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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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    Where in the Hebrew Bible does it mention that Adam sinned by eating of the fruit? I'm looking for the actual word of sin.
    – Aaron
    Jul 18, 2023 at 20:13

5 Answers 5

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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, 2022 at 3:11
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This is actually a very profound question, and there is a line of thought that they never "sinned". They might have "missed the target" (חטא), but in fact they made a valid decision, one that Hashem was glad they made, i.e. to descend to the lowest world and accept Hashem's mission to fix it.

This answer, of course, leads to many more questions. This line of thought comes from Chabad Rebbeim, over many discourses. The most general and basic source is a ma'amar from the Rebbe Rayatz in ד״ה על כן יאמרו המושלים תרצ״א, and explained at length in באתי לגני תשל״א. See also Likkutei Sichos Vol. 25 Bereshit Sicha 3, p.g. 14-18.

Rabbi Manis Friedman gives this over in many lectures on his YouTube channel, as well as Rabbi Yoni Katz's channel, including this video, which will go some way to clarifying the topic and deal with some of the questions that come up.

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  • You are correct that this question is profound (and misunderstood by many). There was a definite transgression (please see the answer that I posted). This is the basis for the concept of Payment and Penalty/Fining (שכר ועונש). The teaching of Chabad is not so much the idea that they didn't transgress, but that the process of transgression by Adam was recorded in the Torah prior to his having been created or transgressing. This means that it was determined according to G-d's will prior to Creation and was not a matter of choice by Adam. Jul 18, 2023 at 16:42
  • @YaacovDeane thanks for clarifying!
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jul 18, 2023 at 17:31
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The tree doesn't give sentient life the ability to do good or bad, the tree gives them an understanding of what is good or bad. The Torah tells us that the animals were able to eat from the tree, and Arbarbanel makes this explicit. Abarbanel says the serpent didn't actually talk but rather Eve saw the serpent eat the fruit from the tree every day with no ill effects. Personally I believe the snake did talk, because when it speaks it certainly gives the impression that it has eaten the fruit and knows the difference between good and evil. I also am of the opinion that the Torah views all "animals of the field" as having eaten the fruit, because Bilam's donkey certainly displays a nuanced view of morality.

But also keep in mind what God said. He warned Adam that if they ate from it they would die. This is not frame in scripture as a moral issue, the word sin is never mentioned in the warning. Contrast that to Cain and Abel where God tells Cain that sin is crouching at the door. Cain and Abel is actually the first instance in which the knowledge of Good and Evil is coming to fruition, it's the first moral issue in scripture. You see God speaks to Cain to let him know sin waits at the door and he can choose to do good.

Contrast that to God warning Adam about the fruit and saying he will die if he eats it. That's more like if I tell my daughter "Don't cross the street without me because you could get hit by a car and die." My daughter is not going to view my commandment as a moral issue, she will view it as a personal safety issue. I base this opinion on how God reacts to the situation after the fruit has been eaten. God doesn't kick Adam and Eve out for eating the fruit. God kicks them out because they may now eat from the tree of life, and so the future decisions they make are a real danger that God is wanting to avoid, not the issue of having eaten from the tree itself. And we then see what pans out with Cain and Abel, and those issues seem to be the issues God wants to avoid.

Scripture seems to be giving the impression that Adam and Eve can do what they want, but they won't know the good or evil behind why they do what they want. They may be naked all day, but they don't know what moral value being naked is, whether it could be good or bad.

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    Could you please provide a specific citation where Abarbanel states that the Nachash didn't talk. The written Torah, Bereshit 3:1 states explicitly that the Nachash spoke to Chava. Jul 18, 2023 at 16:13
  • @YaacovDeane It's hard to quote the Arbarbanel directly because of the way he writes. But I remember reading him and he went through and rejected the idea of the snake talking because the snakes speech is not removed in the curses. And his point being the biggest punishment in his opinion would be the removal of speech, so the fact that God doesnt mention removing the ability to speak is one of his proofs that the serpent never spoke to begin with
    – Aaron
    Jul 18, 2023 at 17:38
  • I've been through the Abarbanel's commentary fairly carefully on this episode and I do not recall him saying anything about the Nachash not speaking or being unable to speak. In truth, the individual called "Nachash" was a pre-human (pre-Adamic) ancestor from the Hivites. This is also in keeping with the Targum Onkelos and many others. For details and source citations see the following link starting at the paragraph saying, "The Nachash was among the land dwelling creatures..." judaism.stackexchange.com/a/133804/7303 Jul 18, 2023 at 17:51
  • @YaacovDeane I wasn't able to find the source in Hebrew but this article brings up the 4th point which is the point I'm discussing: blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-speech-of-the-serpent
    – Aaron
    Jul 18, 2023 at 18:54
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    @YaacovDeane Personally I first learned the 4th opinion of Abarbanel and found it pretty convincing as an argument. I found it in Hal Miller's translation of Abarbanel into English. But later I found the opinion of the Moshav Z'keinim that all animals spoke until all languages were confused in the generation of the tower of Babel. They unknowingly answered Abarbanel's issue of saying "where does scripture mention removing the serpent's ability to talk" by saying scripture mentions it later when all languages were confused, implying the serpent and all animals kept talking post garden.
    – Aaron
    Jul 18, 2023 at 20:05
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The transgression of Adam was that he added to G-d's commandment as a religious obligation when he taught his wife what G-d had commanded (See Bereshit 2:16-17) concerning the prohibition of eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Which says:

וַיְצַו֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהִ֔ים עַל־הָֽאָדָ֖ם לֵאמֹ֑ר מִכֹּ֥ל עֵֽץ־הַגָּ֖ן אָכֹ֥ל תֹּאכֵֽל׃ וּמֵעֵ֗ץ הַדַּ֙עַת֙ ט֣וֹב וָרָ֔ע לֹ֥א תֹאכַ֖ל מִמֶּ֑נּוּ כִּ֗י בְּי֛וֹם אֲכׇלְךָ֥ מִמֶּ֖נּוּ מ֥וֹת תָּמֽוּת׃

He taught her, however, not to eat, nor to touch. This is exactly what is reported in the written Torah in the discussion between the Nachash and Chava (Bereshit 3:2-3) when the Nachash asked Chava, "Isn't it so that G-d said you will not eat from every tree of the garden?".

The woman replied to the serpent, “We may eat of the trees of the garden. It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said:You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die.

For any Noahide, adding to any of G-d's commandments as a religious obligation is prohibited. The actual transgression was when Adam taught Chava in an unqualified manner, that you shall not touch it.

See the website: AskNoah and The Divine Code, Part 1, Chapter 3:6 by Rabbi Moshe Weiner for a thorough discussion of this concept.

  1. If a Gentile wants to do one of the other commandments from the Torah [beyond the 7 Noahide Commandments] in order to receive a practical benefit [for himself or for society] (but not as a direct commandment), [he should not be prevented] from doing so, even according to its correct laws for Jews (for example, if he desires to tithe for [proper] charity from his money or produce)… However, if a Gentile observes any of the Jewish commandments from the Torah as a religious obligation (even if he does so from a desire to receive a spiritual reward), this is forbidden based on the prohibition of adding a commandment, and there is no spiritual reward to be derived from this.

It should be emphasized that this is to distinguish from the idea that a Noahide is permitted to add a fence to one of G-d's prohibitions. This is the concept of making a safeguard so as to avoid transgressing something which G-d prohibited.

They cannot say that the extension, the fence, was commanded by G-d, but that it is merely a precautionary additional stringency that they have taken on voluntarily.

As a consequence, they were exiled from the Garden of Eden and death was decreed for all who followed him.

This is like we learn from Avtalion in Avot 1:11.

Avtalion used to say: Sages be careful with your words, lest you incur the penalty of exile, and be carried off to a place of evil waters, and the disciples who follow you drink and die, and thus the name of heaven becomes profaned.

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