Adam’s Punishment


Moshe Ben-Chaim




Reader: What is the opinion of why when Adam fell, that God didn’t just start over? He started over to some degree during Noah’s time. Maybe what He had created could not be done again and He couldn’t destroy it?
Or He knew that we are all like Adam and it would have done no good to start over?

Mesora: Nothing limits God if He wishes to start over. The reason He did not was because the changes He made in Adam’s nature corrected the original problem, i.e., Adam’s cause for his sin. Once God corrected the problem, mankind could exist as God desired. But later on, during Noah’s era, man had sunk so low, there was no recourse to correct man’s next flaw...he was too far gone. Therefore, God wiped out that generation, except for Noah and his sons who were good people. God saved him and started anew with him.

Reader: Thank you so much for your response. I still am not clear on one thing though. God corrected the problem with Adam, but it went immediately wrong again with Cain killing Abel. It doesn’t seem like He corrected anything. Of course it is silly for me to second-guess God, but from a human viewpoint it does seem like He should have started over after Adam fell from grace. What is your opinion of this thought? Thank you.


Mesora: Please read Maimonides Guide for the Perplexed, Book I chapter 2. Then tell me what you learned from that chapter. This will lay the groundwork to answer your question. (See that chapter, reprinted in this issue of the JewishTimes, and then continue reading from here.)


Reader: What did I learn from The Guide for the Perplexed? I learned that God created Adam with the ability to think or react.  He was intelligent but also instinctual, like the animals.  Adam would have to learn to strike a happy medium between the two.  I believe God created Eve to help Adam to harness the energy of his instinct.


God originally was making things easy for Adam.  Adam didn’t have to discern between right and wrong, or his eyes weren’t open to worry about such things.  I think the tree was a test.  The tree was no big deal, it was just an ordinary tree.  But, God made the tree something “important” to see if Adam could use his intellect properly.  Unfortunately, Adam gave way to fantasy, desire, and did what God commanded not to. Adam didn’t use his thinking power.  Now instead of things being easy and all made to order, Adam would leave the garden and have to make a living by himself. In a way Adam acted like the animals that he had named.  He chose to do things his way and not God’s way.  He gave more power to his baser instinct.


God has given us the ability to choose between right and wrong.  He wants us to choose his way but for some reason gives us free will. He made things easy but we chose the difficult route. Tell me if I am wrong about this. 


Mesora: You are correct, God desires that we all possess free will. He wishes that man be the cause of his reward.


Reader: Adam was always naked and didn’t care that he was naked. Right or wrong it didn’t matter to him. After he eats the fruit, nudity becomes an evil. Maybe being naked wasn’t bad, but Adam made it bad, by thinking it was, even though God never said it was. His thoughts and ideas made it something that was forbidden, God never made being naked bad.  Does this make any sense? This is what I learned from The Guide for the Perplexed.  But I am still perplexed in that I don’t feel confident that that is what I was to learn from the story. Please tell me your ideas on my opinions.


Mesora: Adam did not merely fantasize that nudity felt wrong; it was a true and accurate moral perception. God, as a response to Adam’s sin, granted this new perception to Adam. As a Rabbi once taught, this new apparatus of the psyche – the conscience – allowed Adam a new means through which he may refrain from destructive behavior. Prior to the sin, the processes through which man decided his actions could lead him to destruction by violating God’s commands. Although prior to his sin, Adam was in a higher functioning state – involved exclusively in absolute truths – he ultimately demonstrated the need for a secondary apparatus through which he may sense remorse about an improper act, prior to violation. This secondary apparatus is the conscience – that which generated his feelings of shame when naked.


Once God granted Adam this conscience, man was equipped with all he required for his entire life. He was now and eternally enabled to ‘check’ his actions with a new morality before he might sin. His sense of “right and wrong” could help steer him clear of evil. Although the conscience had this capability, man still possessed free will and could still sin, even grievously. But this flaw was now addressed in a manner sufficient according to God’s plan. So although Cain sinned, this did not mean that God’s action was a failure for mankind. God made an adequate change in man’s nature. Additionally, we witness Cain’s remorse after his sin as testimony to this new faculty in action.


We learn that God created Adam without a conscience, as this allowed Adam to be engaged in the highest spheres of wisdom. Only after demonstrating his need, did God give Adam and Eve the conscience. However, this only addressed the sin of Adam, and not that of Noah’s generation. God does not address that which has not yet demonstrated any lack. Certainly, God wishes man to exist in the most prized state. He affords man this great opportunity, until man displays his inability to remain there.


We learn that God engulfed the Earth, killing all except Noah, his wife, and his three sons and daughters in law. In this era, man sinned due to another aspect of his psyche: he felt invincible. Therefore he feared no one, and stole from anyone. Society had crumbled beyond repair. Since man’s sin in Noah’s time was due to self-overestimation, God addressed those very features intended for good, and minimized them: the Midrash teaches that due to man’s grand stature, he used to traverse the Earth in a few steps, uprooting cedars, and beasts were to him as fleas. This teaches us from where man derived his great ego. As a response to correct man, God minimized his height and limited his years. We see from the ages of man recorded in the Torah after Noah, a sharp decrease in lifespans, dropping from 1000 years to less than 200 years. However, God minimized these features only after man abused them.


We learn that God granted man the very best conditions; psychologically and physically, and only after man abused these gifts, did God alter them.


Adam and Noah’s generation display two errors. Adam displayed a need for a new, psychological faculty to prevent sin (the conscience), and Noah’s generation required a diminution of his overabundant ego, which caused man to disrespect others. This was addressed by diminishing those physical characteristics, intended for good, but abused for selfish gain and pleasure.