The boundaries between Man and G-D
The boundaries between Man and G-D
Immediately after the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge, is G-D’s decision to expel Adam from the Garden of Eden: “Now the Lord God said, “Behold man has become like one of us, having the ability of knowing good and evil, and now, lest he stretch forth his hand and take also from the Tree of Life and eat and live forever. And the Lord God sent him out of the Garden of Eden, to till the soil, whence he had been taken. And He drove the man out, and He stationed from the east of the Garden of Eden the cherubim and the blade of the revolving sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life.”1
The proximity explains the punishment given to Adam due to breaking the specific law of not eating: “But of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it, for on the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die.”2
When Adam knows the difference between good and evil G-D then does not want him to eat from the tree of life and so gain immortality. G-D prevents any possibility of return to the garden.
This idea is supported by several commentators of the Bible, amongst whom are Rabbi David Kimhi (RaDak), Rabbi Moses ben Nahman (Nachmanides), Rabbi Hezekiah ben Manoah (Hizkuni) and Rabbi Bahya ben Asher Ibn Halawa (Rabbeinu Behaye).
Adam’s expulsion is equivalent to the death sentence he deserves after eating from the tree of knowledge. After G-D punishes the serpent and Eve, one would expect that the death sentence would follow for Adam, but this is not the case. Furthermore, the word “death” is not mentioned. The only implied reference to it is in the segment ending from “Dust to dust”.
It is accepted the Adam’s expulsion is a punishment, but is this so?
Would Adam have lived forever in the Garden of Eden had he not eaten from the tree of knowledge or eaten from the tree of life?
Can G-D’s words be understood as a statement about the circle of life i.e. “Dust to dust”, or can we understand that G-D’s agenda as vindictive?
Different commentators of the Bible have different interpretations. Rabbi Ovadia ben Jacob Sforno says that G-D was worried about Adam’s spiritual soul that was spoiled after eating from the tree of knowledge and that Adam would lead a hedonistic life after leaving G-D’s way. Hizkuni answers that G-D did not want to put Adam to the test of not eating from the tree of life and therefore expelled him for his own good. Hizkuni argued that G-D created the tree of life for a reason – to repair what eating from the tree of knowledge had caused. This leads to a further question: why did G-D not allow Adam to eat from the tree of life? Furthermore, why did Adam not eat for the tree of life before eating from the tree of knowledge, for G-D had specifically told him to eat from every tree in the garden except from the tree of knowledge?3
It is possible that Adam did not realize that the fruit Eve gave him was from the tree of knowledge. Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz (Keli Yekar) supports this notion by bringing Adam’s excuses to G-D, saying “since you brought this woman to me to prepare all my household needs, I did not believe she would give me anything forbidden.” Ḥayyim ben Moshe ibn Attar (Or ha-Ḥayyim) has another theory: G-D was not worried that Adam would eat from the tree of life before eating from the tree of knowledge because Adam had no knowledge and therefore no aspiration of eternity, and the serpent had no reason to incite him has the tree of life had not been banned. The serpent’s desire was to make Adam disobey G-D. If G-D had forbidden the tree of life than the serpent would most certainly have incited Adam to eat from it. Thus G-D in his wisdom did not forbid it in order to prevent the snake from provoking Adam. However, after Adam ate from the tree of knowledge, there was then a doubt that he might eat from the tree of life and thus he was expelled.
