresses many issues related to this topic. In the meantime, I will say that if we are serious about being pro-life via the maximization the quality of life, working towards freer markets and increasing [respect for] liberty for individuals to pursue their life goals is the way to go.

I'll conclude with this amusing video about what the world would be like without capitalism:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Considering Non-Economic Factors in Marijuana Legalization

One month ago from today, I wrote a blog entry about the economic implications of marijuana legalization. I came to the conclusion that from an economic standpoint, marijuana legalization is a no-brainer. I would now like to assess the remaining factors to see how non-economic factors play a role in answering the question of whether we should legalize marijuana.

From a libertarian standpoint, being able to be free to do what one wants as long as it doesn't infringe on other people's freedom is paramount. Since I consider myself a consequentialist libertarian/classical liberal, I view freedom to be an exceptionally weighty factor, not an absolute one, and as such, one would have to come up with a very detrimental factor that is causing all sorts of negative externalities to others before one can even begin to justify making marijuana illegal.

Health: "Marijuana is bad for you, and as such, we should ban it." Some even go to the point of claiming that marijuana is actually worse for you than smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol. We already have a good amount of government data showing that people still use marijuana, even in spite of its illegality, which means one cannot really counter-claim the fact that the CDC doesn't even have a category for marijuana-related deaths because these deaths are virtually non-existent. Contrast that with the near 40,000 lives per annum lost due to alcohol, or approximately one in five deaths in this country are caused by cigarette smoking. The Economist published an article a couple years ago illustrating how cannabis is less harmful to society and individuals than nicotine or alcohol, meaning that although there are some adverse health effects, it's not as bad as the licit alternatives.

Crime: There were economic impact factors (e.g., backlog of court systems, overcrowded prisons) that I covered in my last blog entry. Aside from those important reasons, I want to point out the reason why marijuana is a criminal issue: prohibition. For a drug that is less harmful than cigarettes, and certainly less so than alcohol, we have attached a lot of stigma to marijuana. I'm not denying that there aren't any adverse health effects with smoking marijuana because there are. As pointed out in the last paragraph, alcohol and cigarettes are harmful. Trans-fats or the high amounts of sugar found in soda can be considered "menaces to society." What happens with prohibition is in addition to the health affects of marijuana, you have thrown in the costs that come with more law enforcement and underground markets, the latter of which the government perpetuates by prohibiting marijuana. Not only do we turn people's lives upside-down, as well as those of their families, for a non-violent drug offense  (can't emphasize that point enough), but once they serve their prison sentence, they are labeled as felons, and thus disenfranchised (e.g., cannot vote, rendered de facto unemployable) for weed possession. For those who do want to get treatment, it's difficult because they fear being jailed, which just leads them into a downward spiral. Just another example of what happens when the government intervenes with good intentions, but delivers bad results.

Conclusion: There is much more that I can cover, but I would like to conclude at this time. Other arguments, such as marijuana would cause unproductive members of society or additional family issues, my response is this: We already tolerate such consequences with cigarettes and even more so with alcohol, which are arguably worse than those of marijuana. Yet we learned our lessons from the Prohibition and re-legalized alcohol with the 21st Amendment, which led to the disappearance of alcohol from the underground market. Why do we tolerate substances like alcohol and cigarettes, even though we know they cause certain harms? Because we realize that in a free society, people will inevitably do things with which we don't agree. If an individual commits a crime under the influence of marijuana, then they would be prosecuted, just like people who commit crimes while under the influence of alcohol. Short of any spillover effects such as those instances, people should have the freedom to smoke marijuana because that is what "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is about.

I'm sure the government likes to think that it's doing more good than harm on fighting the War on Drugs, but it's not. Federal drug laws ignore this reality, as well as ignoring the increased support for marijuana reform. I'm hoping that the states of Colorado, Oregon, and Washington pass their marijuana initiatives this November so that we can change the tide on the issue. We need a sensible drug policy that treats marijuana addiction as a health issue, not the use of marijuana as a criminal issue. Not only does it make fiscal sense, but it also makes for good common sense.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Parsha Noach: Avoiding the Spiritual Downfall That Led to Noah's Drunkenness

Much of this week's Torah portion is focused on the story of Noah and the Great Flood. Where I would like to focus is the aftermath of the Flood, specifically with Noah and how he reacted. After G-d creates  the rainbow as a covenantal sign that He won't flood the Earth again in such a manner, Noah has an intriguing reaction: he creates a vineyard, becomes drunk and ends up being "uncovered" in his tent (Genesis 9:20-21). How is it possible that a man who was considered a righteous man and "perfect in his generations" (Genesis 6:9) fell so low?

