The Torah does not say how much time elapsed between the creation of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The Sages, however, tell us explicitly that all the events related here – including the birth of Cain and Abel – occurred on the day Adam was created. He had been given only one commandment: not to eat from the tree, and now his resolve would be tested to see if he could withstand temptation.
The consensus of the commentators is that the serpent of the narrative was literally a serpent. They differ regarding what force it represented: the Evil Inclination, Satan, or the Angel of Death. According to the Midrash, before this cunning beast was cursed, it stood erect and was endowed with some faculty of communication.
The day on which man was created consisted of twelve hours: In the first hour, Adam’s dust was gathered; in the second, it was kneaded into a shapeless Man; in the third, his limbs were shaped; in the fourth, a soul was infused into him; in the fifth, he arose and stood on his feet; in the sixth, he named the animals; in the seventh, Eve became his mate; in the eighth, they procreated – ‘ascending as two and descending as four’ – (Cain and his twin sister were born, for Abel and his twin sisters were born after they sinned Yevamos 62a); in the ninth, he was commanded not to eat of the tree; in the tenth, he sinned; in the eleventh, he was judged; and in the twelfth, he was expelled from Eden and departed (Sanhedrin 38b).
3:1 “Now the serpent was cunning, beyond any beast of the field’ – The consensus of the Commentators is that the serpent is to be interpreted literally. Their differences seem to lie in what the snake embodied and by what force he was harnessed: the Evil Inclination, the Satan, or some other counterforce represented by the most cunning of the beasts of the field, who according to the Midrash, stood erect and was endowed with some facility of communication before he was cursed.
“did God say..’ The serpent did not utter God’s Personal Name, Hashem, because that Name was unknown to it IIbn Ezra).
You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” – The serpent, in his cunning, knew this was not the case. He purposely expanded the prohibition in order to incite her and engage her in open debate.
3:3-4 ‘….which is in the center of the garden..’ According to Midrash Tadshe 7 and Midrash Aggadah, however, God never told Adam that it was a Tree of Knowledge – He simply called it ‘the Tree in the midst of the Garden.’ When Moses was told to write the Torah, he was given its name according to the final result. And why did God prohibit this tree? So that whenever Adam would look upon it he would think of his Creator, recognize his responsibilities to Him and not be arrogant.
‘..nor touch it..’ – God had commanded them only not to eat, but Eve added to the prohibition. The outcome of her doing so was to diminish the commandment. The serpent pushed her against the tree and said: “Just as you did not die from touching it, so you will not die from eating it!” (Midrash; Rashi). Thus, the serpent convinced her that God’s death threat was merely to intimidate them not to eat, but that they would not truly die.
‘Fool! God did not prohibit this tree out of any great love for you! It is not poisonous or harmful to you and you won’t die from it! He threatened you with death so you should exercise greater restraint regarding it, because He does not want you to attain more than He already allowed to you’ (B’chor Shor; Radak)
3:5-6 ‘..your eyes will be opened..’ – Hirsch comments: ‘He has forbidden you to eat only to keep you in childish dependence of Himself. Eat, and your eyes will be opened! You will gain understanding, be able to know for yourselves what is good and what is bad. With this understanding you will become independent of God and thus, yourselves godlike. Even the smallest animal around you possesses the understanding of what is good and what is bad for itself’.
‘..for God knows..’ – The serpent used another ploy familiar to those who try to rationalize the Torah away. They contend that those who convey and interpret the Law of God are motivated by a selfish desire to consolidate power in themselves. “God did not prohibit this tree out of any concern for yours lives, but because He is aware that by eating from it you will attain extra wisdom, and become omniscient like Him. Then you will be independent of Him” (Hirsch). The tempter did not explicitly tell the woman to eat the fruit, but he had enveloped her in his spell. She looked on the tree with a new longing – its fruit was good to eat, a delight to the eyes, and it would give her wisdom. Then she brought it to Adam and repeated everything the serpent had told her. He was, at one with her, and not blamless – not unreasonably deceived – and therefore liable to punishment (Radak; Ibn Ezra).
‘..and she gave also to her husband..’ The Midrash says it took tears and lamentations on her part to prevail upon Adam to take the step. Not yet satisfied, she gave of the fruit to all living beings, that they, too, might be subject to death.
