A Sample from Genesis Revealed
By Avraham Apatow, Ph.D.
Adam and Eve
Why two Creation stories?
This second unit and the story of Adam and Eve is perhaps the most puzzling and most discussed section in the entire Bible.
The second unit in Genesis appears to begin a second creation story. This story presents creation in a different order (for example, man is created before the plants and animals). It also utilizes a different name of God. In the first unit God is called in the Hebrew text Elokim. Elokim literally means the All-Powerful God. In Unit 2 God is called Elokim and also the name translated in English as LORD, and also both names together LORD GOD.
We shall see that the reason for the use of the two names and the reason for the two stories is the same.
Secular Biblical scholars have pointed to these things in order to justify their theories. As I said in the introduction, I do not aim to argue directly with the scholars. I simply wish to present the traditional Jewish approach to the Torah, and let readers judge for themselves. This particular explanation is according to Rabbi Ovadia Sforno, a commentator on the Torah during the Renaissance period in Italy.
LORD is the translation of the Tetragramaton, the four letter name that is not pronounced as written. The Tetragramaton is the name that expresses God’s Ever Present Being. However, the Sages taught us to give honor to God and His Being by calling Him LORD.
This may seem puzzling to the reader that there are different ways or names that God is called, but in truth the reason for this is quite simple. There are two primary ways to describe God and His relationship with His world. One is the aspect of God as transcendent and all-powerful, which is called God or Elokim in Hebrew; the second aspect of God is as the immanent and merciful LORD. There is God (Elokim), the Creator, who is separate and distant from His creation and then there is the description of God who enters and relates directly in the life and activity of His creation – LORD, the honorific description of the Ever Present Being. There is only one God, but the Torah expresses His way of relating to us in two primary ways.
The All-Powerful God creates Heaven and Earth, but in this perspective of creation the only relationship between God and His world is one of Creator and created object, just as the craftsman makes his clay pot. However, God is not a cold, distant Creator. He is a Merciful King, loving Father, and caring Shepherd over His creatures. He has a deep and intimate relationship with His creatures – He is the LORD.
The story of the Seven Days of Creation brings into existence the potential for this relationship. The seven days of Creation bring all the elements of life in Heaven and Earth into existence. This is the story told from the top down, where God is the primary actor creating the world.
The second part of the story is the actualization of Creation in being, which is the dynamic drama of human life in direct relationship with God – this is the second Creation story. The second story tells of creation from the bottom up, where man is the primary actor responding to the commands and situations that God has placed him in.
The reason that there are two stories is because both of these perspectives are real and essential for understanding the whole of life, and the whole of our relationship with God. The first story tells of all the elements of Heaven and Earth. This is the potential – the powers of all the world – which is the meaning of Elokim. The second story begins the dramatic history of the life of man in actuality in time. And this is the significance of the Tetragrammaton, which signifies being.
In Hebrew the Tetragrammaton is made up of the three words “was,” “is,” and “will be,” because this name of God signifies His absolute existence both in and beyond time.
For those familiar with philosophical terms, He is both being, (that is, the eternal) and becoming (that is, existence in time) – the transcendent and the immanent simultaneously – for there is “nothing but Him.”
God created man to be unique in creation. All the other living creatures on the earth are made to follow their nature as God created them. None has freedom of will.
The same is true with the angels. Angels are created beings, but they are spiritual in nature. However, angels also do not have independent wills. Angels are created to do specific tasks and they generally have no freedom to act or think against the will of the Creator.
God created man to be higher than both the animals and also the angels. He created man to have freedom.
In order for there to be freedom, there must be a choice between good and evil. When Adam eats from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil he gains the knowledge to have free choice, for that is man’s purpose – to choose good, and to do so freely. For as the Rambam says in the Laws of Repentance that free will is the foundation of the Torah.
The Rambam establishes God’s reward for the righteous and punishment for wrongdoers as one of the Thirteen Principles of Faith. Without the element of free will, there can be no reward and punishment. This is because freedom and awareness of various choices in life are essential for the system of reward and punishment that is the basis of God’s justice.
One can then ask, Did Adam have freedom before he ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? For if he wasn’t free, how could he be rightfully punished?
According to the major Torah commentators like Rashi and Rambam, Adam did possess freedom. However, he was limited in his awareness and experience.
The real question then is why did God command Adam not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?
The reason is because God wanted them to eat first from the Tree of the Knowledge of Life. The fruit of this tree was not restricted at the beginning of the story, as we learn in the following verse:
2:16 And the LORD God commanded The Man, saying: 'Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 2:17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it…
To understand this more clearly we need to understand what the Tree of Knowledge and what the Tree of Life are.
The fruit of the Tree of Life gives man higher wisdom, and it is this higher wisdom that gives man the ability to choose correctly between good and evil. King Solomon says in Proverbs (3:18)
It (Wisdom) is the Tree of Life to those who grasp it.
The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil did not give man ethical knowledge, as the English translation suggests. The fruit of this tree gave to Adam the awareness and experience of that which is desirable, (according to the Rambam in The Guide for the Perplexed, chapter II). It is this awareness which instills in man a desire to pursue what appears good to him.
3:6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
Eve was deceived into thinking that what was delightful for her eyes would bring her to genuine wisdom.
