Congregation Ohave Shalom - Young Israel of Pawtucket

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Chavah [Eve] and the Tree

Chavah and the Tree, Week I


This is the first week of our sixth e-mail topic, that of Chavah and the Tree. For those joining in here, I offer a brief introduction to our method.

We are trying to examine events recorded in the Torah by looking at two tracks: Peshat (literal reading) and Derash (analytic reading). We have stated as a "given" that both of these methods require a type of Masorah (tradition).

One example of this comes from the story (Gemara Shabbos 31a) of Hillel and a man who came to him wishing to learn the Written Torah, but not the Spoken Torah. Hillel began to teach him the alphabet, teaching Alef, Bet, Gimel and Daled. On the next day, Hillel drew the same four letters on the board, and told him, "Tav, Shin, Reish, Quf." The man was beside himself - "Alef, Bet, Gimel, Daled!" Hillel responded, "How do you know that those are Alef, etc? Only because I told you that this is what they are!"

Everything, down to the letters of the alphabet, require a tradition. Even a dictionary, the basis for a "literal reading," requires a tradition. As such, a Peshat reading has no more claim to "truth" or "accuracy" than does a Derash reading, so long as both cling to a tradition, a Masorah.

Our goal is to find out more about what goes into a Peshat reading, and into a Derash reading. We have been trying to develop this by taking Ibn Ezra as an exemplar of Peshat, and Rashi as an exemplar of Derash, and learning our way through various events in the Torah with an eye toward what made Ibn Ezra and Rashi say what they said.

These e-mails emerge from Shiurim given at Ohave Shalom on Shabbos afternoons, before Minchah. As such, they sometimes include contributions from people at the Shabbos class. If anyone has thoughts or comments based on the e-mails, I would love to hear them, and to share them in the e-mails of the following week.
If you would like to see e-mails from our previous topics, please check the Ohave Shalom website at (Not all of the topics are on-line yet.)

Chavah and the Tree: An Overview
As we have done with previous topics, we began by looking at the actual Pesukim talking about the event. It would likely help to have a Chumash handy.

I believe that in order to understand why Chavah ate from the tree, we actually need to answer three questions:
    1. What was the tree supposed to be?
    2. Why did the Nachash want Chavah to eat?
    3. Why did Chavah want to eat from the tree?
Therefore, we begin by looking at four different sections from the Torah:
    1. Creation of the Tree (Bereishis 2:8-9)
    2. The Command Not to Eat from the Tree (Bereishis 2:16-17)
    3. Eating from the Tree (Bereishis 3:1-7)
    4. The Punishment (Bereshis 3:13-17)
This week, we dealt with the first two areas, and began the third area.

Bereishis 2:8-9 - Creation of the Tree
Here HaShem creates the Garden of Eden. The Torah seems to be retreating from its account of the Seventh Day, to discuss earlier events.

We are told that HaShem planted a garden, and that HaShem caused trees to grow in that garden. 2:8 seems to be an overview of what is then described in the following Pesukim, because in 2:8 we are told that HaShem planted the Garden and placed Adam in the garden, but then in 2:9-2:15 we are given the same information with greater elaboration.

In 2:9, we are told that HaShem caused general trees to grow, and then we are told that HaShem created "a tree of life in the middle of the garden, and a tree of knowledge of good and evil."

Why are we told of the location of the tree of life, and not of the tree of knowledge? Or are they both together?

It might be suggested that this is almost mocking Adam and Chavah - HaShem created the tree of life and put it smack in the middle of the garden, and didn't forbid them from eating of that tree, and yet they sought out the tree of knowledge.

Which tree would we seek, given the choice? Rahmat pointed out that Shelomo haMelech was addressed by HaShem, and offered a choice of whatever he would want, and he chose wisdom rather than choose long life. Nonetheless, it seems odd that they bypassed the tree of life. (Of course, we are not told expressly that they knew of its existence, but see Bereishis 3:22, which indicates that they were aware of it.)

This is one point to think about - what was the location of the tree of knowledge, and what was its relationship with the tree of life.

Bereishis 2:16-17 - Don't Eat
HaShem places Adam in the Garden, and gives him an order. We made several points on this instruction:

1. HaShem specifies Adam. Where is Chavah?
We have mentioned in the past that there are several understandings of what Chavah's nature was at this point. It is possible to read the Pesukim to indicate that she and Adam are part of the same soul at this point, and only in body is she not independent. It is possible, though, to read it that she does not exist yet, at all. In that case, is she prohibited from eating of the tree?

2. Adam is told, "Eat from every tree of the garden."
Is this a Mitzvah, or only a set-up for the next clause, prohibiting the tree of knowledge?

3. Adam is told that he will die on the day when he eats from the tree.
Is this a death sentence? Why didn't he die immediately?
There are three classical approaches to this problem:
    a. Adam did die on that "day," because a day for Gd is one thousand years, and Adam died at 930.
    b. Adam was supposed to be immortal, and this was his introduction to mortality. (According to this, though, what was the purpose of the Tree of Life? Did HaShem expect them to eat from the Tree of Knowledge?)
    c. This was a death sentence; the crime is capitally punishable, and the sentence would be carried out eventually.

