I. The Greatness of Adam
In order to understand a sin, one must understand the sinner. Moses – master of all prophets, most trusted in God’s universe, most humble of men – was denied the cherished goal of entering Eretz Israel because he hit the stone and chastised the people (Numbers 20:7-13). There are many differing explanations of the sin; the commentators themselves find it hard to explain how Moses’ deed and words were serious enough to merit so severe a punishment. Any understanding of the sin of Moses, as of any of the ancients, requires a realization that they were so great that their actions were measured by standards far above our own.
Who was Adam whose sin played such a pivotal role in the history and destiny of man?
“When he was created the angels erred (thinking he was a divine being) and wished to sing “Holy’ before him. (Midrash)
The very angels thought that Adam was a deity. They had no concept of what he really was. We cannot even imagine how exalted was his greatness – for, if the angels didn’t know, can we mortals hope to know?
Adam extended from the earth to the firmament…..from one end of the earth to the other (Chagigah 12a)
This statement of the Sages has a profound spiritual dimension. There was no facet of creation, from the most mundane to the most sublime, that Adam did not encompass. Nothing was hidden from him. No one ever comprehended better than Adam how each of his actions could determine the course of creation. The angels knew that, ultimately, it was not they who controlled him, but he who controlled them, for the Divine Will made the functioning of earth dependent upon the deeds of man.
Even after his sin and after death, the holiness of Adam was so awesome that the least significant part of his body, his heel, was as brilliant as the sun.
Having these barest insights into the greatness of Adam, we still know nothing of his awesome nature; it is sufficient to know that the distance between his loftiness and ourselves is like the distance between heaven and earth. Only in these terms can we hope to have a faint understanding of his sin. Surely, however, we cannot either understand it or learn from it to perfect our own puny selves unless we banish from our minds the foolish myth of ‘apples in Eden’.
The Talmud says, it is not the poisonous snake that kills, but the sin that kills (Berachos 33a). The snake, the bullet, the runaway auto, the disease – these are but the messengers that carry out a decree sealed by human misdeed. They are no more the cause of death than the white sheet pulled over the face of the expired patient.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in God and who makes God the source of his trust (Jeremiah 17:7).
Chidushei HaRim, a Polish Rabbi born in 1799, explains that the two halves of the verse are dependent upon one another: the more one trusts in God, the more God justifies his trust with the result that his trust in God continues to increase. Our greatest people found no difficulty in casting their lots for service of God without knowing where the next morning’s breakfast would come from. Indeed, Torah was given only to the generation that ate the manna. They learned in their everyday lives that they could live in a barren wilderness without fear, in secure confidence that God’s promise was their assurance of the next days sustenance. Only after developing such faith was Israel worthy of receiving the Torah.
Rabbi Kotzker, born in Poland in 1787, said, Torah greatness can be attained only when there is indifference to need for financial security. Torah is the wisdom of God; the Torah sage unites his own mind with the intelligence of the Creator. To the extent that he is concerned with his needs in this world, he cannot escape its snares to ascend to a higher one.
For us, caught up in our work ethic and forty hour week, faith is a fringe benefit we can afford only after having attained bogus ‘security’. Adam not only knew but saw that his service to God was the determining factor in his success. And he saw it to a greater extent than any man who ever lived – until he sinned!
II. Adam’s Sin
What was the difference between Adam before the sin and Adam after the sin?
Each of us is subject to our own temptations – some to money, some to lust, some to glory, some to power. Whatever our spiritual level, there are some sins that tempt us greatly, others that have conquered us, and still others that we never even consider. Which of us, imperfect though we are, would attempt to commit a barbaric atrocity? We know that human beings have, do, and will commit such acts – even people who love their families, assist helpless old people across the street, and consider themselves civilized. Nevertheless, we don’t consider ourselves prey to this way of thinking. There may be gossip on our tongues and larceny (in varying degrees) in our hearts; but some transgressions are so unjustifiably evil that in no way could we conceive of ourselves ever committing them. They are beyond our thought processes.
