Here is a proposal for a partial transcription
of a very interesting audio conference by Rabbi Manis Friedman, entitled:
A New Twist To An Old Story
Please listen to the audio in the original Chabad page:
Transcription begins at minute 15:49:
So here is how Chassidus completes the picture
and gives us the story behind the story:
Before they ate from the Tree of Knowledge, they were completely holy, totally innocent, completely G-dly, the world was pure, innocent, and evil existed because G-d created night and day, so G-d created darkness and evil, but the evil was in the snake. So the snake was the personification of evil, and Adam & Eve were the personification of G-dliness; and that’s the way it would have remained.That there would be evil in the world and there would be goodness in the world, but they would be separate realities, separate entities, and the human being in their righteousness would avoid the snake, reject the snake, kill the snake. So there would be this battle between good and evil, but the good guys would be the good guys, and the bad guys would be the bad guys.
So G-d says to Adam & Eve –this is the story now– you are the good guys, the snake is evil, you are not going to listen to the snake. That part was clear, that part was easy. But then G-d said: there is also a tree, whose fruits you can not eat. How they understand this? The tree is not the snake, it’s not evil, but you can’t eat it; why not? So G-d says: because the tree is a tree of knowledge of good and evil, it’s a mixture, it’s not quite evil and it’s not quite good, it’s a mixture of good and evil. And the day that you eat from that tree, you will die.
Which, by the way, Adam & Eve heard that as a hint to eat from the tree and die; otherwise, why would G-d have to say that? Why would G-d have to tell to perfectly innocent G-dly beings that if you violate my commandment you will die? They were not about to violate any commandments.
When you raise your children, when you tell them right from wrong, you don’t do that. You don’t say: I don’t ever want to see you do this, and if you do, I’ll punish you. Why would you want to put negative thoughts in their mind? What do you mean, if they do? They won’t! They can’t! They mustn’t!
So as soon as you say: and the day you do this you will die; it’s almost like saying: and there will come a day when you will do it. They understood subtleties, and they got the message that there is a possibility that they should do it, and die.
So they understood it this way: there are two possibilities in this world, one is that the holy remains holy, the evil remains evil. And by avoiding the evil the holy gained credit and virtue in that they rejected the evil. But basically, the people would be צדיקים (tzadikim), saints, always, and when you are a צדיק (tzadik) you live forever because death comes from unholiness. In holiness there is no interruption, there’s no death. So they would be צדיקים (tzadikim), they would be perfectly righteous, and they would live forever in a G-dly state, in a G-dly universe called The Garden of Eden.
Where exactly is this Garden of Eden? The whole world was a Garden of Eden. Once they ate from the Tree of Knowledge, the whole world became what it is now. So when it says they were thrown from the Garden of Eden it doesn’t mean any one particular place, they were thrown out of a universe, out of an Earth that was completely G-dly and holy into a world that was a mess.
That was one of the options that Adam & Chava heard, they could remain perfectly righteous, don’t touch that tree, leave the evil and the snake, avoid the snake, and you are a צדיק (tzadik)! And you will live forever, and everything will always be holy, and it will just be wonderful.
The other option they heard was: you eat from the tree, you come in contact with evil, at least with a mixture of good and evil, you die, you’re not immortal anymore, and you don’t live in a perfectly holy condition called The Garden of Eden.
Those were the options.
What point is there to sinning and dying and not living in the Garden of Eden? That you do תשובה (teshuva). So you eat from the tree and it diminishes you, but then you do תשובה (teshuva) and you bounce back. So, in simple words, Adam & Chava had a choice: either to be a צדיק (tzadik) or to be a בעל תשובה (ba’al teshuvah).
Those were the options.
And those are still the options. Only with Adam & Chava it wasn’t a personal thing, they didn’t exist for themselves, they existed as the prototypes of human beings. So whatever decision they made, or were going to make, was a decision for the human race, not for themselves. So, to them the question was: do they want their children and grandchildren forevermore to be צדיקים (tzadikim), or do they want to have children who will be בעל תשובה (ba’al teshuvah)? That was the challenge handed to them.
So they went through the following reasoning, they thought to themselves like this: this is G-d’s world, which He created just today, and in this world where there’s no corruption, because nobody lived yet to corrupt the world, in this perfect creation that G-d had just recently said it is very good, into this Garden of Eden G-d places a tree from which you may not eat. Why? What is unholiness doing in the Garden of Eden?
