Genesis 3:13 – 3:24

3:13   “What is it that you have done?”  What she had done was abundantly clear.  This rhetorical question was not to elicit information, but to give Eve an opening to express remorse and to repent. (Sforno)

Since the commandment had been given only to Adam, why was Eve punished?  Ramban explains that Eve had been included in the prohibition since she was part of him – bone of his bones.  Additionally, she was punished for misleading Adam and causing him to sin; that was a greater sin than her own eating.

3:14-21:  The sinners are punished.  Although this was surely a punishment for Adam and Eve’s misdeed, it should not be understood as a retaliation.  By assimilating into their nature an awareness of and a temptation to sin, Adam and Eve became unworthy to remain in the spiritual paradise of Eden; consequently they were expelled.  As a result, life changed in virtually every conceivable way.  Death, the need to work hard physically as well as spiritually, the pain of giving birth, and the millennia-long struggle to regain that lost spiritual plateau are all part of the decree God was about to pronounce.

3:14  “ the serpent..”  He was the instigator of it all so he was cursed first; then Eve, and finally Adam (Chizhuni).

”Because you have done this..”  The Midrash notes that with Adam, God first discussed the matter; with Eve He first discussed the matter; but with the serpent He entered into no discussion (but immediately cursed him).  The reason being that God said: ‘The serpent’ is ready with answers: If I discuss it with him, he will answer me: “You commanded them and I commanded them: why did they ignore Your command and follow mine?”  God therefore pronounced His sentence immediately.

Cursed…beyond… – The whole world, including animal life, had been doomed by man’s sin to suffer as a means of his betterment, but the serpent most of all (Hirsh; Malbim).

The Mechilta cites the beautiful parable of a king who decreed that his son be given an annual salary so that he would have no cause to see his father all year long.  The prince was heartbroken because he was denied access to the love and concern of his father.  So, too, the snake.  The serpent was denied the need to pray to his Creator for sustenance as do the other animals.  This was its curse.

”  all the days of your life.”  Including the days of the Messiah.  This curse will never be removed.  Even in Messianic times (when ‘the wolf and the lamb shall eat together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox’) ‘the serpent’s food shall be dust’ (Isaiah 65:25) (Malbim).

3:15  “I will put enmity..”  What the serpent set its eyes on was not proper for it; what it sought was not granted to it, and what it possessed was taken from it.  God said: I designed you to be king over every animal and beast; but now ‘cursed are you beyond all cattle and beyond every beast of the field’; I intended you to walk with an erect posture; but now ‘you shall go upon your belly’; I intended that you eat of the same dainties as man; but now ‘dust shall you eat’.  You schemed to kill Adam and take Eve; but now: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed’.

     “..pound your head, and you will bite his heel.”  Man will wield the advantage in the conflict between himself and the serpent, for man will pound the serpent’s head, but the serpent will bruise him only in the very heel with which man crushes the brain (Ramban).

3:16  Before the sin, Adam and Eve lived together and she conceived and gave birth immediately and painlessly.  Now that would change.  Conception would not be automatic, and there would be an extended period of pregnancy and labor pains (Sforno).

‘..and he shall rule over you.”  Her punishment was measure for measure.  She influenced her husband to eat at her command; now she would become subservient to him (Ramban).  The new conditions of life that made sustenance the product of hard labor would naturally make women dependent on the physically stronger men.  Obedience to the Torah, however, restores her to her former and proper status as the crown of her husband and pearl of his life (Proverbs 12:4,3) 31:10) (Hirsch).

The Sages ordained that a man should honor his wife more than himself, and love her as himself.  If he has money, he should increase his generosity to her according to his means.  He should not cast fear upon her unduly and his conversation with her should be gentle – he should be prone neither to melancholy nor anger.

They have similarly ordained that a wife should honor her husband exceedingly and revere him….and refrain from anything that is repugnant to him.  This is the way of the daughters of Israel who are holy and pure in their union, and in these ways will their life together be seemly and praiseworthy (Rambam, Hil. Ishus 15:19-20).

3:17  “Because you listened…”  People always make choices in life and they are responsible for them.  Adam failed to exercise his responsibility to investigate what he was being offered and to realize that when he had to choose between pleasing God and pleasing the one who was offering a momentarily enticing choice, the first allegiance had to be to God.

According to the view that Adam was unaware at the time that the fruit he was eating was of the forbidden tree, the verse is quite correct: Adam was not primarily blamed for eating of the tree, because he was unaware; he was accused of ‘listening to the voice of his wife’ – for accepting his wife’s counsel blindly without investigation.  As Or HaChaim puts it, he succumbed to her voice without examining the content of her words.

“…cursed is the ground because of you;”  The commentators ask: Why does the earth deserve punishment because of man’s sin?  Several reasons were given in the Midrash:

  • The earth was punished because it was created only for mankind .. The result being that, when the earth does not yield its produce, man must turn to his Father in Heaven.
  • The earth is, in a sense, the ‘mother’ of man, for he was taken from it, and a mother is ‘cursed’ when her children sin, as in 27:13 ‘upon me is your curse, my son’.
  • The earth ‘sinned’ on the third day of Creation when it yielded up trees whose barks were inedible.
  • Because the earth did not ‘speak out’ against the evil deed, it was cursed….For when men transgress less vital sins God smites the fruit of the earth (with the result that man’s toil tilling the earth is in vain).