Bereishis 3:1-7 - Eating from the Tree
The introduction to the serpent in 3:1 is interesting, and left us with a few questions:
    1. Who ever heard of a talking serpent?
    True, as Phyllis pointed out, we already have humanity created from the dust, a world created from nothing, and trees which have fruit that give knowledge or life. Still, was this a normal serpent?
    If this is not a normal serpent, then why (3:14-15) does Gd punish all serpents throughout history for its acts?

    2. What does the serpent hope to gain here, by making Chavah eat?
    Manochehr and Arthur suggested an interesting approach. The serpent is introduced as "more clever than all of the beasts of the field." Perhaps the serpent wanted to bring humanity down to the animal level. The serpent is the most clever animal, but here is humanity, more clever yet. The serpent figures that by making humans into animals, too, he will reign over them as well.

    3. The serpent begins his approach to Chavah with the word, "Af," which usually translates as "Even."
    His approach then reads, "Even, that Gd said you shall not from any tree in the garden?" Clearly, this is difficult to read. How do we translate this line?

    4. The serpent begins by saying, "Has HaShem told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?"
    Why does the serpent begin with an obviously false line? What does he want to cause Chavah to say?

Gd-willing, we will pick up here next week with a look through the rest of the Pesukim, and we will begin our look at Ibn Ezra's approach to the problems.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner
Chavah and the Tree - Week Two


This week we wrapped up our look at the verses describing the Tree of Knowledge, and Chavah and Adam eating from that tree. We added a few more questions to our list, and next week we should be able to take a look at Ibn Ezra's understanding of what happened.

As noted last week, it would help to have a Chumash in front of you for this e-mail.

Bereishis 3:1-7 - Eating from the Tree
We commented last week on 3:1; see last week's e-mail.

3:2-3 - Chavah tells the serpent that Gd has not told them they may not eat from any tree; they may eat from any tree, other than the tree of knowledge. They may not even touch that tree.
Looking at 2:17, it is clear that Chavah has added the element of touching the tree. Why did Chavah add this?

3:5 - The serpent says, "You will not die."
This is a very important statement, and there are two possibile meanings to this:
    A. Gd warned you that He would kill you for eating, and the truth is that He won't be able to kill you;
    B. Gd warned you that the tree is poisonous, but it actually is not.
When Gd told them not to eat (2:17), was it because the punishment would be the death penalty, or because the tree, itself, would kill them?

3:5 - The serpent promises that Adam and Chavah would "know good and evil" if they would eat from the tree.
Does this mean that they don't know what good and evil are, at this point? What does that mean?
Certainly, they can comprehend that some act could be evil - otherwise, how could Gd give them a Mitzvah, telling them that eating from the tree is wrong? (Of course, this is not a problematic if you assume that Gd was warning them that the fruit was poisonous - it isn't an issue of "right" and "wrong.")
So what sort of knowledge would Adam and Chavah gain from eating?

Further, the serpent promises that eating from the tree would give them this knowledge, and "make them like Gd," following one translation of "veHiyyeesem KEilokim." How could this knowledge make them godlike?
I think it would be incorrect to assume that this last point was an exaggeration by the serpent - the serpent had been very careful not to "hype" the tree. He didn't tell Chavah, "The fruit will remove wrinkles" or "The fruit will make you popular." He told her the truth - it will give knowledge of good and evil. What was it that would make them godlike, then?

3:6 - Chavah saw that the tree was good to eat.
How does one "see" that something is good to eat?
Further, the Torah says that Chavah saw the tree itself was good to eat.
This is reminiscent of a Midrash, which says that Gd originally commanded the ground to produce trees which would have fruit and bark of equivalent taste. The ground failed to produce such trees, a phenomenon which the commentators attribute alternatively to a misunderstanding by the ground, or simply sheer inability to produce that sort of tree. Either way, this tree seems to be a "throwback" to that time when Gd wanted a tree which would have this sort of characteristic.

3:6 - Chavah gave the fruit to Adam, too.
It seems clear that she told him what the fruit was; otherwise, why would Adam have been punished for eating?
Why are their eyes "opened" at the same time, though, in 3:7? Why doesn't HaShem punish Chavah for eating before she can give the fruit to Adam?
It is possible to suggest that, despite the literal order of the words in the verse, Chavah actually did not eat until she had given Adam a fruit, too. Under this reading, the words are "She took from its fruit and ate, and she also gave to her husband and he ate with her."

3:7 - Having eaten, their eyes are opened.
What now, though? Have they become "like Gd," suddenly? It certainly doesn't look like it. The serpent, of course, has disappeared, but what sort of change befell them? The ability to recognize a lack of clothing?

We have many questions here. To sum them up into three lines:
    1. What was the nature of this tree? What effect did it have on people?
    2. What was in it for the serpent?
    3. Why did Chavah eat from the tree?

Gd-willing, we will start to see some answers next week, with Ibn Ezra.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner
Chavah and the Tree - Week Three


This week we began our look at the way Ibn Ezra understands the Torah's account of events involving the Tree of Knowledge.

We began with an overview of Ibn Ezra's understanding:

This story is about knowledge and insight, and about the idea that knowledge may be off-limits, at times. To a certain extent, this story teaches us the role of humanity in the world - there is an hierarchy of creatures, and humanity ocupy a slot which is not privy to all information. We are not intended to be Malachim, meaning that we are created without certain information, which HaShem has given to Malachim, and not to humanity. Chavah and Adam wanted more; they wanted to be like the Malachim.