Having been told that they are responsible for this Garden of Eden this question became more than just a philosophical or theological question, it became a very personal question. G-d said: you are responsible for this garden. Well, the first glaring need that this garden had was to get rid of this unholy tree, because the rest of the garden was wonderful. There was just this one tree that just didn’t belong. It’s a tree you can’t eat from. Why? Because it’s not G-dly, it’s not good. Then what’s it doing in G-d’s garden and what were they supposed to do about it?
Adam basically said: don’t touch it, leave it alone. Leave it alone! This is G-d’s garden, and if he put a tree in it that isn’t כָּשֵׁר (kosher), He’ll fix it. Leave it alone! Because if we try to fix it we’ll diminish ourselves. He knew exactly what it would cost to eat from the tree. They wouldn’t be immortal, they would have to work hard, they would become slaves of this world rather than its masters, and so on. He said: don’t do it, leave it alone!
Chava said: but what’s it gonna be? Can’t just have one unholy tree in G-d’s garden, we need to do something about it. And if it hurts… well, sometimes in carrying out your responsibilities you pay a price. To clean up a messy situation you’ve got to get yourself dirty, or get at least your hands dirty. So let’s get our hands dirty, but let’s clean this up.
That was their debate: let evil take care of itself, or let G-d take care of the evil, and Chava was saying: we’ve got to clean this up, and whatever price, whatever cost, we’ve got to do it, we can not allow unholiness to grow in G-d’s garden.
Part of the instruction that G-d had given them was that this prohibition against eating from the Tree of Knowledge would only last until שַׁבָּת (Shabbos). On שַׁבָּת (Shabbos) they would be allowed to eat from the tree. Which only makes the story more difficult to understand, they could have waited a couple of hours, and then eaten from the tree legally, because all of this happened on Friday afternoon, a few hours before שַׁבָּת (Shabbos).
In fact, one commentary says that Adam was so פֿרום (frum, Yiddish adjective meaning “devout” or “pious”), he was so religious that he had to eat from the tree because there is a מנהג (minhag), there is a custom that before שַׁבָּת (Shabbos) you are supposed to taste from the foods that you are going to eat on שַׁבָּת (Shabbos). Hey, a tradition! So he was following the tradition and he tasted the tree because he was going to eat it on שַׁבָּת (Shabbos).
So it only makes the story harder to understand, but here’s what their reasoning was: why is it that the tree is not כָּשֵׁר (kosher), you are not allowed to eat from it, if you do you’ll change the entire nature of human beings forevermore, but on שַׁבָּת (Shabbos) yeah, you can eat it… in a couple of hours… now, if you eat it you’ll die, but in a couple of hours, yeah, you can eat it.
Once שַׁבָּת (Shabbos) would come, the holiness of שַׁבָּת (Shabbos) would envelope even this tree, and even this tree would become a little holier as a result of שַׁבָּת (Shabbos), the influence of שַׁבָּת (Shabbos). So Adam said: we don’t have to eat it and die, let’s wait until שַׁבָּת (Shabbos), then we’ll eat it because it will be holier, it will be כָּשֵׁר (kosher) then, and once we eat from that tree it won’t be evil anymore, it will be part of us. So we will have elevated that tree to a level of G-dliness, and we will have fixed the whole problem.
Chava said: no, we can’t wait! Why? Because if we eat from the tree when it’s שַׁבָּת (Shabbos) then we really haven’t fixed the tree. שַׁבָּת (Shabbos) came along and added its holiness to the tree, but the unholiness of the tree we never dealt with. So we never really cleaned up that unholiness, we simply coated it with the holiness of שַׁבָּת (Shabbos); so you’re just painting over the problem or you’re sweeping it under the rug, you’re not really fixing it.
When the Jews came out of Egypt it was a whitewash, Egypt hadn’t changed, the world hadn’t gotten better. We escaped from Egypt, but that didn’t fix Egypt, and that’s why for the rest of history Egypt has always been a problem, not our best friends, ever.