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) has a short and pithy explanation that answers the same problem: if Adam would have eaten from the tree of life and thus lived forever, then he would think that he was G-D. This would obliterate all boundaries between G-D and man. This argument is supported by what the snake tells Eve in Genesis 3, 5: “For God knows that on the day that you eat thereof, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like angels, knowing good and evil.”4
In order to prevent such anarchy, G-D decides to make Adam work the land from which he was created: “With the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, for you were taken therefrom, for dust you are, and to dust you will return.”5
By emphasizing Adam’s origin “from dust”, G-D clarifies the boundary between Himself and his creation. This explains the repetition in Genesis 3, 23 – 24: “And the Lord God sent him out of the Garden of Eden, to till the soil, whence he had been taken. And He drove the man out, and He stationed from the east of the Garden of Eden the cherubim and the blade of the revolving sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life.”6
Two aspects are expressed in the above quote: one earthly and one heavenly. G-D sends Adam back the material world and removes him from any idea of becoming holy. The notion of becoming G-D and the prevention of it resembles another Bible episode some chapters later, Genesis 11, 1 – 9:
“Now the entire earth was of one language and uniform words. And it came to pass when they traveled from the east, that they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and fire them thoroughly; so the bricks were to them for stones, and the clay was to them for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make ourselves a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of the entire earth.” And the Lord descended to see the city and the tower that the sons of man had built. And the Lord said, “Lo! [they are] one people, and they all have one language, and this is what they have commenced to do. Now, will it not be withheld from them, all that they have planned to do? Come, let us descend and confuse their language, so that one will not understand the language of his companion.” And the Lord scattered them from there upon the face of the entire earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore, He named it Babel, for there the Lord confused the language of the entire earth, and from there the Lord scattered them upon the face of the entire earth. These are the generations of Shem: Shem was one hundred years old, and he begot Arpachshad, two years after the Flood. And Shem lived after he had begotten Arpachshad five hundred years, and he begot sons and daughters.”7
The story of the flood and the genealogy of Noah’s sons and their descendants precede the story of the Tower of Babel in which an unknown group of people wished to build a tower in order to preserve their cohesiveness.
Several commentators – Rabbi Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam), RaDak and Rabbeinu Behaye – follow the Biblical text, imply that the action of building the tower as a narrow act to preserve the identity of the group was in contradiction to the first command in the Bible – be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Other group of commentators – Baruch ha-Levi Epstein (Torah Temimah), Sforno, Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser (The Malbim) – do not present the building of the tower as a narrow act. They thought it would lead to idolatry because of the group’s secret agenda to replace G-D, rule heaven and earth and even to change world order and to live forever.
The builders intended to defy G-D by promising themselves immortality: “And the Lord said, “Lo! [they are] one people, and they all have one language, and this is what they have commenced to do. Now, will it not be withheld from them, all that they have planned to do?”8
Was G-D fearful of them building the tower? Did he try to prevent them from completing the mission which would have allowed the people to fulfill their intentions? Is G-D fearful of competition?
With these open questions one should reflect on the purpose of man’s creation: “Now no tree of the field was yet on the earth, neither did any herb of the field yet grow, because the Lord God had not brought rain upon the earth, and there was no man to work the soil. And a mist ascended from the earth and watered the entire surface of the ground. And the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul.”9
The purpose of the creation the Garden of Eden was not initially fulfilled for two reasons:
A. Lack of rain to water the land.
B. No one to work the land.
G-D solved the first problem by creating the mist and the second by creating man to cultivate the Garden.
The responsibility for nurturing the garden was shared equally between G-D and Adam. If Adam had eaten from the tree of life and thus gained immortality, he would not have returned to dust (from whence he was created). His future descendants, who were not created from the earth but would not die and the connection to the soil would be severed.
After Adam had eaten from the tree of knowledge G-D ordered him to work the land, which depended on two essential conditions – rain and man to work it. Adam’s life outside Eden is more demanding but essentially the same. The partnership with G-D must be kept here as well. Therefore G-D did not punish Adam when he expelled him.
When Adam breaks the one rule which was given to him (to not eat from the tree of knowledge) he wished to detach himself from the limitation of being human. G-D made certian to reestablish order and to the differentiate between Himself and Adam.
In the Garden of Eden Adam broke the commandment to eat from every tree, including the tree of life – “And the Lord God commanded man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat. But of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it, for on the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die.”10
Adam gains awareness of the tree of life only after he had eaten from the tree of knowledge. From that moment he was prevented by G-D from eating from the tree of life.
When people wish to blur the boundaries between G-D and man, as did Adam and as did the people in the tower of Babel, G-D makes certain to restore order.