To state, in brief, Ibn Ezra's answers to our three questions:
    1. What is the nature of this tree? What effect does it have on people?
    The tree provides knowledge of good and evil, and knowing the good and evil possibilities involved in a course of behavior leads to desire. The context of Adam and Chavah's eating from the tree indicates that the issue about which they learn is relations between men and women.

    2. What was in it for the serpent?
    The Ibn Ezra doesn't say, although there may be a hint in something he says about the serpent. We'll see this, Gd-willing, as we go along.

    3. Why did Chavah eat from the tree?
    She wanted to have the insight to which Malachim are privy.

We then began to look at specific comments by Ibn Ezra, to see how he says this, and from what clues he learns it:

The Nature of the Tree
Ibn Ezra says that the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life were unique. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 70) does suggest various commonplace trees, but Ibn Ezra says that these were unlike any other trees.

Ibn Ezra makes this comment on Bereishis 3:6, but that verse is not what leads him to this conclusion. In his comment he cites the phrase "beSoch haGan - in the middle of the garden," from 2:9.
The fact that 2:9 lists creation of all of the trees, and then says separately, "And the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil," indicates to Ibn Ezra that these trees are separate from the other trees which Gd created, and that these trees exist only in the middle of the garden.

What do these trees do?
Ibn Ezra writes (3:6) that the Tree of Life is meant to increase life, and (2:9) that the tree of knowledge is meant to increase knowledge.

In 2:9 he states this as a point of grammar, in the words, "Eitz haDaas."
Ibn Ezra expands on this in 2:17, writing that it is impossible to think that Adam did not have any Knowledge on his own. After all, argues Ibn Ezra, Adam named the animals. Further, Gd gave Adam a Mitzvah; why would He do this, were Adam a fool, without intelligence?
Of course, all of this is subject to the question of what sort of "knowledge" we are discussing - intelligence, wisdom, factual knowledge, etc.

What sort of knowledge are we talking about?
Ibn Ezra makes two comments on this point. This is the first:

2:17 - Adam was lacking knowledge of good and evil in one specific area, and that was the area of physical relations between men and women.

Ibn Ezra learns this from two sources:
    1. Ibn Ezra takes it as a given that Adam had a level of knowledge/intelligence, already.
    2. The story of the Tree is flanked by a prior statement that Adam and Chavah were not sensitive to their unclothed state, and a following statement that Adam and Chavah recognized their unclothed state, and clothed themselves.
Therefore, Ibn Ezra concludes that the knowledge which was added was in this, specific, realm.
As Phyllis pointed out, there could have been other knowledge they were lacking, as well; this is only what we see from the story here.

(Parenthetically, this meshes well with another point of Ibn Ezra's, elsewhere.
When Gd creates humanity, He gives them an apparent command to "Be fruitful and multiply (Bereishis 1:28)." The commentators are puzzled, for this injunction is repeated again later, after the Flood! Most commentators assume that the command in 1:28 is a commandment, and the one after the flood is a blessing. Ibn Ezra, though, argues that 1:28 is a blessing.
This would fit with what he said here - a person can't have a Mitzvah, if he doesn't have knowledge in that area. Adam and Chavah do not have knowledge in that area as of 1:28, and so HaShem isn't giving them a Mitzvah - He is only blessing them.)

Ibn Ezra makes his second comment:
3:6 - Adam ate from the tree, and from this he received desire for physical male-female relations.

What are we to make of these two comments? First we are told they received knowledge, then we are told they received desire!
Perhaps Ibn Ezra is saying that they began with a functional knowledge of how to perform the act, as any animal has that sort of functional, built-in instinct. They lacked any of the higher emotional involvement that comes with it, though - involvement which could well be classified as knowledge of good and evil.
Good and Evil would refer here to relationships, and to those interactions which are deemed good, and which are deemed evil. To this point, it's all mechanical. When they eat from the tree, they gain a senstivity to a world of emotion which goes along with it, and to all of the desire which accompanies that emotion.

We left off with two questions, though, which we will try to address next time:
    1. Why would Gd create humanity without this type of knowledge?
    2. Why did Gd put this knowledge at their fingertips, with this tree, if He didn't want them to have it?

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner
Chavah and the Tree, Week Four


This week we began by addressing a few questions which were left from Ibn Ezra's explanation of the purpose of the "Tree of Knowledge."

Why weren't humans created with this knowledge?
As we said last time, Ibn Ezra explained that this tree was meant to increase one's knowledge, but that Adam and Chavah already possessed standard intelligence, for the most part. Ibn Ezra deduced from the verses immediately preceding this story (Bereishis 2:25) and immediately following their consumption of the fruit (Bereishis 3:7) that the knowledge which Adam and Chavah received was knowledge of the good and evil side of male-female interaction. According to Ibn Ezra, that type of knowledge converts an animal instinct into an act with all sorts of desires involved.

We began today with the question of Gd's goal in creating humanity with all sorts of knowledge, but without this type of knowledge. What is the point in leaving this particular data out of their makeup?