When מָשִׁיחַ (Moshiach) comes we won’t leave unholiness and go to a place of holiness, because then we’ll only slip back again. With the coming of מָשִׁיחַ (Moshiach) it’s not that we’ll abandon the unholy in favor of the holy, when מָשִׁיחַ (Moshiach) comes there won’t be any unholy, it will all have gotten fixed because we got our hands dirty. We went to all the countries, lived in all those countries, did our מִצְווֹת (mitzvos) in all those countries, until even those countries have become Holy Lands.
So, if we go to Israel with מָשִׁיחַ (Moshiach) it’s not to escape the unholiness, because there won’t be any unholiness.
That’s the difference between what Adam was suggesting and what Chava was arguing. Adam was saying: let שַׁבָּת (Shabbos) coat the tree with its holiness and then it will be כָּשֵׁר (kosher) enough to eat… and Chava was saying: yeah, but it will always keep hunting us, it will keep coming back because inherently, internally, you haven’t changed the tree, you’ve just colored it nice.
So if you don’t deal with the unholiness of the tree but you bring holiness to it from Heaven, that’s not fixing, that’s a shortcut. We have to eat from it! We have to deal with it! We have to get our hands dirty and pay the price. Only then it will be fixed for keeps, for real.
And so she ate from it, and convinced him to do the same. And again, this was for the benefit of their children, not so much for their own benefit. So basically what they had decided to do by eating from the tree, they have decided that they prefer to have children who will be בעל תשובה (ba’al teshuvah), and not צדיקים (tzadikim). Because the צדיק (tzadik) avoids evil but he doesn’t fix it.
(this present proposal for transcription ends herein at minute 34, please do listen to the complete audio here: https://www.chabad.org/multimedia/media_cdo/aid/470789/jewish/Old-Story-New-Twist.htm )
Do you know the story of Adam and Eve? If we truly understand what took place on that day in the Garden of Eden, it would help us understand a lot about what we are supposed to being doing here in this world.
In the beginning, G-d created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden with very specific instructions: “You may eat the fruit of all of the trees besides for that one.” What will happen if you do eat from that forbidden tree? “The day you eat from it you will die.”
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Within an hour of those explicit instructions Adam and Eve both ate the forbidden fruit. Now G-d approaches Adam and asks him, “Did you eat from the tree that I told you not to eat from?”
What does Adam answer? “Eve made me do it.”
Because they ate from the forbidden tree, G-d banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and placed them in a world where people would be forced to make a living “by the sweat of their brow,” have difficulties growing wheat, and where pain would inevitably accompany birth. The snake would be humanity’s great enemy; it would kill man, man would kill it.
And that’s the story as we’ve always known it.
Hasn’t it ever struck you as a bit odd? Why would G-d choose to start the Torah with such a horrible story? The Torah is about to introduce 613 commandments that we are to observe despite being shackled with an evil inclination. Yet how does G-d begin the Torah? By telling us a story about these two people, Adam and Eve, who are living in paradise, a place where the evil inclination cannot even exist, and after being given just one simple commandment they break it within the hour.
That is not very encouraging.
And if there is no evil inclination in the Garden of Eden, how could they have transgressed this one commandment, and so soon?! If G-d Himself told us to eat from any tree that we wanted, except for one, wouldn’t we listen?
If the A-mighty G-d spoke directly to you, wouldn’t it make an impression? When G-d addressed the assembled at Mount Sinai, they all died and needed to be revived. But when He asks Adam to refrain from eating from a tree, Adam’s response is, “I’ll try”?
That can’t be; it’s not possible.
It is also bad psychology. When you tell a child, “Don’t touch that crystal vase,” you do not add, “if you do…” What do you mean “if you do”? You don’t! You never introduce the possibility that they will break your rules. When you say, “If you do…” you’re in effect saying that it’s possible that they will touch that vase.
However G-d goes even further than that. He didn’t say “If you eat from it,” He said, “The day you eat from it.” What day is that? Who knows, maybe today. There is a mixed message here.
And where did Adam learn to blame someone else? His automatic response to G-d’s query was that Eve had forced him to eat the fruit. This man was only a few hours old, having been created just that morning, and he’s already blaming others?
Then, finally, G-d warns Adam and Eve that eating from the tree will bring death. G-d then adds more punishment. Not only will humans die but their lives will also be filled with suffering?!
