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We see in chapter three of Genesis that although Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge by G-d, the serpent was able to make it desirable in their eyes and lead them to sin.

וַיֹּאמֶר הַנָּחָשׁ אֶל־הָאִשָּׁה לֹא־מוֹת תְּמֻתוּן׃ כִּי יֹדֵעַ אֱלֹהִים כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכׇלְכֶם מִמֶּנּוּ וְנִפְקְחוּ עֵינֵיכֶם וִהְיִיתֶם כֵּאלֹהִים יֹדְעֵי טוֹב וָרָע׃ וַתֵּרֶא הָאִשָּׁה כִּי טוֹב הָעֵץ לְמַאֲכָל וְכִי תַאֲוָה־הוּא לָעֵינַיִם וְנֶחְמָד הָעֵץ לְהַשְׂכִּיל וַתִּקַּח מִפִּרְיוֹ וַתֹּאכַל וַתִּתֵּן גַּם־לְאִישָׁהּ עִמָּהּ וַיֹּאכַל׃

And the serpent said to the woman, You shall not surely die: for G-d knows that on the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit, and did eat, and gave also to her husband with her; and he did eat.

However, according to some opinions, Adam and Eve did not have desire before eating from the Tree of Knowledge and innocently followed the word of G-d.

One is Ramban's commentary on Genesis 2:9

... The proper interpretation appears to me to be that man’s original nature was such that he did whatever was proper for him to do naturally, just as the heavens and all their hosts do, “faithful workers337 whose work is truth, and who do not change from their prescribed course,”338 and in whose deeds there is no love or hatred. Now it was the fruit of this tree that gave rise to will and desire, that those who ate it should choose a thing or its opposite, for good or for evil. This is why it was called ‘etz hada’ath’ (the tree of the knowledge) of good and evil, for da’ath in our language is used to express will. ...

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A footnote on that Ramban (appearing in the ArtScroll Ramban al Hatorah) says:

At first glance, Ramban seems to be asserting tht man had no free choice (the capability to decide between doing what is right and doing what is wrong) before eating the forbidden fruit. [...] Rav Yerucham Levovitz (Daas Chochmah U'Mussar Vol.3 28) explains that Ramban's intention is something else entirely: Adam, before the sin, was capable of deciding whether to embrace evil or good; however, he was inherently disinclined to choose evil. (He cites this example as an illustration: A person is capable of going naked in the street, but he is mentally inhibited from doing so).

So perhaps what Ramban is saying is that before eating from the tree Adam was still capable of choosing to do the right or the wrong thing (possibly on a rational, intellectual level), but eating from the eitz hadaas added to that capability of choice the passion and desire (will) to act a certain way.

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TL;DR: They did have the choice between truth and falsehood. And if you get that wrong, you can end up choosing evil thinking you're choosing good.

The concept of choice between right and wrong seems to be fundamental to a person’s role in serving his Creator, so it is hard to explain what would have. The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 5:1-4) writes that a person has free will only so that there is value to a good deed. Hashem only values our service because it comes from us, and not from the force of some law of nature. The ability to choose is fundamental to our purpose. But without knowledge of good or evil, how could Adam make a choice?

In Moreh Nevuchim, the Rambam writes that a person always had free will; this is the meaning of being created “in the image of G-d”. However, before eating the fruit, the challenge in Adam’s existence was to choose between truth and falsehood. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil reduced him to working within the paradigm of good vs. evil.

R. Eliyahu Dessler writes (Michtav MeiEliyahu vol. 1, pg. 113 i.e. Kunterus HaBechirah sec. I, ch. 2) that the difference between before and after humanity’s sin was the internalization of the Evil Inclination. Before eating from the tree, Chavah had to be convinced by a snake to disobey G-d, and Adam in turn had to be convinced by Chavah; neither would have sinned on their own. The snake, identified with the Satan, was instead of their evil inclination.

These two ideas merge quite beautifully. (Ibid. vol 2 pp. 139-140) Before eating the fruit, a person had no Evil Inclination. He had no motivation to sin. It was only the intervention of an outside force that lead him to sin. It was, therefore, the task of this outsider to convince the person that what is in reality evil, is good. Then, the person’s job would be to ascertain the truth. Before the Fall, he only had a desire to do good, but that does not mean he always knew what good was. This is the Rambam’s model of truth vs. falsehood.

The snake did not simply mislead Chavah the same way one who causes the masses today would. Today the misleader has help, everyone has some internal inclination to do what is wrong. At that time, Chavah did not yet have one. For this reason, the Torah did not just use the word “hitah” -- “made me err”, or “hechta” -- “made me sin”. The word used is “hisi’ani”, “he made me get carried.” Just as the object getting carried is moving through the volition of the carrier, here too, the jump from good to evil was that of the snake. The snake chose a falsehood that caused her to make the evil choice in error -- Chavah herself at this point would only choose what she thought was good. The language is unique because the case was unique.

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  • Thank you for your answer. There's a difficulty, as the simple reading of 3:5, ".. and you will be like divine beings .." and 3:6, ".. saw that the tree was good for eating .." seem to imply desire and jealousy. Even if Chava thought that it was true that she would not die from eating its fruit, she knew that G-d had commanded her not to, so it would be His will.
    – treenuts15
    Feb 20 at 3:11

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