Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Bereishit: Three paths to sin

Another dvar torah i wrote for homiletics a few years back...
This sparked several comments when I first delivered it, so I expect I may annoy some people with this this time around. Comments welcome:

[Genesis 2:16:17]
Vaytzav Hashem Elokim al-HaUdum laimor, mikol etz-hagun uchol tochel. Oomeetz hadaas tov vuru lo sochal mimenoo, ki biyom achulchu mimenoo mos tamoos.

“Hashem commanded upon the Man, saying: Of every tree in the garden you may freely eat. But of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and evil you shall not eat of it, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Yet, a few psukim later, [Genesis 3:6]

Vattikach mipiryo vattochal, vattitten gam li-ishah (mapik), eemah (mapik) vayyochal.

And she took from its fruit and she ate, and she gave also to her husband with her and he ate.

What could possibly have motivated Adam and Chava, the very first humans and the very purpose of Creation, to eat from the Etz HaDaas, in direct violation of God’s command? This week’s Parasha, Parashas Beraishis, lends insight into the question of what makes humans sin and turn from the path they know to be proper. In the parasha, Hashem creates Heaven and Earth, Light and Darkness, Waters, which he separates to be above and below the firmament, and Land and Sea. He creates plants, the Heavenly spheres, fowl, animals, and fish. Finally, He creates humanity, placing Adam in the Garden of Eden and creating Chava from Adam. Hashem places them in a Garden Paradise and issues only one proscription: they may not eat from the Etz HaDaas, The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Yet, Adam and Chava eat from the etz, and Hashem, in his Infinite Mercy, does not kill them on that day. They are cursed and are sent out from the Garden. A possible explanation for why Adam was only sent out from the garden and not actually killed is that Hashem utilized the Rabbinic principle of shlucho shel Adam kimoso … or … the sending out of Adam is like his death. However, most miforshim do not offer this explanation.

At any rate, this story is difficult to comprehend. Adam and Chava are tzadikim, created by God Himself, in the image of God. Adam heard the command directly from God’s mouth and knew that eating the fruit brought about Death. Furthermore, they could eat from any other tree in the garden. It is difficult to understand why they would sin, yet the snake convinces Chava to eat, and Chava somehow manages to get her husband to eat the fruit as well.

There is a machlokes among Chazal about this question of why Adam sinned. Chazal also discuss why Chava sinned, but I will focus now only on Adam.

Beraishis Rabba Parasha Yud-Tes: Siman Heh (19:5) and Parasha Chuf Siman Ches (20:8) relate a three-way dispute as to why Adam ate from the tree. They have interesting insights into Adam’s motivations in sinning, all of which are derived from a close reading of the text of parashas beraishis.

Rabbi Aivu quotes the above pasuk: vattitten gam li-ishah (mapik), eemah (mapik) vayyochal. and she gave also to her husband with her and he ate. Rabbi Aivu derives from the pasuk that he ate because she gave it to him. He says,
Suhchatuh Anuhvim vinuhsinu lo.
The etz hadaas was a grape vine, and Chava squeezed the grapes into grape juice and gave it to him. Thus, he did not know that he was partaking of the forbidden fruit and was therefore acting either out of shogeg or peshiah.

Rav Aivu thus takes the words vattitten gam li-ishah, and she gave also to her husband, as the reason for Adam’s sin. He just ate what she gave him, and did not know it was the etz hadaas. Thus, when Hashem reprimands him, he defends himself.

Vayyomer hu-udum hu-ishu asher nusatu eemudee, hee nusinu-li min-hu-etz vu-ochel.
I just ate what my wife gave me to eat, which happened to be from the etz hadaas.

In contrast, Rabbi Simlai quotes beraishit 3:17 (gimmel, yud-zayin), where Hashem says he will punish Adam Ki shumatu likol ishtechu, vatochal min-hu-etz, “because you listened to the voice of your wife and ate from the fruit.” Listening to the voice of someone generally means listening to an argument put forth by that person and agreeing to the validity of his or her argument. Thus, according to Rabbi Simlai, this pasuk implies that Chava presented a compelling argument to Adam, and Adam, persuaded by her argument, ate the fruit.

What was her argument?

Rabbi Simlai said She came upon him with her answers all ready, saying to him: “What do you think –that I will die and another Chava will be created for you? Ain kol-chudush tachas ha-shumesh. There is nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9) Or do you think that I will die while you remain alone? Lo sohoo viru-u, lu-sheves yi-tzu-ru. He created it not a waste, He formed it to be inhabited. (Isa 45, 18)

How did Rabbi Simlai know that this specifically was Chava’s argument? I would suggest that he derives her words from the strange phrasing of the pasuk: vattitten gam li-ishuh (mapik), eemuh (mapik) vayyochal. and she gave also to her husband with her and he ate, This could also be read:

Vattiten: and she gave the following argument. Gam Li-Eeshuh: also to her husband – The question: do you think there will be Gam Li-Eeshuh also to her husband another Chava? Secondly, Imuh: with her. The fact that Chava was created is proof that Man was not intended to be alone, but rather with his wife, so do you think that you will or should be alone?