3:18  ” ..thorns and thistles..”  Since the earth will yield thorns, thistles, and other weeds, you will have no choice but to eat them (Rashi).  You will now be forced to eat herbs rather than the fruits of the garden to which you were heretofore accustomed (Radak)

3:19  “ the sweat of your brow..”  The Midrash records that when Adam heard the words ‘thorns and thistles shall it bring forth and you shall eat the herb of the field’, he broke out in a sweat and said: ‘What!  Shall I and my cattle eat from the same manger?’  God had mercy upon him and said” ‘In consideration of the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread’.

     “For you are dust..”   The implication is that death was not a curse but a natural consequence of Man’s nature.  Since he originated from the earth it is only natural that age and deterioration would return him to his origin.  Had he not sinned, however, he would have purified his physical nature and risen above his origin (Eliyahu).  In this regard, it is noteworthy that the bodies of outstandingly righteous people that have been exhumed were found not to have decomposed.  They had so exalted their behavior that their bodies had become holy and no longer subject to the ravages of the earth.  This is why Elijah and Enoch were able to ascend to heaven at the end of their lives without dying, and why Moses could live among the angels for forth days without eating and drinking.

3:20  ‘..called his wife’s name Eve’ –  He named her, just as he named all the creatures.  By use of the general term, woman (2:23), Adam identified her as the female of the human species.  Now he gave her a personal name, Chava (Eve) (Radak).

The Hebrew word, Eve, means the same as ‘living’.  Thus, her name indicates that she is the mother of all the living.  The Midrash perceives in the name ‘Chavah’ a play on the Aramaic word ‘Chivya’ which means serpent: ‘She was given to him for an adviser but she counseled him like the serpent’.

3:21  “..and He clothed them.”  – Not only did God Himself make them comfortable garments, He Himself clothed them to show that He still loved them, despite their sin (R’Bachya).

  • Note:  The Midrash comments that these garments were embroidered with pictures of all the animals and birds.  When Adam and Eve wore them they had dominion over the animals, and were invincible.  They were handed down from generation to generation to Methuselah and to Noah who took them into the Ark.  Ham stole the garments passing them on to Cush who in turn hid them for many years until he passed them on to his son Nimrod.  Nimrod’s prowess as ‘a mighty hunter’ (10:9) is directly attributable to these garments.  When Esau slew Nimrod, Esau appropriated them.  These were the ‘coveted garments of Esau’ (27:15).  These were the garments worn by Jacob when he received Isaac’s blessing, after which they were concealed. (See Torah Sh’lemah 3:184; Sefer HaYashar 7:24)

3:22  “ has become like one of Us..”  “Free Will is bestowed on every human being.  If one desires to turn towards the good way and be righteous, he has the capacity, and if one wishes to turn towards the evil way and be wicked, he has the capacity.  And thus it is written in the Torah ‘Man has become unique of himself’ which means that the human species had become unique in all the world, there being no other species like it in that man, of himself, and by the exercise of his own intelligence and reason, knows what is good and what is evil, and there is none who can prevent him from doing that which is good or bad.  This being the case, there was apprehension ‘lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life.”  (Omkelos; Hilchos Yeshivah 5:1)

3:23  “..Hashem God banished him..”  God had originally created man outside of the Garden of Eden (2:9, 16), and placed him there where all his needs were supplied with a minimum of effort.  He had only to till the land and guard it against wild animals.  But Adam proved unequal to even this past; by his negligence he allowed the serpent to enter the garden with disastrous results.  Therefore, God removed him and returned him to his source where he would have to toil excessively just to provide his own sustenance.

3:24  “..drove out the man..”  Hirsch explains that ‘drove out’ implies man’s greater separation from God.  Having disobeyed God, man was forced to fend for himself in exile from His presence to learn the necessity for the guidance of God and to feel the yearning for His nearness.

“the Cherubim..”  These were destructive angels, who have the responsibility of preventing man from discovering and re-entering the garden..  Although they guarded the entire garden, the verse specifies that they guarded the way to the tree of life because that was their primary function.  This ‘guarding’ was not in the sense of protecting it, but in honor of its exalted status.

R’Yaakov Kamenetsky noted that the term Cherubim is also used to describe the sacred, angel-like children that were carved from the cover of the Holy Ark; here they are destructive, and there they represent the life-giving powers of the Torah.  This alludes to the paramount importance of education.  Children can become holy or destructive, depending on how they are reared..

Hirsch explains that on a lofty plane, guarding the way to the tree of life, can mean to protect and preserve the way so that it shall not be lost for mankind, so that he will be able to find it again and ultimately go back on it… He finds support for this in the fact that this task was entrusted to Cherubim, the same word used to describe the golden protectors of the Holy Ark in the Tabernacle and Temple.

Malbin concludes: They guard the way to the tree of life, preparing it so that man can attain it after his soul separates from his body and returns to its Father…

3:22-24 Summary:  God grieved at the sin and its results, for Adam had now made it impossible for God to let him stay in the garden.  By eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Man had become, like the Unique One among us’, meaning that he had become unique among the terrestrial ones, just as God is unique among the terrestrial ones, for now Man can discriminate between good and bad, a quality not possessed by cattle and beasts (Rashi).  Because Man has this unique ability to know good and evil, and his desire for sensual gratification had become enhanced, there was a new danger.  If Man kept the capacity to live forever, he might well spend all his days pursuing gratification and cast away intellectual growth and good deeds.  He would fail to attain the spiritual bliss that God intended for him.  If so, Man had to be banished from Eden so that he would not be able to eat from the Tree of Life and live forever (Rambam; Sforno)

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