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What exactly tempted Adam to eat from the tree of life? The text relates that Eve 'took and ate from the fruit, and also gave some of the same to her husband, which he ate' (Gen. 3:6). Eve was tempted by the snake. There is no record of Adam actually being persuaded by anyone. Did he just follow suit after his wife, or is there a deeper explanation?
To this end, the Gaon of Vilna quotes the Midrashic tradition [I have tried to locate this Midrash - so far unsuccessfully - would any reader in the know please advise me - Thank you!] that 'Adam saw two but he did not see three'. The Gaon of Vilna suggests that the 'two' and the 'three' refer to the sage advice of Akavia ben Mehallel in Ethics of the Fathers (3:1), urging that a person must contemplate three things in order to avoid sin. He must think about his humble physical origins - from mere sperm. He must not forget his final physical destiny - to the grave, and being fed to the worms. And he must remember his next major spiritual stage - being called to account by the Almighty Himself.
Thus Adam could reflect on his mortal end (after all he did not eat from the Tree of Life - c.f. 3:22), and his final inevitable review of his life before G-d. Those were the 'two' that Adam was able to think about. However, the third element was not there for him to see - he was, as the text relates (2:7) built by G-d Himself: hardly from humble origins…
Additionally, consider the following explanation.
The Midrashic statement that 'Adam saw two but he did not see three' refers to another warning recorded in the Ethics of the Fathers - namely R. Eliezer Hakapar's declaration that 'jealousy, physical desire, and vain personal glory shorten a person's life' (4:21 - last four words rendered according to Rabbeinu Yona).
The text relates that G-d placed Adam into the Garden of Eden 'to work in it, and to guard it' (2:15). This implies that the Garden of Eden it all its given glory was not absolutely perfect - it had to be maintained and protected. The Hebrew word used - 'la-avod' - may also imply creative work: part of making something better: for example Cain's working ('oved adama') on the land to enable it to grow edible produce (4:2).
As a creative human developer of his environment, Adam was involved in what might today be called 'R and D' - research and development. For the Tree of Knowledge is described as actually being able to induce 'knowledge' in a 'pleasant' manner (3:6). On the face of it, a most worthy project…
But the Torah appears to have a mixed attitude towards Man's interference with the Creation. On one hand, it gives a doctor full license to heal the sick (Ex. 21:19). But it does not appear to encourage intervention in the basic workings of nature - to the degree that the Torah prohibits the cross-breeding of animals and plants as a means of adding new species of life (Lev. 19:19).
So, applying the Mishna, Adam saw 'two' of the 'three' things.
He ate from the Tree of Knowledge to realize its full potential as a means of improving the humanity of the future. With knowledge and its resultant skills for all, there would be enough resources developed worldwide for people to have all their needs fulfilled - removing the need for jealousy between people and desire for physical benefits and satisfaction, as they would be developed creatively in sufficient abundance. However in attempting to make this great 'improvement' Adam did not see the third element - vain personal glory - namely that his wonderful 'inventions' might be remembered for posterity in his own name. In not seeing that, he defied G-d by acting as though he knew better. It was this desire to make an impact on posterity that stood in the way of his observance of the sole commandment that G-d gave to him - not to eat from that tree…
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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