Copyright 2010  by and Gary Konecky, 2011 by Gary Konecky

The sin of Adam and Eve (as recounted in Genesis 2:16 – 3:24) has been the subject of much speculation.  Usually the speculation includes the myth that the forbidden fruit was an apple and that the sin of Adam and Eve had to do with some sort of sexual activity.  As there has been so much speculation about the sin of Adam and Eve, and as people’s attitudes toward sexual activity play a major role in the persecution of the LGBTI community, I have decided to include this topic in our exploration of the bible and sexual orientation.

Our exploration of the sin of Adam and Eve needs to address several key questions.  Why did the serpent set out to cause Adam and Eve to sin?  What species was the forbidden Tree of Knowledge?  Where was Adam while the serpent was talking to Eve?  Why was the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge forbidden?  What was the sin of Adam and Eve?  If  G-d is all knowing, why did G-d let this happen?

Lets start our exploration with what life was like in the Garden of Eden and why the serpent set out to induce Adam and Eve to sin. 

Adam was the epitome of creation and had been created immortal.  Therefore, the Angel of Death put great effort into making Adam sin, for if Adam sinned, he would die and the Angel of Death would have performed its function.  To this end, the Angel of Death carefully selected the serpent for its plans. 

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 59b) tells us:  “R. Judah b. Tema said: Adam reclined in the Garden of Eden, whilst the ministering angels roasted flesh and strained wine for him. Thereupon the serpent looked in, saw his glory, and became envious of him?”

Another teaching is that the serpent was also overcome with lust for Eve.  The serpent therefore set out to cause Adam to die so that the serpent could take Eve for himself.  The serpent’s plan was to get Eve to feed Adam the forbidden fruit, and then Adam would die.  The serpent assumed that Eve would give Adam the fruit before partaking of it herself, and that the serpent would stop her from eating the forbidden fruit after Adam had tasted it.  It was with this in mind that the serpent approached Eve. 

We now come to the forbidden tree.  In Genesis Rabbah 15:7, the Jewish sages discuss what the forbidden tree was.  Nowhere in their speculations do they mention an apple tree.  They conclude their speculation as follows:   

R. ‘Azariah and R. Judah b. R. Simon in the name of R. Joshua b. Levi said: Heaven forfend [that we should conjecture what the tree was]! The Holy One, blessed be He, did not and will not reveal to man what that tree was. For see what is written: And if a woman approach unto any beast, and lie down thereto, thou shalt kill the woman, and the beast (Lev. XX, 16). Now if man has sinned, how did the animal sin? But [it is killed] lest when it stands in the market place people should say, ‘Through this animal So-and-so was stoned.’ Then if the Holy One, blessed be He, was anxious to safeguard the honour of his [Adam's] descendants, how much more his own honour! (6)

(6) Similarly, God did not reveal the nature of the tree that it might not be said, ‘Through this tree Adam brought death into the world.’

Now we know why the serpent set out to cause Adam and Eve to sin.  We also know that we are not supposed to know what the forbidden tree was.  This brings us to our next question; where was Adam while the serpent was conning Eve? 

In Genesis Rabbah 19:3, we are told:  “The Rabbis said: He [God] took him and led him all around the world, telling him: ' Here is a place fit for planting [trees], here is a place fit for sowing [cereals].’” 

Genesis Rabbah 19:3 goes on to tell us why the serpent was so successful in conning Eve: 

BUT OF THE FRUIT OF THE TREE WHICH IS IN THE MIDST OF THE GARDEN, GOD HATH SAID: YE SHALL NOT EAT OF IT, NEITHER SHALL YE TOUCH IT, LEST YE DIE (III, 3). Thus it is written, Add not unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar (Prov. XXX, 6). R. Hiyya taught: That means that you must not make the fence more than the principal thing,(1) lest it fall and destroy the plants. Thus, the Holy One, blessed be He, had said, For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Gen. II,17); whereas she did not say thus, but, GOD HATH SAID: YE SHALL NOT EAT OF IT, NEITHER SHALL YE TOUCH IT; when he [the serpent] saw her thus lying, he took and thrust her against it. ' Have you then died?’ he said to her; ‘just as you were not stricken through touching it, so will you not die when you eat it, but For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof,’ etc. (ib. 5).(2)

(1) Adam in order to emphasise the prohibition, added a fence to it by telling her that she must not even touch it (ARN).