One explanation is that Noah was experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Here is a man who just got off a boat and realized that short of the family members and animals he brought on the ark, the whole world had be obliterated. To witness such a level of destruction can be traumatic.

That's one explanation. Another one is the opposite side of the spectrum: he couldn't handle success. R. Daniel Gordis refers to this as the "Noah Syndrome." Noah was a guy building an ark because "G-d told him to do so," and everyone thought he was off his rocker. But Noah ended up being right. Noah was on such a spiritual high of loftier endeavors that coming back to the banality of everyday work. In order to maintain that high, what did Noah do? Much like you see with some celebrities (e.g., John Belushi, Chris Farley): once they accomplish something huge, life can feel empty. In order to maintain or increase the feeling of that rush, they turn to substance abuse.

If Noah were really serving G-d and truly had a sense of purpose in that, he would have realized that his mission didn't end with building the ark because spirituality is an ongoing process. Instead, he drank to excess. Noah's problem wasn't handling the success, but rather that he had an inflated ego. Going back to Genesis 6:9, Noah was called righteous, and that's how the English translation is read. Looking at the Hebrew phrase, צדיק תמים, gives a slightly different picture. It is true that צדיק means "righteous man." It is the adjective תמים that caught my eye. The word תמים can mean "innocent" or "guileless," but it can also mean "simpleminded." It is hard to figure out which is correct. On the one hand, the word צדיק is not thrown around lightly. On the other hand, as Rashi points out, Noah was a righteous man "in his generation," and continues to say that if Noah would have been in the generation of Abraham, Noah would have been considered insignificant. Given the Jewish tradition's overall negative view of Noah, I have to believe in the latter.

I think the real reason of Noah's drunkenness makes sense when you compare Noah to Abraham. Noah walked with G-d (Genesis 6:9). Noah always obeyed G-d and never questioned. Abraham, on the other hand, walked before G-d (Genesis 17:1). Abraham was more proactive in his spirituality. Not only did he question G-d, but he didn't wait for G-d to tell him what to do. Abraham was aware of his spiritual goals and actively worked for the betterment of the world around him. What was Noah's response when G-d said He was going to flood the planet? Complete accord. Noah did not question G-d about the flood, and he neither confront his contemporaries nor prayed for them. Noah was self-righteous and had zero impact on his neighbors. When he got off the ark, he realized what how complacency had resulted, and thus felt the need to drink as a form of escapism.

How do we avoid the tumultuous, downward spiral of Noah? I think there can be multiple answers, but I will attempt to give a few. One, self-righteousness is not the sort of righteousness that G-d is requires of us. Although it is important that we are taken care of, whether that is physically, emotionally, or mentally, we also need to realize that righteousness transcends us; it's about how you interact with others. Two, a spiritual ideal is not one of complacency or passivity. While one is to keep a calm soul, one does not remove themselves from the world or act indifferent with what's going on because the fallacious notion of "oh, this is G-d's will" has been developed. G-d doesn't want the status quo; G-d wants us to leave the world a better place than we found it. Third has to do with how we interact with materialism. Like with almost anything else, things are not inherently good or evil. It's how we use them to elevate our lives. Money can be used for something good like tzedakah or something bad like bribery or fraud. The same thing goes with wine: it can be used elevate a mundane moment to make it a spiritual one or like Noah illustrated, it can be used for belligerent drinking. I honestly believe that to elevate the mundane into the spiritual is Judaism's response to resolve the supposed dichotomy between materialism and aestheticism. When we take these lessons into consideration, rather than taking the plunge into emotional and spiritual oblivion that Noah took, we can take the ascend ever higher and bring our spirituality to a much preferred level from which we can derive meaning and joy in our lives.

שבת שלום!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fisher v. Texas: Do Colleges Still Need to Use Affirmative Action?

Although the topic of affirmative action isn't really being brought up in presidential debates, the Supreme Court has decided to take on the case of Fisher v. University of Texas. The plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, applied to the University of Texas-Austin back in 2008 and was denied entry to the university. The lawsuit is based on the plaintiff's allegation that due to the university's usage of race as a factor in admissions, the University discriminated against Fisher because she is white. The importance of this case is determining whether the consideration of race as a factor in college admissions through Texas' Top 10% Rule is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, which could very well mean the beginning of the end of affirmative action in this country.