This can help us understand, in small measure, the greatness of Adam before his sin. Ramban explains, that when Adam was created, his nature was to do good. He was not the mixture of good and evil inclinations that human beings are today. We have lusts and desires that are part of our very humanity. The desire for wealth, comfort, and pleasure is not whispered in our ears by some outside outside source seeking to lead us astray. We want them, our psyche demands them. We are born as selfish beings who would grow up to be totally selfish and self-indulgent were it not for the strictures of society and the strength of developing conscience. Adam was different; his innate nature was good and it sought to perform nothing but the will of his Maker.
Of course, he had free will, for, as we have seen above, without man’s free-willed struggle to choose good over evil, the purpose of creation could not be fulfilled But the temptation to evil was not a part of him; it went against his nature. When the call to sin came to Adam, it came not from within himself, but from the serpent who served as the embodiment of the Satanic evil inclination. But after sin, man changed. The urge to sin was no longer dangled in front of him by a seductive serpent; it had become part of him. Now the desire for forbidden fruits comes from within man; when we sin, we respond not to the urging of an outside force, but to our own desires. It is we – not it or they – who urge transgression upon us.
If Adam was so great how could he sin? If he has so clear a perception of God’s holiness, and was himself a person of such exalted spirituality, how could any outside temptation have swayed him?
Even at his elevated level, there was still a challenge. Temptation came from outside, but Adam was capable of hearing and understanding it: it was his mission to elevate himself to a level where the urge to sin, was so senseless that it made no more impact on him than the buzzing of a fly. Holy though he was by virtue of being the handiwork of God and the subject of angelic awe and praise, he was still created in partnership with the earth. His animal flesh was the agent of Olam-earth to conceal even greater levels of holiness: it was his mission to elevate even the fleshly, the earthly, until the very veils shone with the splendor of their Creator.
To us – intertwined and interlocked as we are in contradiction, doubt, and temptation – Adam’s challenge seems like simplicity itself. But it was a real challenge, nevertheless. Had he persevered during the few hours between his creation and the onset of the first Sabbath, the purpose of creation would have been achieved and the rest of history would have been a tale of perfection, and exalted enjoyment of God’s rewards. His immediate challenge was to resist the inclination to disobey represented by the serpent, and to cleave ever closer to God despite the barrier of flesh that removed him from the ultimate heavenly glory. That the challenge was indeed worthy of even so great a creature as Adam is plain from the reward in store. The purpose of creation was God’s wish to bestow well-deserved, hard-earned reward – and that purpose would have been achieved in just a few hours had not Adam succumbed. In the heavenly school, might rewards are not earned by puny achievements. No matter how convinced we are that we would have done better had we had the opportunity, we must realize that our lack of comprehension does not minimize Adam’s challenge. Just as we have no conception of his greatness, we have no conception of the seeds of his failure.
Adam’s mission was to create a Kiddush Hashem, Sanctification of the Name, by overcoming the temptation to sin. But because the temptation came from without, the Kiddush Hashem could never be as great as it would have been had he been able to overcome an internal urge to do wrong. Had the falsehood of evil been less plain to him; had he been forced to choose between pleasant and ugly instead of between truth and falsehood, then the potential sanctification would have been much greater. The businessman sanctifies the Name far more by not cheating his competitors than by not murdering them. The Torah scholar sanctifies the Name far more by not wasting a precious moment than by not burning his books. Because it is man’s mission to glorify God’s name, ‘everyone that is called by My Name, and I have created him for My Glory (Isaiah 43:7)’ – Adam hoped to accomplish greater glory for God by subjecting himself to and persevering against a greater challenge.
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil contained more than luscious, attractive fruit. It represented the mixture of good and evil, a conflict between desire and conscience. The commentators explain that when he ate of the tree, Adam changed. No longer was temptation a serpent that sought to attract his interest from a distance. No longer was sin like a fire beckoning him to jump into its consuming flame. Temptation entered inside him and became part of him. Lust was no longer the message of a glib serpent, it was the desire of pleasure-seeking man. Until then, Adam and Eve wore no clothing – for why should they? All of their organs were tools in the service of God. There was no difference between mind and heart, between hands and other parts of the body. There was no need for shame, for animal lust was not a human attribute.
