Genesis 2:15 – 2:25

2:15 – Man in the Garden

After the description of the Garden and its rivers which began in verse 9, the narrative resumes where it left off at the end of verse 8: the theme of man’s entry into the Garden of Eden.

2:15  ‘..and placed him in the Garden of Eden,” – as one who gently places down a precious treasure giving it fullest care and attention.  The Midrash writes “He showed him the garden from end to end and made him its king and ruler.’

‘..to work it and to guard it.” –  The Midrash gives an allegorical interpretation of this ‘work’ in Eden:

“What labor was there in the midst of the garden that the verse should say to work it and guard it? 

      – Perhaps you will say: To prune the vines, plough the fields, and pile up the sheaves.

But, did not the trees grow up of their own accord?

– Perhaps you will say: There was other work to be done, such as watering the garden.

But did not a river flow through and water the garden (verse 10)?

What, then, does ‘to work it and guard it’ mean?  To indulge in the words of the Torah and to ‘guard’ all its commandments, as it says further (3:24): “to guard the way to the tree of life” – and the ‘tree of life’ signifies the Torah, as it is written (Proverbs 3:18): “it is a tree of life to those that grasp it”.  

     ‘..work it and guard it’ – Great is work because even Adam tasted nothing before he worked, as it is said, “and He put him into the Garden of Eden to work it and guard it”, and only then ‘from every tree of the garden you may eat’.  In other words, only after God told him to cultivate and keep the garden did He give him permission to eat of its fruits for it is improper for man to benefit from this world without contributing something beneficial towards the settlement and upkeep of the world (Torah Temimah).

2:16-17  Hoffman explains that the ‘knowledge of good and evil’ means the recognition of good and evil, or more properly, discerning righteousness and its opposite – and distinguishing between them: ‘to discern between good and evil (i Kings 3:9) – to choose the good out of the deep conviction and to dispel everything evil.  This is a capacity not possessed by young children (Deuteronomy 1:39); it is acquired but later lost again in extreme old age during the second childhood (II Samuel 14:17,20).  Only during young manhood does man acquire this capacity (Isaiah 7:15), and it is a pre-eminent trait of divine beings (3:5, 22).

Why, then, should man be prohibited from partaking of a tree the fruits of which can so greatly ennoble him?  And why was man created without this capacity?

The answer is that man’s capacities for moral attainment must be drawn out and developed through discipline and testing.  Man cannot be born with this full knowledge; it must be the result of living a life subordinated to the Will of God as revealed in His Torah even when the reasons underlying God’s commands are beyond man’s understanding.  For man’s instinctive perception of the best may be contrary to the lofty calling of man and judged by God as a capital crime.

‘..you must not eat thereof..’  Note that God did not specifically prohibit eating from the tree of life because the tree of knowledge formed a hedge around it; only after one had partaken of the latter and cleared a path for himself could one come close to the tree of life (Chizkuni).

The tree of life is not mentioned because had man not sinned he would have lived forever regardless, and the question of his partaking of the tree of life was academic.  It was only after he sinned and was punished with mortality that God said (3:22): ‘and now..(after having already sinned and been sentenced to eventual death) ..lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life..’

‘..you shall surely die’  God did not threaten immediate death for Adam reached the age of 930, but that death would be the ultimate result of the sin.  The exact nature of death is recognized even today, as a still unsolved physiological problem.  The prophet proclaims that death will disappear from the world (Isaiah 25:8) when mankind once again achieves the closeness to God that was intended at Creation.

2:18-25  A Companion for Adam – This passage does not describe a new creation; it merely elaborates upon the making of the creatures mentioned in 1:25.  God knew that Adam needed a companion.  Her purpose was not for reproduction, for Adam had been created with that function.  Rather, God wanted Adam to have the companionship, support, and challenge that is present in good marriages, and He wanted the children who would be born to Adam and his future mate to be reared by both a father and a mother.  The needs for assets in human life are too obvious to require elaboration.  But before creating  Adam’s helpmate, God brought all the creatures to him so that he could see for himself that none was suited to his needs, and he would ask for a companion.  Then he would appreciate his newly fashioned mate and not take her for granted.

2:18  “..it is not good that man be alone..’  Alone does not imply that man would have been unable to propagate, for, as noted in 1:27, man was created with two ‘faces’ – in other words, endowed with both the male and female characteristic, so that as a single being he could have conceived and given birth.  Rather God then declared that is would be good that she ‘help’, separate from him and be facing him, and therefore be more functional (Ramban; Vilna Gaon).