I suggested an idea which is common in Chassidic thought (using Chassidus to explain Ibn Ezra is odd, but it is not impossible!). The creation of another human being is not simply the fusion and fission of cells to form a physical body. When a man and woman mate, they are involved in a sort of creation of their child's soul, as well. Their traits affect the soul of the child - even their thoughts and state of mind during the actual act which creates the child will affect the outgrowth of their efforts.

Seen in that light, the reproductive act is much more than a biological function - it is nothing less than quasi-Divine Creation. It is the point in which a human being can affect both the physical and spiritual balances of this universe.

The information which allows human involvement on this scale is withheld. Gd does not give humanity the opportunity to take part in this type of Creation, presumably due to the destructive possibilities involved.

Why put the knowledge into the Tree?
In that case, why did Gd put this knowledge into the Tree, thereby making it available to humanity?

    A. Rahmat suggested that HaShem wanted to give us a Mitzvah.
    However, I find this difficult - if this knowledge is truly so dangerous, why give us a Mitzvah like this? Why not give us a more innocent Mitzvah?

    B. One might suggest that this is part of a general theme which is called, in Aramaic, "Istakel biOraysa, Ubara Alma" - "Gd looked in the Torah, and created the universe."
    The Torah is a blueprint for Creation, and since the Torah contains laws dealing with the morals and value of male-female relations, it makes sense that the possibility of this desire should exist in this world.

    C. Alternatively, one could suggest that HaShem did not want to make this type of knowledge unattainable for human beings.
    HaShem did not create us with this knowledge, as He wanted to make it our choice, and HaShem clearly marked the knowledge is a threat to humanity (in this context, "You shall die" is a warning rather than a punishment) - but the potential for it is within humanity's grasp, and so HaShem made it possible for us to reach it.
    This is exceedingly difficult to work into the language of "Do not eat from it," though.

Like Angels?
This left one more point to handle. The serpent promised Chavah (Bereishis 3:5) that eating from the tree would make humans "Keilokim." Ibn Ezra does not translate this as "Like Gd." Rather, Ibn Ezra takes the view that this is a generic term for "powerful beings," and that the serpent was promising Chavah that they would become like Angels.

According to this, the serpent promised Chavah that gaining knowledge regarding male-female relations would make humans into Angelic beings. This is rather odd - the angels are the sole creation of Gd which do not reproduce!

Perhaps the serpent was simply bluffing. Alternatively, though, we could understand this in light of Ibn Ezra's general worldview. According to Ibn Ezra, as well as Rambam, the hierarchy of creations is governed by knowledge. The animals have a low level of knowledge, compared to humans, and so they are lower on the scale. The angels have more knowledge than we have - and so they are higher on the scale. The scale has nothing to do with capacity, or practice - having the knowledge is the sole criterion to determine one's place.

Thus, gaining this knowledge would bring human beings one step closer to the angels.

What's in a Name?
Here Mr. Rosenbaum (fils) pointed out an additional problem. Ibn Ezra claimed that the tree, known as a generic "Tree of Knowledge," gave Adam and Chavah knowledge in the specific realm of male-female relations. Why isn't the "type" of knowledge mentioned in the Tree's Name?

Perhaps this is the type of knowledge it gave Adam/Chavah only because that was the type of knowledge they were missing. It is possible that the tree would give different types of knowledge to different people, depending on what they were lacking.

The Death Sentence
We then turned our attention to the banning of the Tree of Knowledge, and Gd's "death sentence," to round out our understanding of the Tree's role.

Adam was explicitly told (Bereishis 2:17), "On the day which you eat from it, you will die." Yet Adam and Chavah did not die on the day they ate from the tree!

This problem is dealt with by the commentators in a variety of ways. Some suggest that a day isn't really a day - it's a thousand years. Others suggest dying isn't really death - it refers to becoming mortal.

Ibn Ezra rejects these views, as they don't fit the dictionary definition of the Torah's words. Further, Ibn Ezra insists that humanity was never meant to be immortal. He quotes the "Greek Sages" as proving that nothing physical can last forever (and, yes, immortality would render the 'Tree of Life' fairly superfluous).

Ibn Ezra deals with the problem by sticking to the words, and taking one of Judaism's bedrock concepts to explain the problem. Yes, Gd meant that they would die on that day. Yes, they earned the death penalty. However, there is a concept of Teshuvah, repentance. Adam and Chavah repented, and HaShem allowed them to live.

This repentance is not found in the Torah, at all. In developing a "Peshat" reading, Ibn Ezra is less bothered by adding an event, than by taking words out of context or giving them odd definitions.

Next week, I hope, we will deal with the role of serpent, and the actual question of why Chavah ate.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner
Chavah and the Tree - Week Five

This week, we looked at two more points within the Ibn Ezra's view of this event:
1. What the Serpent was, and
2. Why Chavah ate from the Tree.

What the Serpent Was
Ibn Ezra (Bereishis 3:1) cites a Midrashic idea that the serpent was actually an angel, and it was attempting to tempt Chavah to sin. Ibn Ezra rejects this idea, based on two arguments:
    1. Gd would not send an angel to act against His interests.
    2. Gd punished the serpent by cursing all of its descendant serpents.