The whole story as we know it appears quite problematic. But the main problem is, if you would want to start teaching your child the Torah, would you start with this story? Even if it did happen, why talk about it? And right in the beginning of the book?
Maybe the story isn’t all that simple.
Adam and Eve were the most righteous people in all of history, and only the Messiah’s soul will be greater than theirs. Adam and Eve consciously remembered being in heaven when they were informed that their souls would have a special spiritual mission to fulfill in a physical world. They were told that they would be placed in physical bodies and sent into the lowest world of all in order to reveal G-dliness in even that spiritually dark place. That they would have to work to create a dwelling place for His glory in a world that did not naturally recognize Him.
But when they got to this low world, G-d pointed at everything and told them that they should feel free to “eat from all of those trees, but don’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and if you do you will die.”
But these instructions confused Adam and Eve. “What shall we do about that tree?” they wondered. “If we are here to fix this world, it seems that the one thing that needs fixing is that tree! The one we were commanded not to eat from.” So Adam and Eve decided to have a little talk.
“G-d is giving us a choice,” explained Eve to Adam, “either don’t eat from the tree and live, or eat from the tree and die. It’s not a mixed message, it’s a choice.”
“Then let’s not eat from the tree,” answered Adam.
So Eve said, “We have to eat from that tree. That’s what G-d wants; it is our destiny.”
“How do you know that?” Adam asked.
“Because nobody dies here in the Garden of Eden; that means that we are not in the lowest world.”
“We’re low enough. If G-d wanted us to be in a world where humans die He could have put us there Himself.”
“That’s not how G-d works!” exclaimed Eve. “G-d takes you until the door, but it’s your decision whether to enter or not.”
G-d always takes you to the threshold, and then He leaves you there. He wants you to decide.
So Adam told Eve, “I think you’re right. It is good that G-d created a wife for me, if it were not for you I wouldn’t have understood the choice.”
So they took fruit from the forbidden tree and ate it.
G-d then calls out to Adam, “You ate from the tree that I forbade you to eat from? How did you know that’s what I wanted you to do?”
“How did I know? I didn’t know. She knew.”
“Well that is good,” G-d answers. “Let me tell you about the lowest world. When you go into the world outside of this Garden of Eden you know pain, hard work and enemies. That’s the lowest world. That’s the world I need you to fix.”
Simply put, Adam and Eve weren’t bothered by whether they lived or died. What they were really discussing was the future of their children, what kind of people they would be.
Adam wanted to ensure that his children would all remain righteous. How do you do that? Don’t eat from the tree. If you don’t eat from the tree then you’ll stay in the Garden of Eden, you’ll never die, there will be no sins, and all of your children will be pious.
Eve didn’t want that. She wanted her children to be forced to struggle, to have to repent for their inevitable shortcomings. She eventually convinced Adam that one who must struggle to find G-d is worthier than a naturally righteous man.
So Adam ate from the tree.
In the first story of Torah, the Torah’s telling us, we are in this world because it’s better to struggle than to have G-dliness handed to us on a silver platter. Who chose this path for us? Our mother Eve. She knew that it would be very painful and that it would take a long time. But she knew that in the end her children would return to G-d and that then the world will really be fixed.
Look at the difference in the two ways to tell this story:
In one version G-d comes to Adam and asks (angrily), “You ate from the tree that I told you not to eat from?”
That’s not what happened. Actually G-d came to Adam and marveled (smiling), “You ate from the tree that I told you not to eat from?”
It’s the same words. It just depends on whether you assume that G-d is angry. He’s not; why assume such a thing?
Eating from the tree was not an act of rebellion against G-d, nor was it succumbing to their appetite, for they had no desires other than to serve G-d. The choice they had was between one holiness and another. Their motivation came from their G-dly souls.
It is known as the “sin” of the tree for sin means stepping down from an innocent place to a lower place, and they certainly did — not out of weakness but out of devotion to their mission.
The mystical reality is this: All sin is distasteful to G-d and against His will. All sin also has its purpose in G-d’s plan. Hence sin violates His will, He despises it, and sin furthers His purpose — by moving us to teshuvah (repentance).
Adam and Eve chose between fulfilling His will and fulfilling His purpose. Our evil inclination tempts us to defy G-d’s will, not to fulfill His purpose.