Genesis – Chapter 3

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.

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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