(One might ask, regarding the first point, how Gd could then create the "Yetzer haRa," the force in a person which tempts him to sin.
It is possible, though, to respond by distinguishing between two types of sin:
    A. An act which is prohibited and is dangerous for human beings, and
    B. An act which is prohibited simply because Gd has told us not to do it.
According to what Ibn Ezra says here, Gd will send a Yetzer haRa to test a person on the latter type of sin, but not on the former type of sin.)

Having rejected the idea that the serpent was an angel, Ibn Ezra suggests that the serpent was a normal serpent, and that just as Gd gave humans the power of speech, so Gd gave this serpent the power of speech. This is certainly the straightforward reading of the verse.

Ibn Ezra does not address the question of when serpents lost the power of communication.
At the class today, Rahmat suggested that humans and animals could understand each other until the Tower of Bavel. This is an interesting idea but, to the best of my knowledge, is not found in the traditional sources. Others suggested that the serpent was no different from any other serpent, and that Adam and Chavah were able to understand the speech of animals.

Ibn Ezra does not address the issue of why the serpent wanted them to eat from the Tree.

Why Chavah Ate from the Tree
Ibn Ezra notes (Bereishis 3:1) that we are not given the entire conversation between Chavah and the serpent. The word "Af" indicates that this verse, with which our narrative opens, was the last part of a dialog between Chavah and the serpent.

According to Ibn Ezra, Chavah's error was the result of a 3-step process:
    1. Human error
    2. The serpent's bluff
    3. The enticement

First, Chavah made a tactical error. The serpent opened by making a false statement - Has Gd said that you may not eat from any tree? Chavah responded, "We may eat from any tree, but we may neither eat from, nor touch, the tree in the heart of the garden." The idea of not touching the tree was her own addition, generally understood as a fence she erected to prevent herself from eating of the tree's fruit. Chavah erred, merging her addition with the law.

Once Chavah made the mistake of merging her addition with the law, the serpent was open to bluff her and say, "You won't die." His words were true - one would not die from touching the tree. The serpent added, "If you eat from the tree, you will become like Elo-him."
Ibn Ezra takes this to mean "You will be like angels," as that word may also mean "powerful beings." How would knowledge of male-female interaction turn them into angels? As we said last week, Ibn Ezra ranks creatures based on their intellect. Spiritual beings have a greater level of knowledge and understanding. The serpent was telling Chavah that the more knowledge she gained, the greater she would be.

This was what Chavah wanted - to grow, and become greater. Let's look at Bereishis 3:6, where Chavah's decision is recorded; Ibn Ezra reads the whole verse as a reference to Chavah's desire for knowledge:

    1. VaTeireh haIshah Ki Tov haEitz liMaachal - Chavah saw the fruit, and she saw that it was "good to eat."
    This does not necessarily refer to taste; it may mean that she thought it would be good for her.
    Ibn Ezra reads "VaTeireh" not as "she saw," but as "she understood." Chavah understood that the fruit would be good for her.

    2. viChi Saavah Hu laEinayim - It was desirable for her eyes.
    This may be a reference to the serpent's promise that it would open her eyes. Although Ibn Ezra does not specifically state this, he hints at it.

    3. veNechmad haEitz liHaskil - The tree was pleasant for gazing/insight
    Ibn Ezra reads this to refer to the serpent's promise that Chavah would gain understanding by eating from the tree.

    Ibn Ezra does not say this, but it is possible to back up this reading by pointing out that Chavah doesn't look at the fruit; every reference herein is to the tree itself, the "Tree of Knowledge," and not the fruit.

We now have Ibn Ezra's view. As stated a couple of weeks ago, he held:
    1. What is the nature of this tree? What effect does it have on people?
    The tree provides knowledge of good and evil, and knowing the good and evil possibilities involved in a course of behavior leads to desire. The context of Adam and Chavah's eating from the tree indicates that the issue about which they learn is relations between men and women.

    2. What was in it for the serpent?
    Ibn Ezra doesn't say.

    3. Why did Chavah eat from the tree?
    She wanted to have the insight to which Malachim are privy.

Gd-willing, next week we will look at a quick review of the methods Ibn Ezra used to get to this understanding, and we will begin our look at Rashi's Midrashic understanding.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner


Chavah and the Tree - Week Six


This week we wrapped up our look at Ibn Ezra's "Peshat" approach, and began to look at Rashi's "Derash" understanding.

Ibn Ezra
We looked at Ibn Ezra's methods of arriving at his conclusions. Ibn Ezra used three easily discerned methods:

    1. Simple words: Ibn Ezra looked at the straightforward words in explaining what the serpent was, and how it could communicate with Chavah. As far as Ibn Ezra is concerned, the snake was a normal snake, and Gd simply gave it the power of communication with humans.

    2. Context: Ibn Ezra looked at the verses immmediately preceding and succeeding Adam and Chavah eating from the tree, and determined that the type of knowledge given to Adam and Chavah was knowledge about male-female relationships. This then makse it clear what Chavah wanted from the Tree.

    3. Logic/Science: Ibn Ezra depended on logic to conclude that Humanity must have been intelligent before the Tree, and he used the achievements of Greek science to conclude that humans were never meant to live forever.

On this last point, Phyllis asked whether depending on scientific discovery is a sound method of Torah analysis. We cited a few Talmudic examples where scientists are relied on for certain information, but left the question of specific application open.

