INTRODUCTION TO PARASHAT
In memory of Yakov
Yehuda ben Pinchas Wallach
and Miriam Wallach bat Tzvi
By Rabbi Yaakov
INTRODUCTION – THE STORY AND THE STRUCTURE
We begin our series on Introduction to
Parasha 5769 with the story of the Garden of Eden and with an inquiry
into the nature of man’s first sin.
In this series, we will approach each text looking to discover the
structure that frames each passage, and we will investigate specific insights
from Rabbinic thought and medieval commentators, both to learn what they say and
to see how we can use their comments to understand an approach towards the text.
In trying to define the parameters of
a particular Biblical passage, we find ourselves bereft of the traditional signs
and cues that a modern reader takes for granted: headlines and subtitles, punctuation
marks, and indentations (let alone the italics, underlines, fonts, etc.
available on the word processor).
The division of the text into chapters was completed by English bishop
Stephen Langston only in the 13th century; these divisions were
incorporated by scribes in Hebrew manuscripts by 1330. The verse divisions, predate the Mishna,
but they do not appear in the text of a Torah scroll, (and they were not
standardized until the text of Ben Asher in the 10th century).
The only visual cue available to a
reader are the breaks between large sections of the text, known as a
parshiot. There were two
forms of breaks, the parasha petucha (marked by the letter peh in
Chumashim) and the parasha setuma (marked by the letter
samech). The parasha
setuma is comprised of a break of 9 letters in the written text, while the
parasha petucha is a beak until the beginning of the next line. The Torah contains 290 parashiot
petuchot and 379 parashiot setumot.
The story of the Garden of Eden begins
with the new parasha in 2:4, which begins the second recounting of the
creation story, and concludes with the end of Chapter 3 and the expulsion of
humanity from the Garden of Eden.
The implications of the above are
profound – to understand properly how Adam and Chava erred and the purpose of
narrating this failure for eternity, we cannot limit our exploration to Chapter
3 and begin with the dialogue wherein the serpent successfully convinces Chava
to eat from the tree. We must also attempt to include what occurs in Chapter 2,
from the creation of the Garden and the rivers within it, the placing of man in
the Garden and his charge, the naming of the animals, and the creation of
What, then, is the structure of our
story? Reading the story of the
Garden from the beginning of Chapter 2, we can suggest the following
A. CREATION OF MAN
(2:4-2:17) – his placement in a garden where he has unlimited access to food,
without effort, and access to the tree of life.
B. CREATION OF WOMAN
(2:18-2:25) – she begins as an equal helpmate to Adam.
C. SERPENT (3:1-5) –
able to walk and converse with man, attempts to convince the woman to sin.
D. SIN AND DISCOVERY
(3:6-13) – the woman eats, man eats, Hashem confronts them and they shift
C'. SERPENT PUNISHED (3:14-15) – loses
ability to walk and relationship with humanity destroyed.
B'. WOMAN PUNISHED (3:16) – her equal
and happy relationship with man destroyed.
A'. MAN PUNISHED (3:17-24) – expelled
from the garden, must work now for food, loses access to the tree of
Clearly, within this structure,
Chapter 2 plays an important role in understanding the penalties that
Hashem metes out to the participants. Each punishment reflects the reversal of
the idyllic situation that previously existed. In unlocking the meaning of our
narrative, we must play close attention to this structure.
In studying the above structure, the
sin and its aftermath clearly serve at the center of the story. However, before we analyze the sin
itself, we should investigate the first conversation between the serpent and the
woman to understand what precisely was said that precipitated her
"Even has (if) God had said it, should
you not eat from all the trees of the garden?" (3:1)
The Ohr Ha-Chayyim HaKadosh notes the
cleverness in the serpent’s words, suggesting that the prohibition was
It is the manner of a seducer to
indulge in exaggerating the stringency of the prohibition, in order to persuade
the victim that all efforts to resist temptation are useless … therefore, he
might as well give up the struggle from the first, rather than try the
impossible. (Commentary to 3:1, as
paraphrased by Nechama Leibowitz)
The wording of the serpent’s question
is ambiguous. Is it as we have
translated it, “Even has (if) God had said it, should you not eat…”- in derisive
questioning; or did the serpent assume a posture of disinterested curiosity, “Is
it true what I’ve heard that God has prohibited you from eating from eating of
the garden’s trees?”
However we translate the serpent’s
question, it is clear that his insinuations had their desired effect. We will investigate Chava’s response, in
contrast with God’s original command.
CHAVA’S RESPONSE (3:2-3)
We can eat of the fruit of the
trees of the garden.