(2) Cf. Sanh. 29a.                 

Upon eating the fruit, Eve saw the Angel of Death standing beside her.  She was then overcome with jealousy that she would die and that G-d would create another wife for Adam.  She resolved to feed Adam the forbidden fruit so that they both should die. 

Now that we have a good idea what happened and how it happened, we are now left with the questions of why was the fruit of this specific tree forbidden and what was the sin of Adam and Eve? 

The Tree of Knowledge was in the middle of the Garden of Eden.  This was the place where the Divine Presence dwelt.  The tree itself was holy.  The location in the middle of the Garden of Eden was holy.  Therefore, G-d warned Adam, and Adam warned Eve, that if they eat the fruit, they would die.  If you cannot eat the fruit, you have no reason to be in the middle of the garden, nor do you have any reason to be near, let alone touch the forbidden tree.  By touching a holy object, Adam and Eve brought death into this world.  Because of their eating the forbidden fruit, they were given an evil urge.  Prior to this, man had been inclined only to good.  Now Adam and all his descendants (including us) have lost that advantage with the result being that to this day our good inclination battles our evil inclination. 

Having established that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, we can make the case that the sin of Adam and Eve was disobedience.  Adam and Eve have been given all of creation except one tree, yet like a young child that touches something the minute you tell the child not to, so Adam and Eve committed the sin of disobedience. 

Yet there are more serious sins than just disobedience that are involved here.  There is the sin of ingratitude.  They had been given all of creation except one tree.  Yet they take fruit from the forbidden tree.  This is the sin of ingratitude, for it is the height of ingratitude to steal from the One who created them and gave them all of creation. 

Then there is the sin of refusing to accept responsibility.  According to Jewish teachings, one of the most serious sins is a fairly common sin, the sin of loshon hora.  Loshon hora, literally evil tongue, is the sin of saying true things that give someone a bad name.  It is the sin of true and unflattering gossip. 

In an effort to evade responsibility for their sin, Adam and Eve provide us with the first words of loshon hora ever uttered.  Adam blames Eve in Genesis 3:12:  “And the man said, The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”  Here, in a single sentence, we have the sin of loshon hora, the sin of ingratitude, and the sin of refusing to accept responsibility for one’s actions.  Adam is in effect blaming G-d for his sin by saying not only is it Eve’s fault, but it is Your fault for giving her to me.  What could be a more damning, more incriminating, more condemning statement than this? 

Eve is no better, for she blames the serpent in Genesis 3:13:  “And the Lord God said to the woman, What is this that you have done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.” 

The sin of eating the forbidden fruit was bad enough.  Adam and Eve then compounded their sin through their very words.  Their words are the words of loshon hora, the words of ingratitude, and the words of refusing to accept responsibility for their acts.  The result was that G-d made their punishments far more severe. 

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 38b) tells us that part of Adam’s punishment was that he be diminished: 

Rab Judah said in Rab's name: The first man reached from one end of the world to the other, as it is written, Since the day that God created man upon the earth, even from the one end of Heaven unto the other.(14) But when he sinned, the Holy One, blessed be He, laid His hand upon him and diminished him, as it is written, Thou hast hemmed me in behind and before, and laid Thy hands upon me.(15) R. Eleazar said: The first man reached from earth to heaven, as it is written, Since the day that God created man upon the earth, and from one end of the Heaven [to the other].(16) But when he sinned, the Holy One, blessed be He, laid His hand upon him and diminished him, for it is written, Thou hast hemmed me in behind and before etc.(15) But these verses contradict each other! - Both measurements are identical.(17)

(14) Deut. IV, 32.

(15) Ps. CXXXIX, 5.

(16) Rashal rightly deletes the bracketed passage, because on this dictum the verse must be read: He created man upon the earth and reaching up to the end of Heaven, i.e., he reached from earth to Heaven.

(17) [The gigantic stature of Adam plays an important part in the system of many Gnostic sects, v. Ginzberg, op. cit. V, 79.]  

We now come to the punishment for the serpent.  The Talmud (Sotah 9b) teaches us:

We thus find it with the primeval serpent [in the Garden of Eden] which set its eyes on that which was not proper for it; what it sought was not granted to it and what it possessed was taken from it. The Holy One, blessed be He, said: I declared: Let it be king over every animal and beast; but now, Cursed art thou above all cattle and above every beast of the field.(1) I declared, let it walk with an erect posture; but now it shall go upon its belly. I declared: Let its food be the same as that of man; but now it shall eat dust. It said: I will kill Adam and marry Eve; but now, I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed.(2)

(1) Gen. III, 14.