3:7 ‘..the eyes of both of them were opened..’ – It is not said ‘And the eyes of both were opened and they saw‘, for what man saw previously and what he saw now were precisely the same; there had been no blindness which was now removed, but he received a new faculty whereby he found things wrong which previously he had not regarded as wrong (Moreh I:2).
The serpent was right: they had become enlightened people. But their first realization was – that they were naked! Man need not be ashamed of his body as long as it stands in the service of God. But when this condition is not entirely there he feels shame in his nakedness. This shame awakens the voice within us, the voice of conscience that reminds us we are not meant to be animals (Hirsch).
‘..they sewed together a fig-leaf..’ According to the Talmud (Berachos 40a) the forbidden tree was a fig-tree, and by the very thing by which they were disgraced were they restored. For as the Midrash states, Adam tried to gather leaves from the trees to cover parts of their bodies but he heard one tree after the other say: ‘this is the thief that deceived his Creator… take no leaves from me!’ Only the fig-tree allowed him to take its leaves, because it was the forbidden fruit. Adam had the same experience as that prince who seduced one of the maid-servants in the palace. When the king, his father, banished him, he vainly sought refuge with the other maid-servants, but only the one who had caused his disgrace would help him.
3:8 ‘The heard the sound of Hashem God..’ It was unlike any sound they had ever heard before. God caused His sound to be heard to afford them the opportunity of hiding (Radak);
and also to teach etiquette: Do not look upon a man in his disgrace. God did not appear to them immediately after they sinned and were disgraced, He waited until they had sewn fig-leaves together and only then ‘they heard the sound of Hashem God.’
‘…toward evening (cool of the day)..’ In the direction in which the sun sinks – the west, for towards evening the sun is in the west and they sinned in the tenth hour (Sanhedrin 38b; Rashi).
Hirsch renders the phrase: ‘They heard the voice of God withdrawing in the garden in the direction of the day – the West. This is profoundly significant because, in the Holy Temple, the Holy of Holies was in the west and the eternal light of the Menorah was turned toward the west, implying that God withdrew His Presence westward. According to the Midrash, this was the first tragic withdrawal of the Divine Presence in the history of the world…’
3:9 ‘…Where are you?’ – God knew where he was, but the question was merely a means of initiating a dialogue with him so he would not be terrified to repent as he would be if God were suddenly to punish him. God acted similarly with Cain (4:9); with Balaam (Numbers 22:9); and with Hezekiah (Isaiah 39) (Rashi; Ibn Ezra).
For God, in His mercy, desires the repentance of the wicked so He can avoid punishing them (Mizrachi).
Moralistically, God’s conversation with Adam and Eve teaches that before a human judge condemns someone he should first confront him personally to ascertain whether he has an explanation. For though God was full familiar with all the facts, He did not punish them until He conversed with them and afforded them the opportunity to reveal any excuse they might have had (Ralbag).
3:10-11 ‘I was afraid because I was naked.’ – Adam did not confess to hs actual sin. According to him, he hid only out of modesty. But God presses harder…. (Chizkuni)
‘Have you eaten of the tree..’ God knew the answer, but He wanted to elicit Adam’s response…and repentance. (Radak) God opened the dialogue to give Adam the opportunity to acknowledge his sin and be pardoned. But Adam did not confess. Instead, as the next verse shows, he hurled against God the very kindness which God had shown him, the gift of Ev e, by implying that God had caused him to sin by giving him that woman (Midrash Aggadah.)
3:12 ‘..the woman whom You gave..’ – Adam pleaded before God: ‘Master of the Universe! When I was alone did I sin in any way against You? But it was the woman whom You had brought to me, that enticed me away from Your Bidding’. (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 14)
Adam thus displayed his ingratitude for God’s gift to him. (Rashi)’
(Additionally, it must be stressed that Adam was unjustified in implying that God thrust Eve upon him. Recall 2:20 that mentions that God did not create woman until Adam demanded her.)
‘..and I ate.’ – In an astounding interpretation, the Sages note that the verb is in the future tense, as if Adam was saying, “I ate and I will eat again!” Michtav MeEliyahu explains that Adam assessed himself objectively and said that if he were to be faced with a similar temptation, he would probably succumb again. A sinner cannot hope to escape from his spiritual squalor unless he is honest with himself.