Adam's Sin and Punishment

Rabbi Israel Chait

In order to appreciate the entire sequence of events concerning man's creation, we must analyze the appropriate verses.

In Genesis, chapter two, verse seven, it states, "Then the Lord G-d formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." This verse depicts man's origin and reflects that man's existence emerged as a living soul, "nefesh chayah". The phrase "living soul" is significant and must be analyzed. Shortly after man's creation, man was charged with a task. Verse 15 states "And the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to serve it and to watch it." In the following verses, G-d charged man with his first commandment. Man was allowed to eat from all the trees of the garden except from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. From this Tree of Knowledge man was expressly prohibited from eating. G-d thereby warned man that on the day he ate from the Tree of Knowledge, he would surely perish. It was at this juncture, after G-d gave man this stern warning about the Tree of Knowledge, that He made the following observation (verse 18). "And the Lord G-d said, 'It is not good that man should be alone, I will make a helpmate for him.'"

It is puzzling that this verse concerning man's discontent in being alone is placed after the warning about the Tree of Knowledge. It would at first seem that this statement would have more logically been made immediately following man's creation since it reflects the nature of man's existence. Furthermore, the verses following this observation seem incongruous. These subsequent verses discuss the creation of the animals and man's mastery over the animal kingdom. Verses 19 & 20 state "And out of the ground, the Lord G-d formed every beast of the field and every fowl of the air, and brought them unto the man to see what he would call them; and whatsoever the man would call every living creature, that was to be the name thereof. And the man gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helpmate for him." In addition to the seemingly questionable nexus between the verses, we can pose a few very basic questions. Following the commandment concerning the Tree of Knowledge, God made the statement that it wasn't good for man to be alone. He then proceeded to create the animal kingdom. Why then didn't G-d create woman at the very inception of the creation of man? If it was apparent to God that man was not happy alone, then why didn't he create woman immediately? What was the compelling reason that God refrained from creating woman until after man was placed in charge of the Garden of Eden and prohibited from partaking of the Tree of Knowledge? It is obvious from the sequence of the verses that God chose not to create woman until after He had created the animal kingdom and placed man in its charge. Furthermore, the entire account of G-d's creation of the animal kingdom and man's mastery of the animals is concluded with a repetition of man's dissatisfaction with his solitude.

When God ultimately created woman from man, it is interesting to note that man did not name her at the time of her creation as he did with the animals. Rather, it was only after the incident of the snake (which enticed them to eat from the Tree of Knowledge) that man gave woman a name. Chapter 3, verse 20 states, "And the man called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living."

In order to fully appreciate the order of events regarding creation, we must first make the following observations in reference to man's nature. These insights will help give us a better understanding of the account of creation, and they will also afford us an appreciation of the complexity of the nature of man. With these observations, we can gain a new perspective on man's constant lifelong struggle to achieve perfection as a moral being.

Maimonides posed a famous question regarding the denial of man of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Verses 16 and 17 state, "And the Lord G-d commanded the man saying; of every tree in the garden thou may freely eat, but the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil thou shall not eat of it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shall surely die." As Maimonides observed, based on these verses alone, it would seem that G-d was withholding from man the ability to discern good from evil. This is rather puzzling, since the pursuit of knowledge is the primary objective of the Talmud Chachum. Was it really G-d's intention to deny knowledge to man? This also contrasts the traditional Judaic belief that G-d's greatest gift to man was his intellectual faculty. An analysis of relevant verses can help us examine man's true nature and determine that quite the contrary is true.

The aforementioned verse 7 states that G-d created man as a living soul, "nefesh chaya". The term "chaya" is precise. It reflects the instinctual component of man, the "yezter hara". This term, "chaya" is also used to reflect the instinctual, as animals are also referred to as "chaya". In his Mishna Torah, in the Laws of Forbidden Foods (Chapter 2, Law 3), Maimonides used this term "chaya" to reflect the instinctual, which is the essential component of an animal's nature. Thus, it is evident that the composition of man's nature includes the instinctual. As previously questioned, it is now significant that man was charged with his first commandment shortly after his creation. This evidences the other component of human nature.

