Original Sin & Unjust Punishment

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Reader: I have 2 questions in understanding how the following verse fits in with the rest of the Torah:

 “And the LORD smelled the sweet savour; and the LORD said in His heart: 'I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done’ (Gen 8:21).”

1) Hashem said that He will “not to curse the ground because we are born evil.” Is this not the end of religion, because there is no further sanction against man for sinning, as he must do evil?

2) Torah continues with further curses of the ground, on account of our sinning.  The 2nd paragraph of Shema warns us precisely that the sky will fail and the land won't give forth its produce. How could this verse above be contradicted later on?

Rabbi: “…the inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth” is not to be equated with the Christian doctrine of original sin: “Every person born into the world is tainted by the Adam and Eve’s sin, such that all of humanity is ethically debilitated, and people are powerless to rehabilitate themselves.”  Rabbi Israel Chait explained, this verse explains why God will no further smite the Earth or His creatures. This verse praises man; it does not condemn him. How is this a praise? The verse does not say man is “born” evil, but that evil exists from youth. The instincts have a foothold on man, but only at youth. As man’s mind develops, he grows into a being, who (in this verse) offered sacrifices, which God “smelled” and praised. Noah’s recognition of God expressed in sacrifice demonstrated that man no longer requires annihilation. Noah epitomized a level of human perfection worth sustaining. God also made changes to mankind to ensure it would no longer reach a degree of depravity requiring annihilation. These changes included decreasing his stature and longevity; two elements designed to assist man in a good life, but were abused and therefore removed.

But through all this, free will has not been compromised. Adam’s sin in no way defends our sins. His sin demonstrated that the most perfect human, at times, falls prey to his instincts. But as God told his son Cain, “you can rule over your instincts (Gen. 4:7),” and not sin. Thus, we all have free will. Adam’s punishment of mortality is suitable for all mankind: as the model human (Adam) required mortality, all mankind requires it. This fix to the human condition in no way removes free will. We are all responsible. Sanction against any sinner is just. Religion continues. The Christian doctrine of original sin is exposed as false, as God clearly denies it:  “you can rule over your instincts (Gen. 4:7).”

The apparent conflict between God’s oath to “never again curse the ground” and the Shema’s curse of drought is easily resolvable. God’s oath in Genesis is against a catastrophic and global destruction. Shema refers to a system of punishment through drought alone.