The last time the Supreme Court heard cases on the issue of affirmative action in college admissions was back in 2003: Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger. In the former case, using a pre-determined point system that gave minorities an advantage was ruled 6-3 as unconstitutional. In the latter case, the Court ruled that a race-conscious admissions process that ensured a "critical mass" of minority groups that were unrepresented was constitutional. If Fisher wins, it will mean either asking the University of Texas to implement an admissions process consistent with the narrower reading of "critical mass" given in Grutter v. Bollinger, or it could very well mean the reversal of Grutter v. Bollinger. Justice Kagan recused herself from the case, so my educated guess in terms of the verdict is that it will be up to Justice Kennedy, although who knows if Justice Roberts pulls off another stunt like he did with Obamacare.

What I would like to do now is determine the necessity of affirmative action in college admissions. This will not be a question of whether affirmative action's initial implementation in the Johnson administration was justifiable or necessary because that's a different topic. The question I want to propose is this: In the year 2012, is it still necessary for colleges in the United States to consider race as a factor in college admissions?

One of the most common arguments is to diversify the student body. Being surrounded by people with diverse backgrounds exposes students to different ideas and experiences, thus broadening their horizons and minds. As such, racial preferences in college admissions is a way to achieve that goal. I have a problem with assuming that an externality such as race is a sure-fire guarantee for diversity because it's not. If we honestly care about diversity, the sort of diversity that colleges should care about is that of opinions, beliefs, and experiences, all of which can be accomplished without looking at race or ethnicity. Second, while I appreciate the benefits of diversity, diversity for diversity's sake is morally awry, especially with higher-skilled professions. Which do you think is more important: that the school from which my heart surgeon was racially diverse or that if I ever needed a double bypass surgery, (s)he is a competent surgeon that can competently perform the task? I don't know about you, but I'd go with the latter.

The third issue, and quite frankly, the most important issue I have with the diversity argument, is how colleges go about categorizing race. By federal law, a college is required to add the optional question about race and ethnicity on college applications. There are seven categories: Hispanic/Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African-American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, White, or two or more races. In terms of the "diversity argument," we have three problems. The first problem is if you are not part of what is considered an "unrepresented minority" (e.g., you're White or Asian). If you don't mark something, they'll assume you don't need consideration. If you do, they will either use it against you or not give you preferential treatment. This is a classic example of a Catch-22.  The second problem is with the sweeping generalizations of the groupings themselves. Let's take the "Asian" label. Asia's a big place, and there are many nationalities and ethnicities in Asia. Chinese people are not Japanese, and Japanese people are not Indian, and Indian people are not Thai. The same can be said for the Hispanic community. Being Mexican is not the same as being Chilean, and it's not the same thing as being Puerto Rican. Third, not only have potential students been lumped together in very broad racial terms, but looking at race/ethnicity as an admissions factor also implies that they think and act in the same way. If assuming the heterogeneity of a certain ethnic or racial group isn't racist, I don't know what is.

Another common argument for using race as a factor is to help give "unrepresented minorities" (e.g., African-Americans and Hispanics since they are the biggest recipients of such consideration) a boost in succeeding in the world because without such consideration, institutional barriers will keep getting in the way. As a Jew, I keep American Jewish history in mind and recall that up until a few decades ago, Jews had to deal with a number of institutional barriers, both in the workplace and in college admissions. Many Jews had to hide their Jewishness (e.g., change their last names, discard Jewish practices) in order to succeed. American immigrants from Asian countries such as China, Japan, Korea, and India also have had to deal with discrimination. Even Catholics were once a persecuted minority in this country. With hard work and perseverance, these minority groups fought the uphill battle and have aggregately done better as a result. The issue with affirmative action is that it created what President Bush rightfully called the soft bigotry of low expectations. Affirmative action has the real potential to compromise the accomplishments of minority students by putting into question whether they matriculated because of their accomplishments or their race. This is unfortunate because this ambiguity can lead to people assuming the worst of a minority student, and I'm pretty certain that more than one person has felt that way. The attempt to mitigate racism in college admissions comes with this undesirable side effect, which is messed up because people are then accused of the very racism that proponents use to justify these preferences in the first place.

I think the French were right to call affirmative action la discrimination positive (literally meaning "positive discrimination"). Even if completely benign in intent, affirmative action is merely substituting one form of racism for another, and the problem will not go away until race is removed as a consideration for college admissions. Imagine if we expanded this idea beyond the admissions office and tried "affirmative action grading" in the classroom. It'd be extremely unfair, wouldn't you agree?

What's more is that even without considering the possible distortion effects of the mismatch effect, which the Wall Street Journal picked up on recently, there is still the issue of dropout rates. Looking at college stats (you can examine state-by-state, e.g., Wisconsin), African-Americans and Hispanics have higher drop-out rates, thus having lower graduation rates. Higher incidents of dropping out amongst these minority groups is not an issue of being able to get into college in the first place, but rather an issue of receiving an inadequate K-12 education in order that they have a higher graduation rate and succeed in the world. 

