The sin of the Garden of Eden has been analyzed by commentaries throughout the centuries. Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (Netziv) in his commentary Haamek Davar offers an in insight into the conversation between Eve and the serpent. God tells Adam, “But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it, for on the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die. Eve, however, when describing the prohibition to the serpent, alters God’s words. She says: “But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God said, You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.”
Eve makes two critical changes to God’s command. First, she claims that God prohibited both the eating from the tree and the touching of the tree. The rabbis comment on this addition that “adding words to the Torah is as dangerous as subtracting words from the Torah.” However, Eve makes an additional emendation. Although God says that if they eat from the tree “they will surely die,” Eve says “Lest you die.”
The Netziv explains that the serpent focused on Eve’s suggestion that God was unsure about whether the death penalty would indeed be given to the one who ate from the tree. According to the Netziv, the serpent asks Eve, “How is possible that God, the creator of life, is uncertain about the punishment? It must be that God does not really intend to kill the one who eats from the tree.” It was this uncertainty that allowed the serpent to convince Eve to eat from the fruit of the tree.
The sin of the Garden of Eden has stood as the model of sin for Jews and Christians throughout history. The Netziv identifies uncertainty and doubt as one of the root causes of sin. If we are uncertain as to whether something is prohibited, we are much more likely to justify the act or allow ourselves to be convinces that it is permissible. It is a challenge to be honest with ourselves and with the law—yet this is the foundation of a moral and just life.
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