After the holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah we once again find ourselves having to face the reality of daily life, filled with pressures and struggles. In Parshat Bereishit, which tells of the creation of the world and mankind, Adam Harishon is faced with a single challenge not to eat from the Eitz Hadaat, the Tree of Knowledge. Yet Adam fails this test. What caused Adam´s downfall?
Human history as we know it, commenced with the expulsion of Adam from Gan Eden. If we look into Adam´s life, it is basically comprised of two phases: “the almost perfect and the diminished”. These two states have impacted on our lives to this very day. Adam´s diminished state represents our daily existence, the need to work hard in order to survive. The other phase is Adam´s almost perfect state in which he strived for perfection, trying to be close to Hashem. This serves as a model to which we should strive.
Before Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge that was forbidden by Hashem “his existence was not compatible with the material world” (Maharal of Prague, Tif´eret Yisrael 35) He was closer to the angles in their spiritual worlds.
After eating from the Eitz Hadaat, the Tree of Knowledge, and thereby transgressing Hashem´s commandment, Adam and Chava underwent a change: “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were unclothed” (Bereishit 3:7) According to Rabbeinu Bechaya, Bereishit 3:5, prior to eating the fruit Adam knew that he and his wife were unclothed, but was so perfect that his focus was directed to spiritual values.
Physicality was of no interest to them at all. After the sin they lost their ability to “keenly focus and perceive in their partner a defined Tzelem Elokim- the image of G-d”. Instead their perceptions were dulled and they left their higher level and sank to a much lower spiritual level. It might be true that Adam and Chava became more aware of the environment in which they lived, “but in an absolute sense their perceptions became more superficial.” According to the Zohar Chadash 14, “Had Adam not sinned, he would have ruled over the angels”. Prior to the sin Adam´s stature was tremendous “from the earth to the heavens- from one end of the world to the other”, but “once he sinned, Hashem put His hands upon him and minimized him” (Talmud, Chagigah 12a). When Hashem created Adam he made him in a near perfect moral state with a very high intellectual level.
Adam understood his role and tried to achieve as close a bond to Hashem as possible. Sin was the last thing that Adam wanted to do. Adam understood that his existence in Gan Eden was limited because he desired to serve Hashem by exercising his “Bechirah”, his free choice. He hoped that through eating from the Tree of Knowledge he would ultimately arrive at the lofty level of the angels in his relationship with the Creator. Adam did not what to be created an “angel” but preferred to become the equivalent of one through the sweat of his brow by exercising his free will. Though he had the right intentions, he made a serious mistake by eating from the Tree of Knowledge because he disobeyed Hashem´s command. Because of his failure to listen to Hashem´s commandment, Adam became a mortal and was banished from Gan Eden, changing the history of mankind.
The Ramban (Bereishit 6:3) writes that man upon creation was given the potential to achieve the same heights as angels. In the Gemarah in Sanhedrin 93a we read that “The righteous are greater than even the ministering angels.” The Ramban explains that the purpose of the Torah´s commandments are to provide mankind with a vehicle to restore man to the state of Adam before the sin. Hashem has placed his Torah and his commandments before us, so that we -through “bechirah” – can achieve “angelic perfection”. May all our actions always be for the sake of heaven, and may we always follow the Mitzvoth, the commandments of Hashem.