The Fall of Adam and Eve Part II

Rabbi Tuvia Berman – Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi

This past week, after completing the Torah,  we began the cycle again and read, among other topics, about the fall of Man. What was the exact transgression of Man and how does the punishment of banishment from the Garden fit the crime? At first glance, the Torah seems rather clear:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying: ‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat;  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; ….’ (2:16-17)

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food.. she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat. (3:6)

And unto Adam He said: ‘Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying: Thou shalt not eat of it; cursed is the ground for thy sake; in toil shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. (3:17)

God commanded Man not to eat of the Tree. Adam transgressed this seemingly simple and direct command and HaShem punished him for this act of rebellion. However, Rambam sees something much deeper and more profound than what appears on the surface.

Last time we looked at Rambam’s introduction to this story. There, Rambam pointed out that Man’s state changed from one of understanding “Emet VaSheker” or “Truth and Falsehood” to a vision of “Tov VeRa” or “becoming and unbecoming.”  Returning to these categories, we see that when originally created, Adam and Eve stood in direct relation to God. Truth, in the end, is seeing the face of God. With this vision of reality and perception of the world, not following HaShem’s command is incomprehensible. How could Man turn away from God and sin, how did this happen? Rambam turns this entire question on its head:

When Adam was yet in a state of innocence, and was guided solely by reflection and reason–on account of which it is said: “Thou hast made him (man) little lower than the angels” (Ps. viii. 6)–he was not at all able to follow or to understand the principles of apparent truths; the most manifest impropriety, viz., to appear in a state of nudity, was nothing unbecoming according to his idea: he could not comprehend why it should be so. After man’s disobedience, however, when he began to give way to desires which had their source in his imagination and to the gratification of his bodily appetites, as it is said, “And the wife saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to the eyes” (Gen. iii. 6), he was punished by the loss of part of that intellectual faculty which he had previously possessed. He therefore transgressed a command with which he had been charged on the score of his reason; and having obtained a knowledge of the apparent truths, he was wholly absorbed in the study of what is proper and what improper.

Rambam points out a fascinating progression. At first, in a state of innocence, Man could not transgress. But something changed in Man, “he began to give way to desires which had their source in his imagination and to the gratification of his bodily appetites.”  Man’s first mistake was allowing his desires to take hold. This movement allowed him to then, in stage two of the process, violate God’s command. According to Rambam, there were actually two errors: Man looked away from the “Truth” of God and opened himself up to the whims of desire; Man then acted upon his desires by eating from the Tree. This process clouded Man’s mind and disqualified him from seeing the absolute Truth of God. In wake of Man’s moving away from HaShem, HaShem pushed him away – the punishment of exile was measure for measure:

On account of the change of his original aim he was sent away. For panim, the Hebrew equivalent of face, is derived from the verb panah, “he turned,” and signifies also “aim,” because man generally turns his face towards the thing he desires. In accordance with this interpretation, our text suggests that Adam, as he altered his intention and directed his thoughts to the acquisition of what he was forbidden, he was banished from Paradise: this was his punishment; it was measure for measure. At first he had the privilege of tasting pleasure and happiness, and of enjoying repose and security; but as his appetites grew stronger, and he followed his desires and impulses, (as we have already stated above), and partook of the food he was forbidden to taste, he was deprived of everything, was doomed to subsist on the meanest kind of food… He was now with respect to food and many other requirements brought to the level of the lower animals: comp., “Thou shalt eat the grass of the field” (Gen. iii. 18). Reflecting on his condition, the Psalmist says, “Adam unable to dwell in dignity, was brought to the level of the dumb beast” (Ps. xlix. 13).”

Because Man chose to act like an animal by emphasizing his bestial self and not his more angelic Divine qualities, Man lost the control of the part of him called “Tzelem Elokim” and became like the beasts of the field enslaved to his passions.