Bereshis 5780 – The Evil Serpent

This week Parasha states: Hashem had taken man and placed him in a true Paradise, allowing him and his wife to eat from all the luscious trees without limitation – except for one: The Tree of Knowledge. A few difficulties arise: 1- Was it really so hard for Adam and Chava to stay away from just one tree, amidst all the many others that were permitted to them?! 2- Could they not do just this one little thing on behalf of Hashem who had given them so much? 3- What’s the source of the conception that eating the fruit itself imbues the eater with Divine knowledge of good and evil?
The answer is: from the snake. The snake distorted Hashem’s command and seduced Adam and Chava to believe that the Divine prohibition against eating the fruit was rooted in its “wondrous ability” to give over Divine knowledge. This is what the serpent told Chava: “For Hashem knows that when you eat from it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like Hashem, knowing good and evil.” (Bereshis 3, 5).
When Adam and Chava heard the praise of the Tree of Knowledge as that which miraculously opens the gates of wisdom and raises people to a status of the Divine, they were immediately faced with a major question: “Then why did Hashem forbade us to eat it? Isn’t the goal of the creation for Man to resemble Hashem? Didn’t King David write in Psalms [73, 28]: “As for me, closeness to Hashem is good for me…”? isn’t it mentioned in the Gemara Shabbos [133b]; Abba Sha’ul taught: “Be like Hashem; just as He is compassionate and merciful, so, too, you should be compassionate and merciful.”
The problem was that Adam allowed himself to fall for the snake’s distorted and false picture, implying that the ban on eating of the tree was designed to distance man from Hashem Who knows good and evil. The truth, however, is that it is Hashem’s essential desire to raise man up to be like Him in certain ways, and this is the reason why He granted man – “His choice creation” – the “image of Hashem” [Bereshis 1, 27].
Rashi explains the rationale of the serpent: “Every artisan hates his fellow artisans,” “and Hashem does not want any competitors among these new fleshand-blood mortals!” These are, of course, words of heresy and evil, yet Chava doesn’t try to argue the serpent logic. Not everything that seem logical and rationale is true. A person desire to act a certain way can affect the logic and the rationale of the action he’s about to undertake. It’s then Chava’s desire to eat the fruit that allowed her to rationalize the snake’s logic. She looks up at the tree, sees
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the enticing and appealing fruit, and the next step is practically inevitable: “She took from the fruit and ate.”
Sobering Up, Feeling Shame Thereupon, “The eyes of the two of them were opened…” – but not in the way the wily snake had tricked them into believing. The snake had said, “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like Hashem” – but what actually happened was that “their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” The Zohar explains, That Hashem hates immorality, so how is it possible, that Adam and Chava were naked? The Zohar explains that prior to disobey Hashem, they were wearing “Cloth of Glory”, but as they sinned and gave into their material pulse and envy, they lost their glory!
In the moments before one commits a sin, he feels a thrust of passion or a tremendous urge, and his intellect is blinded. But immediately afterwards, the passion disappears, he “sobers up,” and he feels intense regret as he feels he has fell. This was emphasized as they soon “heard Hashem’s voice striding in the garden,” their shame stemmed from their immoral behavior was so great they therefore “hid from Hashem in the tree of the garden”. As it’s difficult to face the truth, people feel the need to “cover up”. Some introvert and hide, some resort to lying and dig their hole even deeper.
Though, people have a “protection switch”; When they fail a challenge, even though they feel tremendous shame, nevertheless, they end up “overcoming” their shame, fail to learn their lesson, and sin again. Therefore, Hashem decided to banish them from Paradise as the Verse says; “Man has become like one of us, knowing good and bad, and now, he is liable to take from the Tree of Life as well, eat and live forever.”
This verse is intriguing: as Hashem appears to be affirming the logic of the snake, that Adam and Chava had in fact become like Hashem in knowing good and evil! Secondly, if Hashem decrees death upon a person, is it possible snatching a fruit will cancel the decree?
Chazal teach us that Hashem gave them a name. “Male and female He created them, and he blessed them and called their name “man” on the day of their creation” [Bereshis 5, 2] “Calling by name” means “assigning a Divine mission.” Hashem sets a goal for each person – namely, to be like Him with the virtues provided to that person. This is alluded to by the very name Adam: The first and last letters, “Aleph” and “Mem”, are also the first and last letters of the name of Hashem, Elokim. And the middle letter of Adam, “Dalet”, stands for the word “image”, “Dmut”. The message is that our mission is to be like Hashem.
But it is not the eating from a Tree of Knowledge that will bring man to this level. On the contrary: By adhering to Hashem’s will and refraining from eating from this tree, man will come to be like Hashem.
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The Zohar explains that the tree of life was an antidot to the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Had Adam ate the fruit of the tree of life, he would’ve reverted to become, even more than before, only capable to adhere to Hashem’s commandments. Though, that was not the purpose of the creation. To serve Hashem truly and with love, one should “dompt” his evil penchant to do good. A person must strive to resemble Hashem and therefore chose “life”.
This insight is illustrated in the Talmud [Sanhedrin 65b], where we find a startling story: Rava said: If the righteous would wish to, they could create worlds, as is written: “For it is your sins that separate you and your Hashem, and your sins hid [Hashem’s] face from you”, [Yeshayahu 59, 2]. In other words, Hashem implanted tremendous powers in the man – so great that if he were to use them correctly, he would be able to be like Hashem and create worlds. But his sins prevent him from doing so; they form a barrier between him and Hashem.
The Gemara continues: that Rava, to prove his point, created a man [a golem], and sent him to Rav Zera. Though, Rav Zera spoke to the creature, but the latter didn’t utter a word. Rav Zera said to him: “Are you really a man like men?! [No!] Return to your dust!” and so it was, the golem became a pile of dirt. Rava and Rav Zera were both great Tsadikim and with mere words they could create or destroy.
The goal of the creation is for a person to be able to decide, if he wishes, to act one way or the other. That alone shows that he is already on a high level! Hashem wants the person to be able to choose by utilizing his free will in an absolute manner without any outside pressure or coercion. Only then, making the right choice will liken him to Hashem.

By Rabbi Fridmann * rabbifridmann@badatzmiami.com * 305.985.3461

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