The Nachash [Snake]

Yosey Goldstein (JOE-G@VM.VIPS.COM)
Wed, 27 Nov 96 16:47:18 EST

In Torah-Forum V2 #94 Isaac A Zlochower wrote: "Jonathan Singer-Jordan
requested an explanation of the snake's punishment for tempting Eve (Chava)
to eat from the "tree of knowing good and bad" , if we assume that only
Adam and Eve were given free will. The question touches on important issues
such as a literal vs. a symbolic understanding of the early part of
Genesis, and the main point of the Eden story."

It seems to me that in an attempt to answer Mr. Singer's question Mr.
Zlochower is going down a path that is not compatible with the traditional
commentaries on the Torah, and many of the points he makes are in direct
conflict with the words of Chazal [our sages].

To begin, even though the Torah was written by G-D and G-d wrote it so that
is may be understood in many different ways, for us to understand the
different meanings put into the Torah one must rely on the traditional
commentaries. Once one has learned their explanations, if one has his own
insight into the Torah BASED on chazal or an explanation said in another
area of Torah, that is commendable. However, to glibly say the Torah is not
meant to be understood literally and it is all "symbolic" or a metaphor is
not valid.

Isaac A Zlochower continues: "Let's begin by asking further questions on
this story. If the snake was once a walking, talking, thinking creature,
then its curse is far greater than the loss of "legs", but, rather its loss
its prior, human like qualities. Why is only its slithering fate mentioned?
Why doesn't G-D question the snake on its rationale, but, instead,
immediately pronounces its fate? Why were Adam and Eve given an arbitrary
prohibition that they could not long withstand? Why are the punishments so
severe; this, after all, is only a first offense? What is wrong with
wanting knowledge, and how can a tree provide it?"

Mr. Zlochower poses some interesting questions in quest of an answer to Mr.
Singer's question. Many of these questions are have been addressed by
Chazal and the commentaries.

Question #1: " If the snake was once a walking, talking, thinking creature,
then its curse is far greater than the loss of "legs", but, rather its loss
its prior, human like qualities. Why is only its slithering fate
mentioned?" There may be several ways to explain it, all of them long and
involved. See the OHR HACHAIM on Chumash for an explanation that will
answer this question. Alternately one may say that the Gemmorah says the
Nachash wanted to marry Chava/Eve. i.e. The snake was jealous of what
human's had and wanted it for himself. His punishment? The removal of those
exact qualities that made him close enough to be able to desire that which
human's have.

Question #2: "why doesn't G-D question the snake on its rationale, but,
instead, immediately pronounces its fate?" This question is posed by the
Gemmorah/Talmud and the Gemmorah says, this is the source that one does not
allow for any defense of a Maysis, or one who seduces another into
disobeying G-d's commands. (See Rashi who quotes the Gemmorah in Sanhedrin.)

Question #3: "Why were Adam and Eve given an arbitrary prohibition that
they could not long withstand? " How can anyone call a Divine command
"Arbitrary"??! Just because a human being is not privy to the reason G-D
has for anything, does not give anyone the right to belittle G-d's
commandments! The other problem I have with this statement is: Who says
they could not withstand this prohibition? In fact the Seforim say that if
Adam and Eve were to control themselves for a mere few hours until the
onset of Shabbos, then humanity could have remained in the Garden of Eden.

Question #4: "Why are the punishments so severe; this, after all, is only a
first offense?" This shows a lack of understanding as to what it means to
sin. G-D forgives OUR offenses because our belief/faith in him can not be
the same as Adam's who was created by G-d, and he KNEW it, who spoke to G-D
and who "SAW" the creation of Eve. His offense which was after receiving a
direct command from G-d is much different from any offense we may commit.
In fact there is a Midrash that says, G-d asked his angels/attributes what
should the punishment be for a man who sins? The attribute of Din/ Law said
a man who sins should die. No if's and's or But's!

Questions #5 & 6: " What is wrong with wanting knowledge, and how can a
tree provide it?" Nothing is wrong with desiring Knowledge. What was wrong
was disobeying G-D's explicit command prohibiting them from eating from the
tree. G-d placed humanity in this world for one purpose and one purpose
only . To do what he has commanded and to reap the rewards that G-d wants
to shower on man for obeying. (See the Messilass Yeshorim/ Path Of the
Just.) As far as How can the tree provide Knowledge, Wonderful question.
Hippocrates had his patients chew on the bark of a tree to reduce swelling,
bring down a fever etc. In modern times scientists have found the chemicals
in that tree and have mass produced it in the medicine we know as Aspirin.
Now, if someone would ask me how Aspirin works I would have to tell him, "I
have no idea." Does my lack of understanding change the inherent qualities
of aspirin? Does aspirin only help a man that understands it's qualities
and how it works? Absolutely not. Chazal in Sanhedrin discuss the different
views as to what the tree of knowledge was. One view is that it was wheat,
because a child is not able to call his father until he eats food derived
from wheat. Chazal tell us that there is a property in wheat that allows
our minds to mature to the level of being able to speak. How does it work?
I still do not know but Chazal say that it does.

So using traditional commentaries as a base we have answered every question
posed, without coming up with some unbased speculation. Everything Mr.
Zlowchower writes after that is essentially contrary to what Chazal [our
sages] wrote. When he writes "The tree of knowing good and bad did not have
any special knowledge giving properties. It is only named after its
effect." We have already seen Chazal disagreed. He wrote that Man was never
meant to remain in Eden. We have written that if he would have controlled
himself until Shabbos he WOULD have remained in Eden. (Although G-D KNEW
that man would not withstand the test, that is another subject addressed by
our Rishonim, (early commentaries) and has been discussed in this forum.)
Likewise, the rest of his posting is personal speculation rather than
something authenticated by Chazal.

Hatzlocha

Yosey Goldstein