However, of the fruit of the
tree that is in the midst of the garden, God said, "You shall not eat of
it, neither shall you touch it, lest you die."
And Hashem God commanded
the man, saying, "Of every tree in the garden you may eat freely.
But of the tree of knowledge of
good an evil, you shall not eat from it; for in the day that you eat of
it, you shall surely die."
There are several glaring differences
between the original command and Chava’s recapitulation of them to the
serpent. Rashi was the first
commentator to note that Chava had extended the extent of the original
prohibition from eating to even touching the tree, an error which, according to
the Midrash, the snake utilized to implant doubt into her mind by pushing her
into the tree. The original command
does not locate the tree. Suddenly,
it stands in the garden’s center, as if it were the only tree that
mattered. Its title, the Tree of
Knowledge, has disappeared.
Similarly, Chava softened the force of the prohibition from an absolute
command and imperative to a statement.
Two other difference stand out s
worthy of note. First, the
consequence of transgression has changed.
Benno Jacob comments that what originally constituted, in Hashem’s
wording, a moral connection between sin and punishment, Chava transformed into a
mere mechanical link of cause and effect.
To this subtle but noteworthy change, the serpent immediately responded,
“You shall not die” (3:4). In his commentary, Ha’amek Davar, Rabbi
Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin explained the progression from the
serpent’s original statement to this bald-faced lie:
Since Chava herself changed the
wording from “In the day that you eat from the tree, you shall surely die” to
“perhaps you will die," the serpent found an opportunity to introduce doubts
into her mind and deny the truth of her statement. How is it possible for the Creator to
have said “Perhaps” (an expression of doubt)? Surely the Creator knows, without any
doubt, what will ensue? The serpent
then used this as an argument to cast doubts on the serious of the Divine
prohibition. Rather, [the serpent
suggested that] God merely intended to frighten them and intimidate them,
because He did not want them to eat from the tree. This is a standard method used by the
seducer, to insinuate that the punishment threatened will never really
From a pedagogic point of view, the
Meshekh Chokhma noted the perhaps the most significant difference between
the original command and Chava’s retelling of it:
The interpretation [of "And
Hashem God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree in the garden you
may eat freely.'"] is that it is a commandment, a requirement, to eat freely and
enjoy from everything in the garden, as the Talmud states, "In the future, a
person is required to give an accounting for every opportunity that they had to
enjoy this world and refrained from it." (Talmud Yerushalmi, Kiddushin
4:12) … However, Adam did not convey to Chava this aspect of the commandment;
but only the negative dimension, "But of the tree of knowledge of good an evil,
you shall not eat from it."
Therefore, when she retold the command to the serpent, she only mentioned
the prohibition. (Commentary to 2:16)
A quick review of Chava’s words
confirms the Meshekh Chokhma’s thesis. God’s name is not mention in the
first half of the verse – "We can eat of the fruit of the trees of the
garden." Only when mentioning the
prohibition does Chava mention God’s name.
By associating Hashem only with the negative and not the positive
aspect, Adam sows the seeds for Chava’s future rebellion.
SERPENTINE SPEECH – SLY OR SIMPLE TRUTHS
Looking carefully again at the
serpent’s speech, however, we discover that the tactics he uses penetrate
precisely to what Chava understood and how she, and ultimately Adam, fail. If the serpent had simply stated
"Rebel against Hashem," Chava would not have listened. Instead, the serpent craftily suggests
that even if Hashem had prohibited eating from the Tree of Good and Evil,
this was not Hashem’s true intention. Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch
"Even has (if) God had said it, should
you not eat from all the trees of the garden?"
The contrast to animals is the touchstone and the rock, by which and on
which, the morality of man proves itself … it was animal wisdom which lured the
first human beings from their duty, and today it is the same animal wisdom which
serves as midwife to every sin … Animal are really creatures that "are like God,
knowing good from evil." They have
innate instinct, and this instinct is the Voice of God, God’s will for
them. Accordingly, what they do in
accordance with this Divine Providence which rules within them … is good, and
everything which this instinct keeps them back from doing is bad. Animals do no wrong; they have only
their one nature that they are to follow.