One interesting point, though, emerges from the Rambam. The Rambam writes that if a person's interpretation of a Torah verse contradicts reality, it is obvious that the interpretation is incorrect.

We now turned to Rashi's understanding of the event.

Rashi explained that this story is about failing at perfection, and bringing physical imperfection - Death and Decay - to the world. Chavah wanted to grow beyond what she was, and she was persuaded to violate her Mitzvah in order to achieve this end.

Rashi's Answers to our Central Questions
    1. What is the nature of this tree?
    Rashi believed that the tree of life gave eternal life, and the tree of knowledge gave knowledge of taste, preference and desire, where Adam and Chavah had heretofore experienced only True/False.

    2. What was in it for the serpent?
    The serpent wanted Chavah for himself.

    3. Why did Chavah eat from the tree?
    The serpent convinced her it was harmless, helped in part by her error regarding touching the tree. In addition, Chavah wanted the knowledge which the serpent said she would acquire.

Comparing Rashi and Ibn Ezra
Rashi and Ibn Ezra are very similar in their reading. The key differences are:
    1. The type of knowledge which the tree provided, and
    2. The central focus of the story, whether on Knowledge or on Perfection and Imperfection Along the way, though, there are a few more interesting variations between their approaches.

The Nature of the Tree of Life
Rashi understands that Adam and Chavah were originally immortal, and that HaShem's warning of "You will die" meant that they would become mortal on eating from the Tree of Knowledge. This, of course, deals with the problem of why they did not die immediately upon eating - it wasn't a death sentence, it was removal of their immortality.

The Nature of the Tree of Knowledge
Rashi gains his basic understanding of what the Tree provided by looking at Bereishis 3:22. This verse follows the punishment which HaShem meted out to the serpent, Chavah and Adam.

In this verse, Gd says (this is a paraphrasal rather than a translation), "Humanity has become like one of 'us,' knowing good and evil. Now, lest he take from the tree of life and live forever…" Gd concludes by sending Adam and Chavah out of the garden.

What was Gd's concern? Lest they eat from the tree of life, and live forever. What's wrong with that? Is it that Gd has already decreed death for them? Surely Gd can overrule a tree, even if they eat from it!

Rashi explains that there are two factors working together - having the knowledge from the tree of knowledge, and having the life from the tree of life. If Adam and Chavah have both higher knowledge and eternal life, others will think them to be gods.

Rashi believes that Adam and Chavah were supposed to be immortal until they ate from the tree of knowledge, but that was not a problem, for they didn't have this knowledge at that time. The combination is what is hazardous.

That explains why the tree of knowledge was banned, but what is this higher knowledge, that could cause others to confuse them for gods? Rashi says that it is knowledge which separates humans from animals. Others (see Sifsei Chachamim 3:22) have expanded on this, indicating that where animals know only True/False, or Beneficial/Harmful, humans know Desire for good and evil. It is a broad type of Taste or Value, which transcends the specific nature Ibn Ezra ascribed to the Tree of Knowledge's gift.

Was Chavah prohibited from eating?
As we will see, Gd-willing, next week, Rashi (Bereishis 3:1) explains that the serpent thought he could get Chavah for himself, by getting her to eat. If Chavah would die on eating, though, as Rashi indicated, then how would the serpent "get her?"

Sifsei Chachamim, a commentary to Rashi, explains this with an idea we pointed out a few weeks ago. On looking at 2:16-17, where the tree is forbidden, we see that Chavah was combined with Adam when the command was given. Was she her own person? Was she commanded not to eat from the tree?

Sifsei Chachamim (Bereishis 3:15) suggests that the serpent thought Chavah wasn't forbidden; only Adam was. Therefore, he would get Chavah when Adam died. (Sifsei Chachamim also suggests that the serpent may have thought Chavah would give Adam the fruit first, before she would eat.)

We have much more to see here; Gd-willing, we will continue our efforts to understand Rashi's reading next week.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner


Chavah and the Tree - Week Seven


This week we almost finished Rashi's view of Chavah and the Tree.

The Tree
First, we returned to a point from last week. Where Ibn Ezra had said that the Tree provided knowledge of interaction between men and women, Rashi said that the Tree provided general knowledge.

Ibn Ezra had based his idea on the verses before, during and after they ate from the fruit:
    1. The verse immediately before the serpent spoke to Chavah (Bereishis 2:25) mentioned that Adam and Chavah were not wearing clothing, and were not embarrassed.

    2. Immediately after Chavah and Adam ate, we are told (3:7) that their eyes were opened, and they knew they were not wearing clothing, and they sewed fig leaves into belts.

    3. After Gd punishes Chavah and Adam, He makes leather clothing for them (3:21).

What does Rashi do with those verses?
According to Sifsei Chachamim (3:1), citing R' Eliyahu Mizrachi, Rashi held that Adam and Chavah actually had clothing before this event occurred. When the Torah says (2:25) that they weren't wearing clothing, it is referring to an interlude when they weren't wearing clothing, but they actually had clothes.

    1. Their lack of clothing is mentioned in 2:25 because that lack of clothing was what led the serpent to become interested in Chavah, as we will explain later.