Finally, the Chachamim disagree with Rabbi Simlai’s understanding of the pasuk Ki shumatu likol ishtechu vatochal min-hu-etz: Rabbi Simlai posited that shumatu likol ishtechu meant listening to Chava’s words, but if so, the pasuk should have said Ki shumatu lidivray ishtechu. Kol implies voice, not words, so the Chachamim claim that Chava began weeping and crying to him until he ate from the etz.

The Tiferes Tzion claims that Rabbi Aivu, Rabbi Simlai, and the Chachamim are all correct. First Chava tried to trick Adam, but he suspected her trick and wouldn’t drink. Then, she admitted that it was the etz hadaas and argued with him to convince him that eating the etz hadaas was the proper course of action. Finally, when she saw that she could not convince him, she started crying, shouting at him, and making a scene until Adam could not stand it anymore and partook of the etz hadaas.

While he makes an admirable attempt to create Elu VeElu Divray Elokim Chayim, to claim that all three opinions are correct historically, the Tiferes Tzion is almost certainly incorrect. Each Man DiUmar says what he says based on a verse, which he interprets to mean that this is the reason that Adam ate, NOT that this was an occurrence that happened before Adam ate from the etz but was not actually the reason he ate from it. Furthermore, Rabbi Simlai and the Chachamim argue about the meaning of the word kol, with the Chachamim giving a specific reason why the meaning of the pasuk is NOT that Adam listened to the argument of his wife. The Tiferes Tzion manufactures a fourth account with which none of the three would agree.

However, each of these three opinions are valid and important in that they lend insight into the question of what trap Adam HaRishon fell into, and more generally, how one can fall into sin. This lesson is important enough for the Torah to mention the story and then add extra or awkward words, so that we may darshan Adam’s motivation. Each mon diumar felt that the Torah was trying to warn us of a particular trap, and even if this was not actually why Adam sinned or what the Torah was trying to tell us, Chazal considered it enough of an ensnarement to be the cause of Adam’s sin. And, if a tzadik like Adam can make the mistake, certainly we must be wary of the same trap.

Let us reexamine the three opinions. Rabbi Aivu claimed that Chava squeezed the grapes into grape juice, and Adam unwittingly partook of the Etz HaDaas. Even though he should have been able to trust Chava, he is punished. Hashem himself gave this mitzvah to Adam, and the punishment was Death. Adam should have gone out of his way to verify that everything that entered his mouth was not from the Etz HaDaas. He did not give the proper chavivus to the mitzvah, and did not treat it with the trepidation it deserved. Therefore, it is regarded as pshiah, neglect of the mitzvah, and he is punished, though perhaps the replacement of exile for immediate death is a result of his being a shogeg. (Skip: This would accord with another midrash which states that God decided to treat Adam as similar to one who kills beshogeg, who gets exiled to a city of refuge instead of death.)

We must also be careful to treat mitzvos with the trepidation that they deserve. Sure, we check the hechsher before we eat a piece of food, but do we always check to see that our tzitzis are kosher before we put them on, in fear of violating a Biblical mitzvah to have tzitzis on any four cornered garment that we wear? Do we check our mezuzos and tefillin periodically to ascertain that they are still kosher? Do we watch television shows on channels that we know may place before our eyes inappropriate imagery during a show or a commercial? If we truly feared sin, we would take drastic measures to distance ourselves from it.

Rabbi Simlai claimed that Adam knew that it was the Etz HaDaas, whose consumption Hashem had proscribed. However, Chava presented arguments convincing him that violating Hashem’s Word was actually the righteous course of action. Thus, the second trap is rationalization. Not only is the human mind capable of manufacturing a moreh heter that it is not the worst thing in the world to do something, it can even produce a reason why what we are doing is a Mitzvah! We can convince ourselves about ra that it is tov and about tov that it is ra. Thus, we are to be a Light Unto the Nations, and we are supposed to be compassionate, so we can champion abortion rights and gay rights, even though the Torah does not condone abortion nor homosexuality. Furthermore, we then claim that this is the Jewish perspective.

Finally, the Chachamim claimed that Adam ate the fruit because Chava began to cry. He felt sympathy and empathy for Chava, and compromised halachah as a result. While it is a Torah ideal to have rachmanus, and not to hurt people’s feelings, this does not supersede the prohibitions in the Torah. For example, if you are invited to a meal by a close friend or close relative who does not keep kosher to the proper standards, you should not eat at his house for fear that you will make him feel bad. Try to decline as tactfully as you can. Empathy and sympathy have their place, but they cannot supersede halacha.

Thus, Chazal have highlighted these three pitfalls – negligence, rationalization, and sympathy. Now that we know these pitfalls, we should studiously avoid them.

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