If affirmative action should be in college admissions to address poverty issue, I will say that it is lamentable that African-Americans and Hispanics have a higher incident rate of poverty (see Census data), and it's equally lamentable that affirmative action has done nothing in the past 40+ years to really mitigate the fact that a black person or Hispanic is still at least twice as likely to be as poor as a white person (See Table 3 of Census data; data dates back to 1970s). On the other hand, we should also remember that being an individual in poverty, regardless of race, is unfortunate. According to the Census, there are about 31,083,000 white people and about 1,899,000 Asian-Americans who are below the poverty line. If poverty is the reason for preferential treatment in admissions, then we should be addressing the issue of poverty.

Bringing this back full circle, the solutions that will solve this issue will not be in giving preferential treatment based on race when it's time for an individual to apply for college because it's bad policy. Solving the problem will need to happen much earlier in a child's educational development, which is another way of saying "we need fundamental K-12 education reform" to provide as many students with the necessary skills to function and succeed in the marketplace. Whether that ultimately happens, I'm unsure. It'd be fantastic, but again, I don't know. What I do know is that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Fisher, my hope is not only that we can be one step closer to a color-blind society, but also that we can focus on education policy that could actually be beneficial to all.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Parsha Bereshit: Blaming Others & How It Got Adam and Eve Evicted

This week, we start the annual Torah cycle again with the Torah portion of בראשית (Genesis 1:1-6:8). When I read this passage, it's amazing the frequency with which I wonder why Adam and Eve got kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Many Orthodox Jews, as well as Christians, believe that the reason they were evicted (Genesis 3:23-24) was due to their disobedience regarding eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:17).

Looking at Torah, as well as subsequent post-biblical Jewish writings, there is certainly a place for the idea of obedience within Judaism, although there is also a place for questioning and defying from time to time. But that supposed dichotomy is not what renders me unconvinced of the argument. The reason why I don't remain convinced is because if that was the reason behind it, G-d would have just rendered justice and given Adam and Eve their eviction notice for disobeying the one commandment He gave them. However, that is not what took place. There is a vital dialogue that takes place prior to their eviction that sheds light on the reason behind it, which is why I argue that based on the Jewish hermeneutical tool of juxtaposition (סמוכים), it is the reason why Adam and Eve are ultimately evicted. So with that, I provide a recap what happened in Genesis 3:

After Adam and Eve ate from the tree, G-d appears from them and asks them איכה. "Where are you," He asks. The question isn't meant to be taken literally. After all, G-d is omniscient and omnipresent, so this isn't a question about physical locality; it's a philosophical question. "Now that you know what good and evil are, what is the state that you find yourself? Where are you headed?" With this new knowledge [of good and evil], it was meant to give them pause about the gravitas of what they just consumed. Adam points out his nakedness, which is the point that G-d has Adam confront what he did.  What was Adam's reaction? He played the blame game and pointed the finger at his wife, Eve (ibid, v. 12), which is hardly the sign of a solid marriage. What does Eve do in the following verse? She blames the snake for coaxing her into eating from the tree. The snake interestingly doesn't get a chance to explain himself, but that might have something to with the fact that was not created "in His Image," and thus is not endowed with the free will to change his character. G-d subsequently punishes all the parties involved.

This story is much more than just being about a tree. It's even more than a statement of what results from disobedience (if it weren't G-d would have not even bothered with the aforementioned dialogue). It is about the human's default mode of denial when confronted with doing something wrong. Since G-d evicted Adam and Eve after they attempted to evade and conceal their shame by blaming others, it is also a story of what happens when you do not take personal responsibility for your actions, which is why G-d kicked them out immediately after this exchange. As Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks states in his book To Heal a Fractured World, it is the birth of ethics. G-d gave Adam and Eve a chance to explain themselves in hopes that they would do teshuva and turn away from making mistakes. Alas, instead of owning up to their mistakes, they did what was the least discomforting thing and tried to shift the admonishment elsewhere.

I think there are two important lessons to take from this insight. The first is that with free will to do whatever you want comes consequences, whether those consequences are good or bad. The second is that when we do something wrong, we don't point fingers and blame other individuals or external forces like the economy or upbringing. We learn to point the fingers at ourselves, figure out our imperfections and inconsistencies, and thus learn how to better ourselves. This is the way we can avoid the spiritual emptiness that Adam and Eve experienced as a result of their incapacity to admit their mistakes, learn from said mistakes, and move up the spiritual ladder in order to be better human beings.