    2. When the Torah says (3:7) that Adam and Chavah had their eyes opened, it doesn't specify that they knew they weren't wearing clothing; it says they knew they were "bare." Rashi takes this to mean that they knew they had lost their Mitzvah.

    3. The verse about Gd making leather clothing for Adam and Chavah (3:21) actually describes an event which occurred before this whole story. This story was injected here, before the clothing was mentioned, because it was a continuation of the story of the splitting of Adam and Chavah into two beings. As we have discussed in other contexts, Rashi's Midrashic view of the Torah accepts the idea that a story may be moved out of chronological order, in order to fit its topical context.

As Ben Tzion pointed out today, there is one problem here - in 3:7, when the Torah says that Adam and Chavah had their eyes opened, it also says that they made clothes from fig leaves for themselves. Why was there any need to do this, if Gd had already given them clothing? This requires examination.

The Serpent
We then moved on to a discussion of the Serpent.

We asked how the serpent could communicate with Adam and Chavah, and we didn't have an answer. Rashi doesn't comment on this point.

We then asked why the serpent wanted Chavah to eat. According to Rashi (3:1), the serpent had seen Chavah when she and Adam were unclothed, and the serpent was inspired to seek Chavah for himself. He thought that by getting Chavah to eat, he would gain her for himself.

Of course, here's the big question - how is the serpent going to get Chavah for himself, if she dies?

We presented three possible answers:

    1. Sifsei Chachamim 3:15 - The serpent expected that Chavah would give Adam the fruit first, and that she would see him die, and so she wouldn't eat.

    2. Sifsei Chachamim 3:15 - Alternatively, the serpent thought Chavah was not under the death penalty, since Gd had given the instruction while she was still a part of Adam.

    3. Perhaps one could suggest that the serpent truly believed his sales pitch. The serpent may have thought they wouldn't die, and Chavah would be eternally grateful to him for giving her the wisdom gained from the fruit.

Why did Chavah Eat?
Rashi's view is very similar to that of Ibn Ezra.

Like Ibn Ezra, Rashi says the snake deliberately began with a false line, asking Chavah whether Gd had forbidden all of the garden's fruit. This was to get Chavah into a conversation.

Chavah then made her mistake of saying that they couldn't even touch the tree. Ibn Ezra also picked up on this, but Rashi adds a note. Rashi quotes a Midrash which is bothered by Chavah's reversal. Chavah goes suddenly from fear of touching the tree, to eating from it.
Explaining this reversal, the Midrash picks up on Chavah's comment about touching the tree, and teaches that the snake took advantage of her error. The serpent pushed Chavah into the tree - and she didn't die. This led her to question what she had been told about eating from the tree.

The serpent promises Chavah that eating from the Tree will give her great knowledge. He says, "veHiyyeesem Keilokim." Ibn Ezra took that to mean "You will have the knowledge of the angels." Rashi, though, says (3:5) that the serpent was offering her to become like Gd Himself. The Chavah promised her that she would become like Gd, able to create worlds.

(Parenthetically, this theme of Creation is reflected in the punishments which Adam and Chavah received. They ate because they wanted to be able to create worlds. Gd took the forms of human creation - Reproduction, and Agriculture, and said, 'You wanted to create, and so you broke My law; now your methods of creation will become difficult for you.')

In 3:6, we are told that Chavah trusted the words of the serpent, believing that eating would be good for her, and that she would gain insight.

Giving the Fruit to Others
Chavah gave the fruit to Adam, as well. Here, Rashi again differs from Ibn Ezra. According to Ibn Ezra, the grammar allows us to read that Chavah and Adam ate simultaneously, after Chavah had given the fruit to Adam. According to Rashi, though, Chavah ate first, and realized she was going to die. She didn't want to face death alone, and so she convinced Adam to eat, too.

Rashi also makes note of an extra word here (3:6), and that word is "Gam," "Also." "And Chavah gave to her husband also, and he ate." The word "Gam," is traditionally understood to add some element to a story. It is a word which indicates that something else is going on.
Rashi explains that Chavah gave the fruit to Adam, and to all of the animals, as well. According to Rashi, the animals were supposed to be immortal, and Chavah gave them the fruit, making them mortal, too. (See Rashi Iyyov 29:18)

Next week we will, Gd-willing, have a summary of Rashi and of the differences between Rashi and Ibn Ezra, and we might see some comments by Seforno on this event.

Have a good week, and a happy Chanukah,
Mordechai Torczyner


Chavah and the Tree - Week Eight


This week we concluded our look at this event by summarizing the similarities/differences between Rashi and Ibn Ezra, and by presenting some additional notes from Ramban and Seforno.

Similarities between Rashi and Ibn Ezra
    1. According to both Rashi and Ibn Ezra, the "knowledge" which the tree provided was an element of taste, or personal preference. Knowledge of moral and value shadings would lead to desire.
    2. The serpent took advantage of Chavah's error (regarding touching the tree) to get her to re-think her reluctance to eat from the tree.
    3. Chavah trusted the serpent's words.

