The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 20:2) notes that Hashem asked Adam why he ate the fruit, and he answered it was because Chavah told him it was good, and he succumbed. He then asked Chavah why she ate, and she said it's because she listened to the snake. Without letting the snake defend itself, Hashem cursed the snake. Why? Because the snake could have gotten off the hook by claiming "divrei haRav v'divrei hatalmid, divrei mi shom'in" - you, Chavah, should have listened to Hashem, not me. I had no role in your sin; you succumbed to your own Yetzer Hara. It's all your fault.

Now, the snake's not wrong. Divrei HaRav is a valid claim. So why didn't Hashem let the snake defend itself?

עם אדם נשא ונתן, עם חוה נשא ונתן, ועם נחש לא נשא ונתן?! אלא, אמר הקב"ה: נחש זה רשע בעל תשובות, ואם אומר אני לו, עכשיו הוא אומר לי: אתה צוית אותם ואני צויתי אותם, מפני מה הניחו צוייך והלכו להם אחר צוויי?! אלא, קפץ עליו ופסקו ויאמר ה׳ אל הנחש וגו

With Adam He discussed, and with Chavah He discussed, but with the snake He did not discuss?! Rather, Hashem said, "This snake is wicked and is a master of responses. If I talk to him, he'll answer, "You commanded them and I commanded them. Why should they put aside your commandment and go after mine?!" Rather, Hashem cut Him off and said...

As Fred pointed out, the Gemara in Sanhedrin 29a, when discussing this point, says that the reason Hashem didnt talk with the snake isn't because he didn't let the snake talk, but because the snake didn't feel like it. The Midrash, however, clearly says that the reason Hashem didn't let the snake talk is because of the above reason. So, problem #2: Why didn't the Midrash and Gemara give the same explanation?

  • The gemara doesn't say that HaShem didn't let the snake defend itself; it says the snake didn't take the initiative to defend itself ("דא"ר שמלאי הרבה טענות היה לו לנחש לטעון ולא טען. ומפני מה לא טען לו הקב"ה? לפי שלא טען הוא"). | Also, note Tosafos (s.v. "דברי הרב") that "you shouldn't have listened to me" is not generally a valid excuse for an inciter.
    – Fred
    Aug 17, 2016 at 23:14
  • @Fred You are absolutely correct. I meant to ask on the Midrash on the passuk.
    – DonielF
    Aug 18, 2016 at 0:11
  • 1
    The second question is wrong - as @Fred pointed out, the Gemara didn't say HaShem didn't let the snake defend itself - only that He didn't intervene and argue on it's behalf. It could very well be that He gave the nachash a chance to defend itself, but the nachash couldn't think of anything to say. So there aren't differing explanations for what happened; they are different accounts altogether.
    – Jay
    Aug 18, 2016 at 0:26
  • 1
    I believe the third question is incorrect as well - Tosfos there says explicitly that the nachash was different because it wasn't commanded not to instigate, so divrei harav would indeed have applied.
    – Jay
    Aug 18, 2016 at 0:33
  • @Jay You are correct. I misspoke. I reworded my question accordingly. And I didn't get a chance to look at that Tosfos inside; I'll take your word for it.
    – DonielF
    Aug 18, 2016 at 3:56

1 Answer 1


The Matnos Kehunah, commenting on that Midrash, says that Hashem did so because since Adam and Chava were going to be punished, it wouldn't be right that the one who caused them to sin should be exonerated while they suffer.

  • This still doesn't answer the question. We have a valid sevarah. Why don't we say this in any case of divrei harav?
    – DonielF
    Apr 6, 2017 at 18:38
  • @DonielF as I noted in my last comment to the question, Tosfos explicitly addresses the difference between the nachash and a regular case of instigating a sin: the nachash wasn't forbidden to cause others to sin, so he could have claimed divrei harav. We however ARE commanded not to cause others to sin, so divrei harav is not a valid excuse.
    – Jay
    Apr 6, 2017 at 18:55
  • Except that Divrei Harav is an excuse for us. Ein shliach ledevar aveirah, usually.
    – DonielF
    Apr 6, 2017 at 19:06
  • @DonielF No, it is not. Ein shliach just means that the shliach's aveirah is not attributed to the meshaleiach, and the shlichus is nullified. But there is another aveirah - that of instigating others to sin - which Divrei Harav can't take away.
    – Jay
    Apr 6, 2017 at 19:45
  • @DonielF Now to be honest, I'm not sure if everyone agrees that the prohibition to entice others to sin applies outside of idolatry (it's not punishable outside of idolatry), but it doesn't really matter for the purposes of this discussion; whatever its parameters are, Tosfos is saying that divrei harav won't help wherever said prohibition applies.
    – Jay
    Apr 6, 2017 at 20:59

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .