Monday, October 01, 2007

parshat Bereishit: The Snake's Punishment

I have previously explained the metaphorical meaning of much of the story in Gan Eden. Still, some will contest that there is no cause to assume that this is metaphorical rather than historical (and then will proceed to reject it on historical/scientific grounds). But the analysis of literature, and such determinations, are in the realm of art rather than mathematics or science. It is difficult to bring concrete proofs as to the shift in theme and tone, such that I do not have real hope of convincing such people, if they do not see it.

Regardless, I want to expand here on the snake's "punishment." Just as by Adam and Chava, its punishment seems to set up its status, its role in life, and its physical condition. The story reminds me of a children's story I read when I was much younger, about how the giraffe got its long neck, a story with many variants. The one I read had an alligator grab the head of the giraffe and the giraffe pulled away to escape, stretching its neck. So too here, the snake originally had arms and legs, but because of tempting Eve, he was condemned to crawl on his belly and eat dirt. It seems like an origin myth of the same sort.

However, reading the story as metaphor, the snake plays the role of tempter, the yetzer hara, which is full of guile.

From Bereishit 3:
יג וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים לָאִשָּׁה, מַה-זֹּאת עָשִׂית; וַתֹּאמֶר, הָאִשָּׁה, הַנָּחָשׁ הִשִּׁיאַנִי, וָאֹכֵל. 13 And the LORD God said unto the woman: 'What is this thou hast done?' And the woman said: 'The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.'
יד וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶל-הַנָּחָשׁ, כִּי עָשִׂיתָ זֹּאת, אָרוּר אַתָּה מִכָּל-הַבְּהֵמָה, וּמִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה; עַל-גְּחֹנְךָ תֵלֵךְ, וְעָפָר תֹּאכַל כָּל-יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ. 14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent: 'Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou from among all cattle, and from among all beasts of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.
טו וְאֵיבָה אָשִׁית, בֵּינְךָ וּבֵין הָאִשָּׁה, וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ, וּבֵין זַרְעָהּ: הוּא יְשׁוּפְךָ רֹאשׁ, וְאַתָּה תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ עָקֵב. {ס} 15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; they shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise their heel.' {S}
Is there some metaphorical way we can read the serpent's "punishment." Indeed, I believe there is.

1) Originally, the serpent was more intelligent, more subtle, than all the beasts of the field. We are to think that sinning, and diverting from the path of Hashem, is clever and sublime. From the first pasuk in this perek:
א וְהַנָּחָשׁ, הָיָה עָרוּם, מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים; וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה, אַף כִּי-אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּן. 1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman: 'Yea, hath God said: Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?'

He was more subtle than any beast of the field, stressing which Hashem Elokim had made. Pervert those abilities to divert from the proper path, and this is what you get. It is instead, it is clearly a cursed path, and so the snake is now cursed of all beasts, because he has done this --אָרוּר אַתָּה מִכָּל-הַבְּהֵמָה, וּמִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה.

2) This temptation to sin means being directed by one's desires. Thus, one travels based on his belly -- עַל-גְּחֹנְךָ תֵלֵךְ.

3) Will this desire ever be satisfied? You have 100 zuz, you want 200. You have 200, you want 400. You eat the lowest of the low. Or, you move on your belly to fulfill your desires, but it tastes like dirt, in that you do not really enjoy it such that you are satisfied. Thus, עַל-גְּחֹנְךָ תֵלֵךְ, וְעָפָר תֹּאכַל כָּל-יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ

4) Humanity's role on earth is to say "No" to the serpent. Eve failed in this job, but over and over, every day, her descendants must struggle with their yetzer, the part of them that tempts them to sin. Eve's children must wage war with this yetzer. Thus, וְאֵיבָה אָשִׁית, בֵּינְךָ וּבֵין הָאִשָּׁה, וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ, וּבֵין זַרְעָהּ.

5) This eternal struggle is spelled out in the rest of the verse. Man tries to crush the desire underfoot, but the desire tries to cause him to stumble, to bite him on the heel. Thus, הוּא יְשׁוּפְךָ רֹאשׁ, וְאַתָּה תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ עָקֵב.

I further put forth that the above is not merely homiletics. Rather, if it is a parable, the explanation of the parable is actually pashut peshat.

1 comment:

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

here's a drash about the story of Adam, Hhava, and the Snake.


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