After eating the fruit of the tree, however, ‘knowledge’ entered man. It was not a new dimension in the knowledge of good – Adam’s knowledge of the good was intimate and awesome before then. It was an awareness that good and evil are intertwined and that his limbs and organs, divinely bestowed instruments of good, could also be the tools of lust. Mating had been exclusively the means of fulfilling God’s injunction to be fruitful and multiply, to produce new bearers of God’s mission, new creatures to whom the angels would sing and pay homage. After his sin and his attainment of a new ‘knowledge’ of desire, it became a means toward gratifying man’s most powerful urge and transforming human beings into two-legged animals. Therefore, the immediate product of the forbidden meal was shame and the need for clothing. Man knew the anguish of his new knowledge, for it was a knowledge that brought lust and impurity inside him and defiled the organs that had once existed only for good.
For a human being to face such a challenge and surmount it is indeed a task of enormous difficulty. Success constitutes a high degree of Kiddush Hashem. That was what Adam wanted. By making his task harder, he was hoping to serve his Maker better. To find one’s way in darkness is a greater feat than finding it in sunlight. Adam thought he could please God by plunging into darkness. The hiddenness of creation itself was not enough for him; he thought he could serve God more if he served Him in new ways. He was wrong. He changed his mission, changed his essence, drew more veils of obscurity between himself and God, exchanged Eden for thistles and thorns, diminished his labor from positive and negative commandments to plow and scythe, changed from a target of the serpent to its host.
Had Adam not sinned, his life would have been an upward spiral of spiritual elevation. But he did. By doing so he caused a basic change in his make-up, and, therefore, in his mission. Up to then evil had been an outside temptation, a clear-cut falsehood with no claim on the credence of man; by eating the fruit that held the knowledge of combined good and evil, Adam took evil himself. It became part of his nature and from then on, his evil inclination became ‘I want, I desire, I need….’
The perfection of newly fallen man required a new, laborious, seemingly endless process. It would require extensive time and the combined efforts of countless millions of human beings down the generations. We cannot understand why this particular course was necessary, but so the divine wisdom decreed. Man’s emergence from evil to good became infinitely more difficult because his perception of good and evil became clouded. Lust and temptations became part of him and he began to see evil as unpleasant, ugly, ‘not nice’ – or tempting. Since that day, man’s history has been an unending effort to raise himself out of that swamp and to return to that original realization when good and evil were distinct and clear cut.
In his present form, man cannot return to his original state. Only through death and resuscitation could he be born once again as man before the sin. For this reason, the sin brought death upon the human race. Death became the only road to renewed perfection; by means of it, man left the life and earth that had become imperfect and, when the proper moment in God’s design arrived, his soul would return to a new life in a world of renewed perfection. During this interval and again in its new life, the soul would reap the reward it had earned by its degree of success in the struggle to seize good from its concealment on earth.
The state of creation following the sin was confusion. From the state of clear-cut division between good and evil, there emerged desire for evil and revulsion for good, impaired recognition of which was which, and a blurring of values. Man’s mission on earth became separation. He had to find the good both within himself and in the world around him, and he had to identify the evil masquerading as good. The most dangerous result of his sin was confusion. In a sense, earth returned to its primeval state when light and darkness reigned in an ill-defined mixture until God separated then. Now man had created a new mixture within himself and it became his mission to define the ingredients once again.
No matter how high man rises in this world, he is still limited by his material nature and by the evil that is internalized with him. At his best, he recognizes God as the true Judge, but he is inadequate to recognize the ultimate goodness in apparent tragedy. That will have to wait.
The purpose of creation is man. It was made to test him, elevate him and to be the vehicle for bringing God’s mercy upon him. And only he could fulfill it. For that reason, the Torah does not say ‘and God saw that it was good’ after the creations of the second day even though the angels were created on that day. The creation of angels, holy though they were, was not designated with a divine seal of approval because they are not essential to the fulfillment of God’s purpose as is man. And of man, it does not say it was good, because man is never complete. After more than fifty-seven centuries, his task still goes on.
III. The Earth is Man’s
The heavens are the heavens of Hashem, but He has given the earth to the children of man (Psalms 115:16).
Chidushei HaRim gives us a dazzling insight into this familiar verse. God needs no assistance from man to make the heavens ‘heavenly’. They are holy by virtue of His Presence and the hosts that serve and glorify His Name. But the earth – to make the earth heavenly He gave it to man so that he, by the performance of good and the avoidance of evil can transform the cloak concealing His holiness and even His very existence into a slice of heaven.
At the beginning of creation the earth itself did not carry out God’s will: God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation: herbage yelling seed, fruit trees yielding fruit each after its kind (Genesis 1:11).
Hashem commanded the earth to produce trees whose bark would taste the same as their fruit. The earth did not comply. Therefore, when Adam was cursed for his sin, the earth, too, was cursed. God commanded that it be ‘a fruit tree’: that the taste of the tree be the same as its fruit. The earth, however, disobeyed and brought forth ‘tree yielding fruit’, but the tree itself was not a fruit. Therefore, when Adam was cursed for his sin, the earth, too, was remembered and punished (Rashi; Midrash)
How did the earth have the audacity to disobey? The earth, through its controlling angel, knew that God would store away the brilliant ancient light because the wicked people of the future were unworthy of it (Midrash). It reasoned that if the original plan of creation was altered to prevent the wicked from enjoying a spiritual light that they did not deserve, then the richness of earth’s produce, too, was more than the wicked should be given. Therefore, earth diminished the pleasures available to them and defied God’s order that it produce trees that would be edible and tasty throughout. This failure of the earth contributed to Adam’s later sin, because the serpent strengthened his argument by pointing to the earth which had ignored God’s command with impunity. For contributing to man’s downfall, the earth was cursed along with him.
But the earth’s intention was honorable, its logic faultless. It intended only to follow the example of God Himself – why was it punished?
Its behavior and future punishment were meant to be lessons to man. Otherwise earth would not have been given the power to sin and the Torah would not have found it necessary to record the sin for eternity. The earth had been given a command yet it was presumptuous enough to claim for itself the authority to overrule the word of God. Its reason? – logical. Its precedent? – God Himself. Where had it erred?
A very great man in the future – a man who was deemed worthy of becoming Mashiach – also took it upon himself to break a commandment. King Hezekiah was shown that wicked people would descend from him, so he decided not to have children. He thought it would be better to have no children than to have idolatrous children. But the prophet Isaiah came to him and proclaimed angrily: “Why do you meddle in God’s mysteries? You must do what you are commanded to do, and the Holy One blessed be He will do what pleases Him (Breaches 10a).”
The earth presumed to meddle in God’s mysteries. It was forbidden to do so and punished for having dared. This, too, is Torah and we must learn from it. No lesson of Torah should ever be lost upon us. Its every commandment, every incident, every conversation was included to educate and elevate man.
To ignore or forget is to lose a portion of life. The Sages teach that when Israel accepted the Ten Commandments, it approached the exaltation of Adam before the sin. Had the Golden Calf not been built, they would have entered Eretz Israel, built an eternal Temple, and the entire world would have received all the prophetic blessings of the world to come. Like Adam, they sinned and fell from their greatness. They received the Ten Commandments anew and the Second Tablets of the Law, but it was not the same. Had they retained the first Tablets they would have learned and never forgotten; with the second Tablets, we learn and do forget (Midrash). Adam sinned and became subject to death; Israel sinned and became subject to forgetfulness. When a man studies and learns, he makes Torah a part of himself. When he forgets his learning, a part of himself has left him – he has suffered a degree of death.
Adam sinned and humanity changed forever. But the antidote to the serpent’s poison is forever available, even though forgetfulness is our lot. We can succeed in isolating light from darkness, and holiness from profanity even though confusion is the legacy of that tempting but lethal fruit.
We can control the levers of creation by our study of Torah and performance of its precepts, even though a montage of men and machines blocks our view of the power of our deeds.
With eternal love you have loved the House of Israel, your people, Torah and commandments, statutes and ordinances you have taught us…..for they are our life and the length of our days and upon them we will meditate day and night.
God made the universe and presented us with its blueprint….so we begin our study…..
Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning..”