‘..a helper corresponding to him.’ – (literally, a helper against him)  If the man is worthy, the woman will be a helper; if he is unworthy, she will be against him (Yevamos 63a; Rashi).  Many have noted that the ideal marriage is not necessarily one of a total agreement in all matters.  Often it is the wife’s responsibility to oppose her husband and prevent him from acting rashly, or to help him achieve a common course by questioning, criticizing, and discussing.  Thus, the verse means literally that there are times a wife can best be a helper by being against him (see 21:10-12).   A wife is neither man’s shadow nor his servant, but his other self, a ‘helper’ in a dimension beyond the capability of any other creature.

2:19  ‘  and brought them to the man to see what he would call each of them”  God brought the animals to man for a double purpose: to have man name the animals and therefore establish his lordship over them; and to satisfy man that he could not hope to find from among them a suitable companion – to serve the dual function of helping him and physically and spiritually, and at the same time be his intellectual equal (Storno).

So the question arises: Why did God put Adam through this series of tasks?  Why was man not originally created with a separate female counterpart as were the other creatures?

Talmud Kesubos 8a writes: ‘At first the intention was to create two, but ultimately only one was created.’  The Talmud does not imply that God ‘changed His mind’ but that the introduction of ‘it is not good that man should be alone’ and man’s quest for a companion and helper from among the animals – although this unsuccessful quest was obviously known by God in advance and that it would not be fulfilled – was designed to stress the sacred and precious nature of this partnership.  God willed that man should experience life without a woman for a brief time before her creations so that her arrival would be precious to him.

God as Master of the universe proclaimed His sovereignty.  He named the light, the darkness, the heavens and the earth.  But it is man, in his God-given role as governor of the earth (1:28), who is called upon to name his subjects – the animal world.

2:20  ‘..man assigned names…’  God brought the creatures before him in pairs so he should name also the females.  The males of certain species are called by one name, such as bull or ram; while the female counterparts are called by another name such as cow or ewe.  Furthermore, according to Ramban, this ‘naming’ implied recognizing their nature and separating them by species, clarifying which are fit to mate with one another.  As the verse continues, among them all he did not find a natural companion for himself. (Ramban)

Man, indeed, found animals which would be helpful and serviceable to him.  They could qualify as help.  What he could not find among all the creatures that passed before him was – one that would correspond to him on an equal social and intellectual level (Chizkuni).

God paraded all the animals before Adam in pairs of every kind.   Adam said:  Every one of these has a mate except for me!  And why did God not create her for him at the beginning?  Because God foresaw that he will complain against her and she was therefore not given him until he expressly asked God for her……But as soon as man demanded her, then immediately Hashem God caused a deep sleep to descent on man.

When the earth heard what God resolved to do, it began to tremble and quake.  ‘I do not have the strength to provide food for the herd of Adam’s descendants.’   But God pacified it by saying, ‘I and you together, will find food for the herd’.  Accordingly time was divided between God and the earth.  God took the night and earth took the day.  Refreshing sleep nourishes and strengthens man, it give him life and rest, while the earth brings forth produce with the help of God who waters it.  Yet man must work the earth to earn his food.  (Midrash HaGadol)

2:21  ‘..He took one of his sides’  Although the word is commonly rendered as ‘one of his ribs’, the commentators are nearly unanimous in the actual translation as ‘one of his sides’.  Hirsch observed that word never appears elsewhere in Scriptures as a ‘rib’ but always as a ‘side’.  Keeping in mind also that when God created man, He created both male and female – two sides.

2:22-23  ‘..Hashem fashioned the side that He had taken from the man into a woman..’  Unlike man, the material, for woman’s body was not taken from the earth.  God built one side of man into woman – so that the single human being now became two.  Thereby, the complete equality of man and woman was irrefutably demonstrated (Hirsch).

‘and He brought her..’  The use of the phrase ‘and He brought her’ is explained by Ibn Ezra as being Adam’s reaction upon awakening and seeing this woman.  He surmised that, like the other creatures, she was brought to him from elsewhere.  It was only when he gazed upon her and realized that part of his body was missing, that he was moved to declare ‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!’ (Chizkuni).


2:24  As long as man was alone, his condition was not ‘good’ (v18).  Once the division between man and woman had been made, it was no longer possible for man to find fulfillment alone.  Without his wife, he was only half a man.  He can achieve wholeness only with her (Hirsch).

Hirsch continues: Man is not unique among living beings in having a sexual life.  But other creatures require mating only for the purpose of breeding; because male and female were created simultaneously, they can function independent of one another.  Man is different: woman was created from man to show that only in partnership do the two form a complete human being.  But that can only take place if at the same time they become one mind, one heart, one soul … and if they subordinate all their strength and efforts to the service of a Higher Will.

2:25  ‘..and they were not ashamed’  For they did not yet have a concept of modesty to distinguish between good and bad since the Evil Inclination was not yet active and would not be so until he had eaten from the tree (Rashi).

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