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Parshas Bereishis- Vol. 6, Issue 1
Vayitzer Hashem Elokim es ha’adam afar min ha’adama vayipach b’apav nishmas chaim vayehi ha’adam l’nefesh chaya (2:7)
A man who was stricken with cancer was presented by his doctor with a painful and heart-wrenching decision to make. In order to treat his illness, the doctor would need to perform surgery, and in order to access the affected region, he would need to cut through either the man’s esophagus or his vocal cords. As a result, the man would permanently lose either the ability to eat, requiring the insertion of a feeding tube, or the ability to speak. From a medical perspective, the two options were equal, so the doctor gave the man the choice of how the surgery should be performed.
Although most people would approach this tragic decision by weighing which of the two faculties is more important to them, this patient was an observant Jew who understood that his decision would have important ramifications for his ability to perform mitzvos. If he gave up his ability to eat naturally, he would no longer be able to perform the Biblical mitzvos of eating matzah, eating on the day before Yom Kippur, and eating in the sukkah. On the other hand, if he lost his faculty of speech, he would be unable to say Shema and Birkas HaTorah.
Unsure of the proper course of action, he approached a Rav for halachic guidance. However, rather than focus on weighing the mitzvos to be preserved and lost, the Rav surprised the man by citing the translation of Onkelos on our verse. The Torah records that Hashem formed man from the dust of the ground and blew into him the soul of life, at which point man became a living being. Onkelos renders the phrase “and man became a living being” as a reference to the fact that he acquired the ability to speak.
In other words, as advanced as man may be, virtually everything that he can do can also be duplicated by other living creatures. Onkelos is teaching us that what makes man uniquely human and elevated above all other species of animals is the ability to speak. In light of this insight into the special status of the power of speech, the Rav advised the man to preserve his vocal cords and forego the ability to eat naturally. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein adds that even according to the man’s initial approach of weighing the mitzvos involved, it is clear that the mitzvos which required the power of speech are performed much more regularly than those which are associated with the ability to eat and would therefore take precedence.
Vayomer mi higid lecha ki eirom atah ha’min ha’eitz asher tzivisicha l’vilti achal mimenu achalta (3:11)
Although we are taught that the Torah is the blueprint for the entire world and all people who will ever live and every event which will ever occur is alluded to somewhere in the Torah, we are generally unable to pinpoint the specific allusion to a given person or incident. However, the Gemora (Chullin 139b) explicitly spells out where Mordechai, Esther, and Haman are hinted to in the Torah.
The Gemora teaches that Haman is alluded to in our verse, in which Hashem asks Adam “ha’min ha’eitz” – have you eaten from the tree which I prohibited to you? On a simple level, this is a play on words, as the Torah is not written with vowels, so the vowels in the word “ha’min” can be changed so that it is pronounced “Haman.” However, if the Torah found no more appropriate place to hint to Haman, there must be a more profound connection between him and Adam’s sin of eating from the forbidden fruit.
On a basic level, the Shelah HaKadosh points out that the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge was a sin involving eating something forbidden, and the Gemora teaches (Megillah 12a) that Haman was able to threaten the Jews with destruction because they sinned by eating forbidden food at Achashverosh’s party.
On a deeper level, the Chiddushei HaRim explains that Amalek, from whom Haman was descended, represents the concept of questioning belief in Hashem. The word “Amalek” has the same numerical value as the word “safek” (doubt), and Amalek came to attack the Jews right after they expressed uncertainty about Hashem, asking (Shemos 17:7): is Hashem in our midst, or perhaps not? Haman isn’t alluded to in the verses relating the actual sin of eating from the forbidden fruit. Instead, his name is contained in our verse, which presents a question that seems to call Hashem’s omniscience into doubt, as it appears as though He isn’t sure if Adam ate from the forbidden tree or not.
