Parshas Bereishis (5777)
ADAM AND EVE: THE ORIGINAL “ADAM’S FAMILY” Most of you are familiar with the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. In a nutshell, G-d commands Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Along comes the serpent and convinces Eve to eat from it. She then gives it to her husband to eat as well. When G-d asks Adam why he ate from the forbidden fruit, he blames it on his wife, who in turn blames it on the serpent. G-d then punishes the serpent and Adam and Eve for their actions (see Genesis 3:1-24).
Now it’s one thing to learn this story as a child in Hebrew School where Adam and Eve – whom I like to call the original “Adam’s Family” - are often portrayed as if they were like any other typical (dysfunctional) family where the husband messes up and blames his wife for his mistake, or vice-versa.
But we’re not in Hebrew School anymore, and the story doesn’t add up. You see, Adam and Eve were not at all like the yokels in the Addams Family TV show (remember Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester and Lurch?). After all, they were created by G-d Himself Who placed them in the utopian Garden of Eden and Who communicated with them just as He did with all the great prophets of history.
Adam and Eve were no fools. They were towering personalities on an incredibly high spiritual level. So how are we to understand Adam’s response when G-d asks him why he ate from the fruit: “The man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me – she gave me of the tree, and I ate’” (ibid 3:12).
Adam knew he was talking to G-d – so how could he offer such a lame and seemingly juvenile excuse for transgressing G-d’s commandment? “My wife made me do it!” He almost sounds like my kids when I ask them why they did something they were not supposed to do: “It’s not my fault! She made me do it!” But Adam was no kid. So how are we to understand his response?
What’s even more difficult to understand is the apparent lack of gratitude that Adam displayed when he said to G-d “the woman whom You gave to be with me”. How could such a spiritually elevated person like Adam be so ungrateful for the wonderful woman that G-d created to be with him? It just doesn’t add up!
[It is interesting to note the commentary of the Baal HaTurim.on this verse. He points out that since ‘the tree’ was already the subject of conversation – G-d had asked Adam ‘Have you eaten from the tree…?’ – Adam should have said in his reply merely from ‘it’. He therefore interprets ‘the tree’ to mean ‘the stick’ and suggests that in its literal sense the verse means: ‘She beat me with a stick until I ate’.]
Rabbi Chaim ben Attar (1696-1743), in his popular commentary Ohr HaChayim on the Bible, offers a beautiful interpretation of Adam’s words in a way that helps us to better understand Adam’s defense of his actions before G-d.
He writes that Adam was telling G-d: “You are the One Who gave this woman to be with me, i.e. You were the Shadchan (matchmaker) Who introduced my wife Eve to me, so You obviously think very highly of her. I therefore trusted that whatever food she placed in front of me would be 100% ‘kosher’. After all, was I supposed to check from which tree she took the fruit? I relied on the fact that You suggested her as a match for me and had no idea that I was eating forbidden fruit!”
According to this interpretation, says the Ohr HaChayim, Adam was not primarily blamed for eating the forbidden fruit, because he was unaware at the time that the fruit he was eating was of the forbidden tree. Rather, he was accused of ‘listening to the voice of his wife’ (see verse 17 where G-d says to Adam, “Because you listened to the voice of your wife…”), i.e. for accepting his wife’s offer of the fruit without investigation, even though he trusted her. He made an error in judgment by succumbing to her ‘voice’ when she said ‘eat this fruit’, without first checking which tree it came from.
[The Ohr HaChayim (in his commentary to Genesis 3:6) offers a defense of Eve’s actions as well. He writes that whereas later generations of Tzaddikim (righteous men and women) were extremely careful not to fall prey to the enticements of the Yetzer Hara (the “Evil Inclination”) - that negative force implanted within us whose purpose it is to get us to sin and rebel against G-d - Eve was simply not aware that such a force even existed. Had she known about the Yetzer Hara, as embodied by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, she would no doubt have steered far away from it and would never have sinned.]
I believe the “take home” message here is that we need to learn the Bible and study its many laws and stories on a different level than we did in Hebrew School. The Torah is incredibly deep and has been studied for the past 3300 years by some of the greatest minds in history. So the next time we open the Bible and read a story that sounds juvenile and silly, let’s pause for a moment and remember that there is likely a lot more to the story than meets the eye. All it takes is a little patience and a few good commentaries. Happy reading!