Man was to watch and guard the Garden of Eden and to enjoy the fruit of the trees as his source of nourishment. However, he was prohibited by the word of G-d from partaking of the Tree of Knowledge. This task and divine commandment evidences the other aspect of man's nature. Man was given the gift of intelligence, and thus was capable of observing G-d's commandment. Therefore, it is apparent that G-d created man with a dual nature. Man not only possesses the instinctual drive (akin to the animal kingdom), but he also possesses the intellectual faculty which enables him to discern what is good and to observe the dictates of G-d. This dual aspect of man's nature is the primary message of these verses. However, these perfunctory inferences regarding man's nature are also important tools which enable us to more clearly comprehend the entire sequence of creation. Man possesses a hybrid essence of the intellectual and the instinctual. G-d's command not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge was an appeal to man's intellect. However, at this point in time man lacked a sense of morality, of what is "tov", good, and what is "ra", evil. God forbade man to eat the fruit in order to ensure that man would function in accordance with his intellectual abilities. However, once man disobeyed this command, he was destined to constantly struggle with the passions of the instinctual, which would always be in conflict with his intellectual nature, his yetzer hara.

By disobeying this command and partaking of the forbidden fruit, man abandoned his intellect for the appeal of the fantasy. From this point on, man was destined to face the eternal struggle of "tov v'ra", good and evil.

In verse 18 after G-d appealed to man's intellect by admonishing him not to eat of the forbidden fruit, G-d then made the observation that it was not good for man to be alone -- man needed a helpmate. G-d was cognizant that man was unable to channel all of his energies to the intellectual. In such a state, man's energies would soon have been frustrated. By His statement in verse 18, God acknowledged that it is not good for man to be alone, for such a state would lead to the frustration of man's instinctual energies. This observation is attested to by the subsequent series of verses. Man utilized his innate intellectual abilities to name, classify, dominate and rule the animal kingdom. It was during the performance of this task that man observed that each animal was capable of satisfying its instinctual desires. Man therefore attempted to satisfy his own instinctual needs, but was unable to find a helpmate. Man realized that his dual nature could not be satisfied with an entity whose entire essence was instinctual. Through his cognitive efforts, he became aware of his inability to channel all of his instinctual energies into intellectual gratification. Therefore, the sequence of events leading to the creation of woman is more understandable. Although man was created with both instinctive and intellectual drives, it was only through his own efforts that he came to realize his inability to channel his total instinctual energies into the world of the intellectual. It was only after he made this observation, did G-d then create woman. Verses 21 and 22 state, "And the Lord G-d caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs and closed up the place with flesh instead thereof. And the rib which the Lord G-d had taken from the man, made He a woman and brought her unto the man." It is not coincidental that G-d created woman from man's rib. Man was incapable of satisfying his instinctual desires with a being that operated solely in the world of the instinctual. Such a relationship would only be physical, and by definition could not be enduring or fulfilling. When G-d created woman, man was not solely attracted by his instinctual desires, but there was a psychological attraction as well. In verse 23 man comments as follows in reference to his wife, "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." Man's attraction to woman stemmed from his love of his own self. Man's narcisstic desires fostered the relationship that developed between man and woman. Man is a complex being, and even his instinctual drives are inexorably intermixed with his psychological awareness. This explains the medrash (allegory) that man originally had two forms from which the woman originated. This basis of man's attraction for woman also serves to shed light on the reason why woman was not created at the time of man's creation. Man's instinctual energies were not capable of fulfillment in a purely instinctual relationship -- a psychological attraction was also required.

It is therefore apparent that the entire creation of man was designed by G-d in a manner which allowed man's nature to play a role in the emerging sequence of events of creation. Man was created with a yetzer hatov, the intellectual faculty whose objective for man is to live a life guided by wisdom and morality. However, man was also bestowed with a yetzer hara, instinctual needs and desires. As a result, man's libido could not be satisfied by directing all of his energies to the intellectual. Because of his hybrid nature, man discovered that he was incapable of satisfying his physical needs and desires in a purely instinctual relationship. His excess energies which were not absorbed by the intellectual were frustrated and could not reach gratification. This gratification required a relationship whereby there was also a psychological attraction. Thus G-d created woman, a blessing from G-d which allowed man and woman to function in a harmonious manner.