Differences between Rashi and Ibn Ezra
    1. The type of knowledge which the tree provided - Rashi understands it as general knowledge/desire, whereas Ibn Ezra limits it to the area of male-female interaction.
    2. The reason for the serpent's involvement - Rashi says the serpent was interested in Chavah, for himself. Ibn Ezra does not address the question of why the serpent tried to persuade Chavah to take the fruit.
    3. Why Chavah trusted the serpent - Rashi adds that the serpent pushed Chavah into the tree, which helps explain the role of her error regarding touching the tree, and helps explain why she believed the serpent. Ibn Ezra does not include this.
    4. Why Chavah gave the fruit to Adam - According to Rashi, Chavah ate and realized she would die, and didn't want to face death alone. According to Ibn Ezra, they both ate together.

Additional Views
In terms of the tree itself, and the "knowledge" it provided, we brought two additional views:

The Tree: Ramban
Ramban (Bereishis 2:9) - The tree provided Desire. The difference between Ramban's view and that of Rashi and Ibn Ezra is that Ramban doesn't say it is knowledge which leads to desire, but rather that the tree provided that actual desire. Until that point, humanity acted on highly-developed instinct.

Ramban backs up this idea by pointing to several verses (Tehillim 144:3, Shemos 33:12) in which "Daas," as in "Daas Tov vaRa," refers to desire rather than to knowledge.

The Tree: Seforno
Seforno - The tree provided the ability to turn a blind eye to one's intellect. According to Seforno, there are two basic elements to a decision:
A. Superficial Benefit, and
B. Real Benefit.
These may, at times, conflict. The Tree allowed humanity to ignore the second part, in favor of the first. "Knowledge of Good and Evil" actually refers to "Knowledge of Superficial Good and Evil." The fruit of the tree would, in effect, enable humanity to ignore what they knew to be right.

As Phyllis pointed out, this was actually inherent in eating from the tree, itself. The fruit didn't have to be anything special; once Chavah ate, she learned this ability to blind herself to what she knew was right.

Mortality of Humanity: Ramban
We have pointed out, in our study of Ibn Ezra, that he cites scientific evidence to prove that humanity was never immortal. Ibn Ezra says that the warning, "when you eat you will die," was only that there would be a death sentence on their heads, but that they would have died eventually, anyway.

Although Ramban frequently quotes Ibn Ezra with the greatest respect, he describes this particular view as belonging to "those of small faith." According to Ramban (Bereishis 2:17), the belief in entropic decay is fine for scientists, but our belief in a world which Gd created also includes a belief that Gd created immortal souls, which could, theoretically, maintain a body forever. Ramban believes that humanity would have been immortal, as we saw Rashi claim. Eating from the tree made us mortal.

Why Chavah Ate: Ramban
We have mentioned that Chavah ate, primarily, because she believed the serpent's story about the tree. Ramban (Bereishis 3:6) adds that the serpent took Chavah by surprise; Gd had never told them what the tree could provide. Although Gd's warning (2:17) includes a mention of the tree as "Eitz haDaas Tov vaRa," that was for the reader; Adam was only told, "that tree."

Ramban backs this up by pointing to Chavah's conversation with the serpent - in 3:3, Chavah describes the tree as "the tree which is in the middle of the garden."

The Serpent: Seforno
Finally, we saw a very interesting view put forth by Seforno as to the nature of the Serpent.

Both Rashi and Ibn Ezra seem to understand that the serpent was a Garden variety (ouch!) serpent.

Seforno takes a different approach, and his approach really changes the face of the whole story. Seforno (3:1) suggests that the serpent was the Yetzer HaRa, that aspect of a person which persuades him to sin. According to Seforno, sin begins in a person's imagination; one creates a vision of the sinful act, and what he might gain therefrom.

The Torah's use of "serpent" is no different from a comparison of a king to a lion. The Yetzer HaRa gives us little benefit, and causes great harm, and the same is true of a venomous snake.

According to Seforno, then, Chavah's own imagination convinces her that the fruit will be good for her.

This story now goes from "Outside villain convinces Chavah to eat," to "Chavah fights an internal battle about eating, and loses." Obviously, Seforno does not take to Ramban's view that Gd never told them what the fruit could do (see above).

This carries through into the punishment which Gd gave the "serpent," which is humanity's own power of imagination. This is the way Seforno reads 3:14-15, the Serpent's punishment:

"You are cursed from all the animals…" - The term "Arur," or "curse," always denotes "lacking." Here, it means that you will have to work harder than the animals, to get what you want, and the benefit will be less than that of the animals.

"You will travel on your belly" - You will have to strain to survive and make a living.

"You will eat dirt all of the days of your life" - The benefit which you do acquire will be much weaker than what you could have had, before the sin.

"I will create enmity between you (imagination) and the woman" - Women will have a particular problem with imagination, as even women themselves, as a group, are going to have problems of self-esteem. (This seems like social commentary, but I might be reading in more than Seforno intended.)

"He will crush you in the head" - Seforno takes the pronouns oddly here, understanding "He" to refer to the Imagination. Our imagination will crush us in the beginning of an endeavor, minimizing danger and overstating potential pleasures.

"And you will bite his ankle" - When people get what they want, they also will cause whatever harm the imagination had managed to conceal from them.

We have seen quite a bit over the past eight weeks, and it goes without saying that there is much more which could be seen. Gd-willing, Caren and I will be away in New York next week, but we should be back in two weeks with the first installment of Yehudah and Tamar.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner

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