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Most interpretations of the Garden narrative treat Adam and Even as protagonists, and the serpent as the antagonist. I am interested here in interpretations that flip some roles. As one example, I heard Rabbi Manis Friedman say that Eve actually knew Hashem wanted a dwelling in the lowest world, so when Eve ate the fruit, it was for holy reasons, and she even told Adam beforehand that Hashem wanted them to do this. Otherwise, Rabbi Friedman said Eve would have been named the Mother of death, not Mother of the living.

However, he didn't give proofs, so I couldn't form an opinion. But akin to that "counter-intuitive" interpretation, what are also some positive interpretations about the "serpent" (of Bereshit 3)? For example, if the more commonly made correlations within Bereshit are man to Jacob, and the serpent to Esau, I am interested in interpretations where the serpent can instead be correlated to Jacob (or Israel), and the man to Esau. (Verse-dependent, of course). For example, in some commentaries Jacob is called a holy serpent; Jacob grabs Esau's heel (Bereshit 25:26) and the serpent bruises heels (Bereshit 3:15); Jacob is also subtle. I don't want to make the question long so I'll stop there.

Edit: one comment that was deleted said the Rabbi Friedman interpretation of Eve eating for holy reasons is legitimate, based on a deeper teaching. Does anyone know the source of that teaching as well? (Since it is related, because if Eve's actions can be seen holy, and the serpent motivated her to do that action, then that is one window through which to potentially see the serpent's actions as holy also).

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  • Also relevant and of interest: *Interpretations where serpent correlates to Israel, and Adam/the man to Jacob, not Esau. * Interpretations where there are multiple males and females, and or multiple serpents. For instance, starting at the level of Atzilut, there are four levels in Lurianic Kabbalah, so could we have 4 levels of each figure? Mar 17 at 8:08
  • I don't think many Rabbinic figures make the argument you are asking about. But I feel like I've raised a related question here: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/105872/…
    – Aaron
    Mar 17 at 17:44
  • @Aaron Ty I saw that. I cant say many but 2 Rabbis told me about this reading years ago. In Torah the 1st mention of anything is so to speak its root in Torah. "Serpent" first mention is Bereshit 3:1. Jacob = holy serpent. Supports reading both ways, although if anything, holiness has deeper roots to G-d than unholiness, since G-d's true essence is only goodness. User6591: heh, golden calf as protagonist? No way, but santa related to evil serpent? In a way..... But seriously, that is different, for many reasons, only the start of which is Jacob is not called holy santa or holy golden calf. Mar 17 at 22:39
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    Where did you here this from Rabbi Friedman? Is the class available online?
    – Harel13
    Mar 18 at 8:28
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    Would you call the angel of death, the yeser harah, and satan antagonists or protagonists? They are all one and the same according to rabbinic sources (Bava Bathra 16a). Which means that as a malakh it is an agent of the divine will. Its role is antagonistic to that of man's but is in fulfillment of its own divinely prescribed purpose (and thus can be seen as a protagonist). It all depends on what angle you are looking at it from. Mar 18 at 14:28

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First, the OP phrased its question: "What Rabbinic interpretations of the Garden of Eden narrative treat "the serpent" as more the protagonist, instead of the antagonist?"

The OP's choice of words seems to say that the questioner has already made the conclusion that there must be certain interpretations; and we just need to ask who out there knows of them?

A Torah scholar seeking truth should rather phrase it:

Are there any interpretations of the garden etc..."?

We should ask in a way that the question shows we are willing to accept the possible fact that no Rabbis ever interpreted the story in that particular way at all.

Second, if someone wishes to answer that there are no such interpretations by the Rabbis about Adam Eve and the Snake, The OP could then say: Prove It !, And no one could prove it unless they can claim photographic memory of everything every Rabbi ever said and claim the OP's interpretation is not in there.

So I will respond by saying that I have attended Orthodox Jewish religious schools since I was a boy and have learned quite a lot on that chapter in Bereshis. I am a Rabbi and I am 48 years old. I have not been able to recall having ever seen or heard anything the OP is looking for about the Snake being the protagonist etc.