The B’nei Yissochar points out another beautiful parallel. In the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge, all of man’s senses were involved and therefore damaged except for one. Chava sinned by listening to the temptations of the serpent with her ears, seeing the beautiful fruit with her eyes, taking it from the tree with her hands, eating from it with her mouth, and convincing Adam to eat from it as well using her speech. Only the sense of smell was not involved in the sin, as the sense of smell is more connected to spirituality and the serpent had no sway over it. For this reason, Mordechai, who the Gemora teaches (Chullin 139b) is alluded to in the section in the Torah which lists the spices in the anointment oil (Shemos 30:23), is connected to the theme of smell and was able to overcome Haman.
However, my brother-in-law Yonah Sklare points out that the connections between Haman and this episode in the Torah run much deeper than this. While the Gemora teaches that Haman corresponds to Adam’s sin of eating from the forbidden fruit, the Vilna Gaon adds that the relationship between Achashverosh and Vashti parallels the relationship between Chava and the serpent.
Rashi writes (3:1) that the serpent was motivated by Chava’s beauty and had a goal of engaging in relations with her. Similarly, Chazal teach (Megillah 12a) that Achashverosh and Vashti’s intentions at their parties were to bring about immoral interactions between the drunken men and women whom they placed in close proximity.
As a result of Chava’s sin, man’s eyes were opened and he needed to wear clothes since he was embarrassed by his previously-acceptable state (3:7). Not surprisingly, the Gemora teaches (Megillah 12b) that Achashverosh called Vashti to appear before him without any clothing. At the end of the first chapter of the Megillah (Esther 1:22), Haman convinced Achashverosh to decree that every man should rule in his home, which is remarkably similar to the curse that Hashem gave Chava (3:16) that as a result of her enticing Adam to sin, husbands would rule over their wives.
A critical component of the miracle of Purim was wine. Not surprisingly, one of the opinions in the Gemora (Berachos 40a) about the identity of the forbidden fruit is that it was a grape. How do we understand this conceptually? We know that Adam and Chava sinned by eating from the tree of wisdom, but what exactly is wisdom? The Ramban writes (2:9) that wisdom is desire. Before man ate from the forbidden fruit, he had no independent desires and wanted nothing except to do Hashem’s Will.
Now that Adam sinned by eating from the forbidden fruit, we have our own desires which aren’t always congruent with the Torah. What does wine have to do with this? Wine takes away our inhibitions and enables us to express our deepest personal desires. We see in the Megillah that the inner desire of Haman and Achashverosh was to be anti-Semitic and to destroy the Jews, but we also celebrate that even after the sin of eating from the forbidden fruit, the true inner desire of every Jew is to do Hashem’s Will.
Adam and Chava sinned by eating from the forbidden fruit which taught us the difference between good and evil, so on Purim we are obligated to drink to the point that we can no longer differentiate between cursing Haman and blessing Mordechai. Not surprisingly, the Gemora teaches (Shabbos 88a) that Purim is the Yom Tov when the Torah which was originally accepted under duress at Mount Sinai when Hashem lifted the mountain above them like a barrel and threatened them with extinction was now lovingly and willingly reaccepted in the times of Achashverosh, because that is the true inner desire of every Jew.
Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (1:11) that Hashem commanded the ground to give forth fruit trees which would taste like the fruits they would yield, but the earth disobeyed and instead sprouted trees which don’t taste like their fruits. As a result, when man was punished for eating from the tree of knowledge, the earth was also cursed (3:17-19). Why did Hashem wait to punish the ground instead of doing so immediately at the time of its sin? (Divrei Dovid, Kli Yakar)
2) The Mishnah in Avos (5:1) teaches that Hashem created the world with 10 utterances. However, a count of them yields only 9. What was the tenth utterance? (Peninim MiShulchan HaGra)
3) Rashi writes (3:4) that the serpent succeeded in convincing Chava that eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge wouldn’t cause her death by pushing her against the tree and demonstrating that touching it hadn’t caused her to die as she had claimed (3:3). As Chava knew that the prohibition against touching the fruit hadn’t come from Hashem but was added by her (Rashi 3:3), why did she accept the demonstration as proof that eating it, which was forbidden by Hashem, wouldn’t bring about her death? (Sifsei Chochomim)
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