Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden with but one command to follow: do not
eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. When the snake came to
entice Chava (Eve) to eat from it, he steered the focus to the one forbidden
tree by inquiring if G-d had forbidden eating from ALL of the trees. "The
woman said to the snake, 'Of the fruit of any tree of the garden we may eat.
Of the fruit of the tree in the center of the garden G-d has said, "You
shall neither eat of it nor touch it, lest you die."'" (Beraishis/Genesis
3:2-3) Indeed, G-d had never said anything about touching it. Rashi explains
that the snake pushed Chava against the tree and she suffered no harm, to
which the snake responded, "Just as you did not die when you touched the
tree, nothing will happen when you eat from it." Rashi notes that her effort
to embellish G-d's command led to its diminishment.
But why did her coerced contact with the fruit convince her that eating was
without risk? After all, G-d does not hold people accountable for violations
of the Divine will caused by outside forces. Sifsai Chachamim
(supercommentary on Rashi by Rabbi Shabsai Bass, 1641-1718) clarifies that
Chava, in her effort to understand the punishing power of the fruit,
rationalized that the fruit was toxic, from which she assumed that the
toxins killed by any contact, internal or external. She was so invested in
this rationale, concludes Sifsai Chachamim, that when touching the fruit
caused no harm, she concluded that there must be no poison - G-d must not
have been forthright in his warning, just as the snake told her - and,
therefore, nothing would come of eating it.
How could Chava make such an egregious error? She knew that G-d said nothing
about toxins, that it was her own assumption, contrived to make sense of the
situation, and that she further invented the danger of any - even
accidental - contact. When she saw that she did not die, she should simply
have realized that her hypotheses were WRONG. How did she suppose that G-d
was not truthful in His warning such that she felt free to eat without fear
Rabbi Alter Henach Leibowitz (Rosh Yeshiva/Dean of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in
Kew Gardens Hills, New York) observes the destructive power of haughtiness
and unbridled self assuredness. Chava was so confident in her comprehension
of the tree's power that the undoing of her assessment discredited the
ENTIRE warning, to the point she lost faith in the basic Divine caveat to
refrain from eating. So great is the challenge of recognizing and admitting
one's own failings that the normal human reaction is cognitive dissonance,
the unwitting manufacture of a preposterous fact pattern in the simple
effort to lend credence to - and avoid retraction of - one's original
assumptions. Chava could believe G-d was less than truthful, eat from the
tree, and introduce death to the world, but she could not be wrong.
True humility is difficult to attain, but the Mishna (Eduyos 5,6) advises
that it is better for one to be called a fool by his peers for his entire
life than be construed as evil by G-d for one moment. Orchos Tzadikim
clarifies the corrosive nature of pride. G-d Himself warned us (Devarim/
Deuteronomy 8,14) that haughtiness causes such self overconfidence that one
eventually forgets G-d and His role in guiding our daily affairs. With this
comes dereliction to mitzvos (Divine commandments) and laziness toward
chesed (kindness) opportunities, because his primary focus is himself.
Conversely, continues Orchos Tzadikim, humility is the root of Divine
service, because it is the recognition that our strengths and weaknesses,
our successes and failures, are all ours as gifts from the Orchestrator of
the Universe. Humility does not mean denying our talents. It means accepting
that we are not the true source of those talents; accepting that the true
source gave us those talents so we may fulfill a mission; and accepting that
with those talents came a number of flaws, too.
Life is about choices. One of G-d's greatest gifts to us is our freedom to
choose...and one of our most important choices is: Whose will do I serve?
Whose mission plan do I follow? Who is really "number one"? G-d or I?