In fact, it smacks of a completely non-Torah concept which might be applied to scholarship concerning Greek Mythology, but not the Torah of Israel.

The Torah teaches moral lessons and when those are taught in a "story" form, it is consistent in that the characters of those stories if portrayed as good, are good... and if evil are evil. They do not switch around roles.

What they could do is be made to show that the good guy is sometimes challenged by evil and the bad guy also has measures of goodness about him. IOW, sometimes characters in the Tanach are 3 dimensional and have aspects to their person that is not always 100% black and white.

However, this does not mean that a protagonist will flip and become the antagonist etc.

For instance:

Cain killed his brother Abel. Cain is the antagonist because he is in fact a foul murderer and Abel is an innocent victim or the protagonist. Thats all. No switching or secret teachings or symbolisms etc.

However, there is an opinion among the Rabbinic works (Medrash) which explains that Abel was subject to Cain's attack because Abel needlessly caused his brother to be jealous of him.

But even according to this "interpretation", Cain is still a murderer, and still wrong, 100%. The Medrash is simply trying to present a reason why Abel might not have merited protection. Even so, he is still the righteous victim in the story. That cannot change.

This type of question from the OP, is actually dangerous as well.

Certain outcast groups in Jewish history thought along these lines. for instance, the Frankists (offshoot followers of Shabatai Tzvi the false Messiah active in the late 16 - 1700's etc.), held a belief that since G-d loves repentance, it is actually a good idea to sin terribly so that you can repent and please G-d.

Of course that is total insanity, but it is an example of what happens when someone "flips" tenets of Judaism just to experiment with mysticism. It is dangerous nonesense.

Torah and Judaism are not novels open to free interpretation. No one should approach it as if every opinion is valid and respected. Its not so. Only real Torah scholars with real sources may make comment and teach Torah thought. This is especially true when someone raises the banner of "Kabbalah" etc.

Judaism and Torah thought are made to be based upon real tradition and well defined attitudes, so Jews can follow the truth without doubt and without thinking that every whim is another truth.

It may sound boring but it has integrity. If we were to allow the OP its fullest conclusion, then anyone could identify with Esau or Laban or Pharoah or other evil characters in the Torah, and make them somehow the protagonist. Eventually, that person would not know right from wrong and justify their evil choices in life by saying that they follow some flipped interpretation of a Torah story.

That would be a disaster. Lets keep things straight and simple... and True. :)

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  • While I wouldn't necessarily that Esav and Haman and other evil people may be portrayed as protagonists, there is a view in Chassidut that they too have kernels of light in them and aren't 100% darkness.
    – Harel13
    Mar 18 at 8:25
  • @Harel13 I think I said that in the answer. Mar 18 at 14:47
  • Okay, I missed that. Though I don't think the Kayin and Hevel example is a good one.
    – Harel13
    Mar 18 at 14:57
  • @DavidKenner David, I phrased the question this way bc Rabbis have told me this interpretation before, I just dont know sources. They seemed apprehensive about sharing it.. I think it might have something to do with the fact there are, as u said, lots of idolatrous teachings that twist this and make it something satanic. Plus we're so used to the Christian association of the serpent with Satan, & Satan being an enemy of G-d, that I think they were apprehensive for that reason because saying the serpent relates to Jacob and Moshiach could be twisted like they're saying Jacob & Moshiach = satan. Mar 22 at 4:59
  • @DavidKenner (2/2) Maybe in the future I will have an opportunity to ask them for sources, but I wouldnt count on it. It's a long story, but I think they shared all that they intended to. As you know, in various Kabbalah texts they mention one teaching for certain high up Rabbis and students, and one teaching for everyone else. Certain texts encourage Rabbis to keep secrets from most people. So... they shared enough for me to get started, and discover more on my own, but no sources. It's possible this interpretation is not taught in your movement, or that it's kept secret from most people. Mar 22 at 5:04

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