The Sforno on Bereishis 3:1 explains that the Nachash, snake, is not an actual snake but is rather the Satan/Yetzer Harah. With that in mind, what does the Sforno do with the curse Hashem gives the snake? If I am reading the Sforno correctly on Bereishis 3:14, he implies that the curse fits that of an actual snake. Why the change? Am I misunderstanding one of his Perushim?

  • The Abarbanel (Abravanel) also understands that the verses are not discussing the physical/animal snake. I'm not sure how he explains the curse but it might be applicable to the Sforno's line of explanation.
    – Gavriel
    Nov 15, 2014 at 19:07
  • @Gavriel the abarbanel. In the one I read, he explicitly states that the snake was... A snake Dec 22, 2014 at 18:36
  • @Matt Oh... maybe I'm quoting the wrong person. If I remember correctly the Abarbanel gave multiple explanations.
    – Gavriel
    Dec 22, 2014 at 19:12
  • @Gavriel he did but rejected this one for the very reason asked here (as does the Ibn Ezra) Dec 22, 2014 at 19:16

1 Answer 1


In line with the his understanding of the snake as symbolic of the evil inclination (Gen. 3:1), the Sforno interprets the curse of the snake as symbolic of a person's plight in life (as affected by Adam's succumbing to the evil inclination).

Sforno Gen. 3:14

ארור אתה מכל. שישיג תאוותיו וצרכיו בצער ובחסרון תענוג יותר מכל שאר בעלי חיים, כאמרם ראית חיה ועוף שהם בני אומנות, והם מתפרנסים שלא בצער (קידושין פב א). ופירש זה באמרו

More cursed shall you be - He will attain his desires and needs in pain and with less pleasure than all other animals, as (Hazal) say, "Have you ever seen a beast or bird with a craft, yet they are sustained without anxiety" (Kidduishin 82a). And this He explains -

על גחונך תלך. שתשיג מזונותיך בצער כאמרם שהרעותי מעשי וקפחתי את פרנסתי (שם), ואמרו כמה טרחות טרח אדם הראשון עד שלא אכל פת (ברכות נח א)

On your belly shall you crawl - You [man] will attain your food in pain, as (Hazal) say, "Because I have acted evilly and destroyed my livelihood" (ibid.) and they said, "What labors Adam had to carry out before he obtained bread to eat" (Brakhot 58a)

ועפר תאכל. שלא תשיג את התענוג שהיה לך קודם החטא במאכל ובמשתה ובמשגל, כמו שקרה לישראל בחטאם, כאמרם הטהרה נטלה את הטעם ואת הריח, (והמעשרות נטלו את שומן הדגן (סוטא מח א

And dust shall you eat - You [man] will no longer attain the enjoyment that you experienced before the sin regarding food, drink, and sex - like what happened when Israel sinned. As (Hazal) say, "Purity removed the taste and fragrance and tithing removed the fat of the grain" (Sotah 49a)

Sforno's innovation is that the suffering of the snake is a metaphor for the difficulties people experience in living. This is then in line with his symbolic figuring of the snake in Genesis.

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