So what does this have to do with freedom? Before eating the fruit, man had limited awareness and experience of the world. An animal for example makes choices, but those choices are within a very limited realm. By eating from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, man chose to expand his world and the domain of his freedom. As the Torah continues in the next verse, they ate from the fruit:
3:7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked…
However, there was one problem. Adam lacked the wisdom to function properly in this expanded domain. He now had expanded desires for what appeared good to him, but he lacked the wisdom to discern what was truly good.
This is the reason that God commanded him not to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God wanted the best for man; God wanted man to first gain wisdom from the fruit of the Tree of Life, the wisdom that would allow man to function and choose properly in the domain of the experience of good and evil, that is, in the physical world. In simple words, Adam received freedom and desire for worldly pleasure before the gift of wisdom.
This is not only a description of Adam’s condition, it is the description of our condition. The Story of the Garden Eden describes the human condition. We live with desire and power, and generally act without the proper discernment and wisdom, and this leads to great errors – that is, sin. But why would God allow man to choose this condition?
In other words, why would God give man freedom if this freedom could lead to such an error?
The story of the Garden of Eden is presented in a way to show that Adam, or man, is ultimately responsible for his own condition (man is free). Man chose to break the commandment and eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, before the fruit of the Tree of Life.
However, there are Sages that suggest that this was ultimately God’s intention. After all, God created the world and also the serpent who tempted and deceived Eve.
The prophet Isaiah makes this very clear:
I am the LORD, and there is none else, beside Me there is no God; I have girded you, though you have not known Me; That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside Me; I am the LORD; and there is none else; I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am the LORD, that does all these things. (44: 5-7)
The essential point is to understand that even the serpent and the power of evil in the world is part of God’s creation and has no separate existence or will.
This of course raises the question: why is there evil in the world?
Moreover, in the context of the story of the Garden of Eden we can ask: Why would God allow man to fall into this error, into transgressing His commandment?
Ultimately, it is because there must be some benefit in going through this descent, as we shall describe shortly.
The simple answer to this question of evil is that there can be no genuine test for man without this force of evil. The word “test” in Hebrew (ניסיון) has the added significance of “lifting one up, which is the root of miracle (נס).” In other words, the ultimate purpose of the test or temptation is to lift man to a higher level, like a miracle which is above nature. Thus, even the power of evil has a positive purpose, because there can be no temptation (or test) without a tempter.
This raises perhaps the most difficult question of all: If there is a tempter, was man free to choose to make this descent? Did he do it with the awareness of the consequences?
Or did God prepare the conditions for man to break the commandment by sending the serpent to deceive Eve? And if so, was man truly free?
This raises the very question of man’s ultimate freedom. It is not something we aim to resolve because it is one of the ultimate paradoxes of existence. The story of the Garden of Eden is so engaging and has dominated the center of Western Civilization’s thinking about the human condition because it expresses the nature of the dynamics of human life and the human condition so accurately. It expresses that man is free and therefore responsible for his actions, but at the same time, he is caught in a world of temptation and deception and lacking proper wisdom.
From the Jewish perspective, it is not merely a story; it is the description of our reality, what took place at the beginning of creation and what is taking place right now. Our challenge is in each moment to rectify this condition by ruling our desires with the wisdom of the Torah.
Whatever your perspective, what is of ultimate importance is to discover that even in the so called “fallen” state of man, there is purpose and goodness, that is, the mark of the Creator.
There is a teaching from the Sefer ha-Zikhronot (1:1) that says that when God envisioned the plan of the world he saw that it would not endure because man would sin and thereby damage the foundation of the world (to be discussed further in Noah unit); and so he solved this by creating repentance. Thus repentance is the key element that makes the existence of the world possible.
In other words, the Sages teach us that God wanted to give us expanded freedom and awareness through the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But God also knew that man would break his commandments. Therefore, he created the possibility of doing repentance and returning back to Him.
Once again, we can ask…why? Why does God give laws that He knows that we are probably going to break and then have to punish us for this? Rebbe Nachman gives an awesome teaching that says that “there is no existence before repentance. (LM: 6)”
How can we understand this? After falling into sin, a person goes through a process of deep inner reflection and ultimately turns to the Creator for forgiveness. Man is able to see that God is not only a judge, but also filled with mercy. Thus the entire process of repentance brings man to a deeper understanding of himself and God. We discover the deeper essence of God, so to speak, His love which is greater than His strict justice. This process brings us to genuine knowledge and an intimate relationship with God. This is an entirely new level of existence, so in comparison with the former state it can be said that one’s existence before repentance was not truly existence (because it lacked this deeper wisdom).
All the same the Torah also teaches that one cannot purposefully sin with the intention to do repentance later on. If one acts in this way, the repentance cannot bring one to a higher level.
The higher level is called Eden. We commonly believe that the Garden of Eden is the highest paradise. However, the Sages teach us (Sanhedrin 99a) that the Garden was at the entrance to Eden, like a garden that is at the entrance to an estate or city. However, in order to enter into the city or the estate, one must first go through the garden.
2:8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden to its east; and there He put The Man whom He had formed.
The Hebrew signifies that the garden is to the east of Eden (and not in Eden). The Sages explain that in order to enter Eden itself, one must first pass through the Garden which is at the entrance to Eden to its east.
God placed Adam and Eve in a garden outside of Eden. They never entered Eden itself. The purpose of life is for man to earn the reward to enter this higher level of existence and wisdom, and this is done through repentance. The “fall” in the Garden of Eden is therefore the condition or preparation for an opportunity for man to enter the true paradise, which is called Eden.