It is only after we observe the emergence of human nature through the events of creation that we can properly analyze the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Prior to the sin, man's energies were primarily directed to intellectual endeavors. Man took charge of his surroundings and used his intellectual abilities to master the environment. However, the excess instinctive energy which could not be satisfied by intellectual endeavors was channeled into a healthy relationship with Eve. Man's energies were directed towards phenomena that were physically present. By commanding man not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, G-d was disciplining man's instinctual drives and demonstrating that the instinctual must always be subordinated and controlled by the intellectual. Our mesora (oral tradition) tells us that the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge were not unique. Its appeal was solely based on the prohibition to indulge in them. It appealed to man's yetzer hara, his desires. Verse 6 states, "And the woman saw that the food was good to eat and that it was a delight for the eyes and a tree to be desired to make one wise. She took of the fruit and ate it, and gave also to her husband with her, and he did eat it." Maimonides noted that this verse evidences the breadth of man's desires. The tree was an ordinary tree, yet the appeal of the fantasy was overwhelming. The tree was appealing to the eye, though common, and was good to eat, though never tasted. Thus, by partaking of the tree, man succumbed to the allurement of the fantasy. Before the sin, man's energies were directed to the physical phenomena that were in his presence. Our rabbis teach us that prior to the sin, man's evil inclination was controllable, but after the sin, there was a qualitative change. Man's instinctual desires were internal and external. Before the sin, man's libido naturally was attracted to wisdom, and his energies were automatically drawn to thought. Subsequent to the sin, man's energies naturally flowed to the physical. By indulging the fantasy, man incorporated into his personality the vehicle by which the energies of man are drawn to the physical. The enticements of the tree and the entrapment of man's imagination allowed man's energies to become fixated on the physical. This sin shaped the human personality for the millennium. Man was doomed, for at the moment his energies became fixated on the physical, it became a constant source of man's attention. His energies became attached to the physical and naturally flowed to it. Man's sin molded his soul. Mankind was destined to be ensnared by fantasy, and his energies would from then on be guided by the imagination. It would seek its initial gratification from the world of the physical. Thus, down through the generations to our present time, whenever man sins and is overwhelmed by the desires of the instinctual, he too molds his soul. He becomes drawn to and affected by the trappings of physical pleasures, his imagination overwhelms him, and as a result, distances himself from G-d. After the sin, man's only hope for salvation is to rechannel his energies. A wise man is one whose thought process is not influenced or corrupted by the instinctual. However, the ordinary individual who cannot properly channel his energies away from the instinctual, his emotions cloud his intellect and the physical corrupts his thinking process.

In any event, man has the free will to withdraw the energies which are now naturally attracted to the physical by the power of fantasy, and can re-direct them towards the intellectual. By choosing such a path, man also molds his soul, directs his energies and becomes attached to and leads the life of a chacham (wise man) and becomes close to God. A task such as this is monumental, and requires great conviction. Battling instinctual drives requires great fortitude, intellect, and inner strength. The appellation of a "gibor", a strong person, is reserved for one who conquers the evil inclination. However, G-d, in punishing man for the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, has armed man with the ability, if he exercises his free will wisely, to be victorious in this battle.

G-d's punishment is different from that of man. A punishment from G-d is given to help benefit man. An analysis of the verses subsequent to the sin can help us to understand the punishment and its ramifications with respect to the human personality. In chapter 3, verse 7 states, "And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths." Prior to the sin, the Torah explicitly tells us that they were not ashamed of their nakedness. The Torah is teaching us by contrasting these fact, that prior to the sin, man did not experience embarrassment. Shame is a function of man's conscience. Before man sinned, man's energies were naturally directed to chachma, to intellectual pursuits. After the sin, man fell prey to the instinctual. The intellectual was overpowered by the instinctual. However, man now had an additional ally to help combat the forces of the physical . . . his conscience. The conscience of man helps him to determine good from evil. The yetzer hatov, man's good inclination, helps man to withdraw his energies from the world of the physical and re-direct it to the world of chachma, wisdom. However, before man sinned, he did not possess the ability to discern good from evil. His mind was naturally drawn to the intellectual. After the sin man's energies flow first to the physical, which is capable of paralyzing him. G-d thereby instilled in man a conscience to help him progress into the world of the ideational and not stagnate in the world of the physical. It is only with the aid of the yetzer hatov, the ability to discern good, that man can use his free will and channel his energies to the acquisition of wisdom. It is therefore no coincidence that immediately after G-d pronounced His punishment for the sin (and man was endowed with both good and evil inclinations), man began to utilize his conscience to channel his energies properly. First, he experienced shame and covered his nakedness. Then, as chapter 3, verse 20 relates, "And the man called his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living." It seems incongruous that this occurs immediately after the pronouncement of man's punishment. However, the reason is now readily apparent. This manifests that man was using the yetzer hatov to help direct his energies towards wisdom. He exercised his intelligence to classify and name his wife. It was a definitional exercise that required his intellectual abilities. From this we can ascertain that a punishment from G-d is unique, as it is executed for the benefit of man. This particular event bestowed man with good and evil inclinations. It is only with the aid of the yetzer hatov that man can overcome the pratfalls of sin and can withdraw his energies away from the physical and utilize his intellect to live a life based on wisdom.

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