One of the puzzling aspects of the initial sin of Adam and Chava was the
fact that they were not given the punishment that Hashem clearly declared
when He informed them of the prohibition. The Torah notes that Hashem told
Adam and Chava that they are free to enjoy the fruits of any of the other
trees. However, they must not partake from the fruit of the eitz hada’as,
for if they do, “On the day you eat of it (the fruit of the eitz hada’as )
you shall surely die (Bereshis 2:17).”
When they sinned and in fact did eat from the forbidden fruit, they
received a number of punishments and were banished from Gan Eden. But did
not lose their lives “on that day.” The question arises; why did Hashem
not administer the punishment that he had so clearly stated to them?
One way to explain this apparent inconsistency is by noting that the lack
of the immediate implementation of the punishment was certainly not
incongruent with the words of Hashem that they would die on the day they
ate from the forbidden fruit. They were both supposed to live forever, as
part of Hashem’s plan. They were informed that they would eventually die
after they ate the fruit of the Eitz Hada’as (Bereshis 3:19). Just like
placing a man on death row announces to all that this individual is
condemned to death, so too, removing Adam and Chava from Gan Eden and
informing them of their impending mortality meant that they began their
inexorable march to their demise following their sin.
Rabbi Betzalel Rudinsky, Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshivas Ohr Reuvain, offers a
deeper insight into the words of the Torah – and the punishment of Adam
and Chava. He explains that it was the initial intention of Hashem that
Adam and Chava remain in Gan Eden and experience the exponential spiritual
growth that the Mishnah (Ukzim 12:3, see others) describes in such vivid
terms. They were to bask in the glow of Hashem’s Shechinah (Divine
Presence) forever and grow close to Him. After they sinned, this spiritual
Gan Eden was reserved for a later time – after the arrival of Mashiach.
Looking at things in these terms, it is easy to understand why Hashem
referred to ‘immediate death’ when noting the punishment that would result
if they ate from the Eitz Hada’as. They lived for hundreds of years
following their sin, but were denied the opportunity to live the ‘Gan
Eden’ of never-ending spiritual development. Living without purpose is a
life unfulfilled – and in the larger scheme of things, similar to death.
Rabbi Rudinsky tied this approach to the beautiful thoughts of the Vilna
Gaon on the ‘Retzei’ tefilah that we recite during the birchas hamazon of
Shabbos. The Gaon asks several questions on this tefilah. Why do we
mention “shelo tehei tzorah … b’yom menuchaseinu (there shall be no
distress or grief during our day of rest)?” Why would we think that there
would be anguish on the day of Shabbos? Why do we request this level of
tranquility specifically on Shabbos?
The Gaon explains that a person always needs to be focused on productive
endeavors. Spending blocks of time without responsibility and focus is
counterproductive and dangerous – to one’s body and soul. Shabbos,
explains the Gaon, is a small slice of Gan Eden (as we say in the Shabbos
zemiros, “M’ein Olam Haba’ah yom Shabbos menucha),” an opportunity to
pursue our spiritual growth without the distractions of work and mundane
matters. However, when not utilized properly, it can result in laxity and
all the dangers that come with large blocks of unfocused time. We
therefore thank Hashem for the gift of Shabbos and pray that we be free of
the distress and grief that come with poor use of such time.
Adam and Chava squandered their endless Shabbos – their opportunity to
dwell in the presence of Hashem forever.
We are offered a small slice of this Gan Eden each week. We must make
every effort to take full advantage of this precious gift.
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.