(2) Ibid. 15. 

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 38b) also gives us the timeline for the events recounted here: 

R. Johanan (3) b. Hanina said: The day consisted of twelve hours. In the first hour, his [Adam's] dust was gathered; in the second, it was kneaded into a shapeless mass. In the third, his limbs were shaped;(4) in the fourth, a soul was infused into him; in the fifth, he arose and stood on his feet; in the sixth, he gave [the animals] their names; in the seventh, Eve became his mate; in the eighth, they ascended to bed as two and descended as four;(5) in the ninth, he was commanded not to eat of the tree, in the tenth, he sinned; in the eleventh, he was tried, and in the twelfth he was expelled [from Eden] and departed, for it is written, Man abideth(6) not in honour.(7)

(3) V. l.: R. Ahai.

(4) Lit., ‘Extended’.

(5) I.e., Cain and his twin sister were born. V. Yeb. 62a. Abel and his other twin sister were born after they sinned. V. Tosaf. a.l.

(6) …lit., ‘tarrieth not over night’.

(7) Ps. XLIX, 13.  

This timeline is most impressive, for within the span of three hours, Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat the forbidden fruit, they then ate the forbidden fruit, and they compounded that sin with the additional sins we just discussed.

Having worked our way through this challenging story, we are left with one last question; if G-d is all knowing, He therefore knew that this would happen, so why did G-d let it happen?

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson tells a wonderful story about a heretic that confronts Rabbi Joshua ben Korhah.  The heretic basically asks the question that is now before us.  Rabbi Joshua then asks the heretic if he ever had a baby.  The heretic replies that he did.  Rabbi Joshua asks if he knew when the infant was born that the fate before that child was that he would one day die?  The heretic replied that at a time for joy one should be joyous, and at a time for mourning one should mourn. 

And so G-d created Adam, Eve, and all their descendants (including us), with high hopes and joy, just as the heretic celebrated the birth of his child with joy.  Now we have a choice to make, a choice that we make many times a day; a choice to either do something that pleases G-d, or to not do something that pleases G-d, or to do something that displeases G-d. 

In Micah 6:8, we are told:  “…what the L-rd demands of you; but to do justice, to love loving-kindness, and to walk discreetly with your G-d.”

The Talmud (Sotah 14a) tells us:  "Just as G-d clothes the naked... so must you clothe the naked. The Holy Blessed One visits the sick... so you must also visit the sick. The Holy Blessed One comforts mourners... so must you comfort mourners. The Holy Blessed One buries the dead... so must you bury the dead."

May we all choose to do G-d’s will and help make this world (the world He gave us) the world he wanted it to be; a world of peace, love and beauty.  Let us work together to correct the sins of strife, war, and injustice; the sins that have turned G-d’s creation into the sad state of affairs that it is today.


All Talmud quotes are from The Soncino Talmud, Judaic Classics by David Kantrowitz, Version 3.0.8, Copyright 1991-2004, Davka Corporation. 

All Genesis Rabbah quotes are from The Soncino Midrash Rabbah, Judaic Classics by David Kantrowitz, Version 3.0.8, Copyright 1991-2004, Davka Corporation. 

Much of the material in this discussion was taken from pages 259 - 267 of The Torah Anthology / Me’am Lo’Ez, Book One, Beginnings, by Rabbi Yaakov Culi, translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Moznaim Publishing corp., copyright 1988

Much of the material in this discussion was taken from pages 18-23 of The Book of Legends, Sefer Ha-Aggadah, Legends from the Talmud and Midrash, by Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky, translated by William G. Braude, Schoken Books Inc. copyright 1992

A wonderful discussion on the role that speech played in the sin of Adam and Eve can be on pages 25-26 of Finding the Right Words, A Weekly Portion of Shemiras HaLashon, by Rosally Saltsman, Targum Press, Inc. copyright 2001

The discussion between Rabbi Joshua ben Korhah and the heretic can be found on pages 7-8 of The Everyday Torah, Weekly Reflections and Inspirations, by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, McGrawHill, copyright 2008

Recommended additional reading: 

The Burning Palace -

Gratitude -

What G-d Wants From Us -

Make a Free Website with Yola.