Not so man. He is to decide for the good and eschew
evil from his own free choice, and from the conscious of his duty; he is also to
give his sensuous nature its due, but not from the allure of his senses, but out
of a feeling of duty. Sensual
enjoyment for him is to be a moral free-willed act; he is never to be an
animal. For that purpose, he has
sensuous and goodness both within him; that which is good and right must often
oppose his sensuality. Bad and evil
must often appear attractive and tempting to him, so that for the sake of his
high godly calling he practices the good and eschews the evil with the free
willed energy of his godly nature, in spite of his sensuality, and never yield
Animals have only to develop their
sensual nature, and their intelligence is completely in the service of this
nature. Man was not set in paradise
on the earth to satisfy his sensual nature on the delights and food that it
proffered. “To serve it and to
guard it” – it was to the service of God and His world he was called there. This service was his mission, and for
this service, the delights of the paradisiacal fruits were permitted to
him. Animals … are there only for
themselves. But Man is there for
God and the World, and is joyfully to sacrifice his personal nature to this
The wisdom of the animal world
approached him in its cleverest representative, the serpent. To an animal, even the wisest, it is
incomprehensible how anybody could pass over the most beautiful, most alluring,
and enjoyable food … "Is not the urge within in (to partake) also the Voice of
God? If eating is bad for you, why
did He give the food the appeal to you, and you the urge to eat it? … Is not
this voice His earlier, clearer Voice?" (Commentary of Rabbi Hirsch to
To Rabbi Hirsch, the theme of this story
is the question of man and animals – what is the difference? The gift of free choice and moral
reasoning occurs precisely when we confront that side of ourselves that is most
animal-like – the side that desires, craves, and follows our urges and
impulses. We sense our attraction,
and tell ourselves that this to is from God. Surely God did not implant within us
something wrong? The ability to
forgo those desires, implanted by God, in order to follow and obey the explicit
word and command of God is what differentiates man from animals; according to
Hirsch, this is the fundamental question, theme, and lesson of
the Garden of Eden.
We recognize this theme throughout the
chapter. Upon eating, man and woman
recognize their animal instinct for the first time – they are naked, and they
are ashamed. While fig leaves can
cover intimate body parts temporarily, they cannot erase the sense of shame and
failure Adam and Chava felt.
Confronted with their actions, like fearful, cornered animals, they
attempt to avoid pain and punishment by shifting the blame upon another. Within the punishments, we see the
serpent lose precisely those characteristics, upright walk, speech, and the
enjoyment of the senses, which had made it human-like. From now on, people will more easily
note the difference between animal and human. We can interpret the punishments given
to man and woman similarly – no other animals suffers from such a painful
birthing process, and no animal is forced to labor in activities that carry
little guarantee of success in order to eat.
BETWEEN HUMANS AND ANIMALS
Returning to our beginning, we can
reread the whole of the parasha, from the beginning of Chapter 2, and
understand how prevalent this theme, the difference between man and animals, is
throughout the story. The Torah already highlighted this distinction in chapter
2. From the beginning, we sense that man is separate from the animals that also
inhabit the garden.
The Torah begins with a description of
the four tributaries that flow from the garden. Unexpectedly, we find these lands
described by their natural resources: "And the gold of that land was good; there
are the bdellium and the onyx stone" (2:11). Precious stones and metals are not
mentioned in the first chapter, where the creation of man is part of the
creation of the entire natural kingdom.
Suddenly, the Torah emphasizes those resources that animals would find
useless; only man assigns value to what are ultimately shiny rocks and
The process of differentiating man
from the animal kingdom continues when Hashem creates woman. Between Hashem’s statement in
verse 18 that "it is not good that Man is alone, I will create a help-mate for
him" and the actual creation of woman in verses 20-22, we find a strange
And out of the ground the Lord God
formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air and brought them unto
the man to see what he would call them; and whatsoever the man would call every
living creature, that was to be the name thereof.
And the man gave names to all cattle,
and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there
was not found a help-mate for him.
The act of naming and categorizing
reflects a level of contemplation and separation of the namer from the object
being named, if not a level of superiority. The Midrashic literature is rich with
interpretation regarding this interlude.
Rashi chooses the interpretation that connects the act of naming with the
creation of woman:
When He [Hashem] brought them
[the animals before Adam], He brought before him of every species male and
female. He [Adam] said, "For each
one there is a mate, but for me there is no mate." Immediately, 'He caused a
deep sleep to fall upon the man' (v. 21).
Clearly, the Torah contrasts man’s
relationship with woman with those of the animals. They mate naturally, as part of a
biological process. The
supernatural creation of man’s mate demonstrate that even this relationship,
potentially the most 'animal-like' of all of man’s behaviors, is on a
qualitatively different level. If
in Chapter 1, mankind was part of the animal kingdom, in Chapter 2, mankind is
commanded to recognize what distinguishes him from the animals around him, as
well as the animal in him. This,
ultimately, is the test of the Garden and of humanity in our attempts to return
to that Garden.
 Further discussions of
the standardization of the text and its marker can be found in Emmanuel Tov’s
Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible,