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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Bereishis 5767

This week we begin a new cycle of Torah readings. Each year brings us new opportunities to plumb the depths of our beautiful and profound Torah. Perhaps it's not politically correct to make the point that of the three religions our Sacred Book is the one that is acclaimed to be the most sensitive in its literary, moral and historical senses. It's precision and subtlety of language is what makes close study of its words such a profitable and intellectually rewarding experience.

Let us look the verses dealing with Adam and Eve's first sin.

Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which had been forbidden to Adam.

Genesis 3:1-4

1) And the serpent was subtler than any animal of the field which Hashem, G-d, had made. And he said to the woman 'Even though G-d said: Do not eat from any of the trees of the garden.......

2) Then the woman said to the serpent: 'From the fruits of the garden we may eat.

3) But from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, G-d had said 'Do not eat from it and do not touch it, lest you die.

4) And the serpent said to the woman: 'You will certainly not die."


Before we read Rashi, I would ask a question on the first verse. The Torah states that the serpent was subtler - some translate " clever" or "crafty" - than any other animal. In what way he was he particularly crafty? Does the Torah indicate this cleverness or does just make the statement? We will return to this question later.


3:1 'Even though G-d said, etc.: Rashi: Perhaps He said to you: Do not eat from any etc. Even though he (the serpent) saw them eating from the other fruits (nevertheless) he exaggerated matters so she would have to answer him and come to talk about this tree.

3:3 and do not touch it: Rashi: She added to the commandment thus she was brought to detract from it . That is what is written (Proverbs 30:6) "Do not add to His words..."


There is much to analyze here. Let us go step by step. Look at the first Rashi comment.

What is Rashi telling us? What change has he made in the wording of the verse?

What has added to our understanding?

Your Answer:


An Answer: The first words in the verse "Even though" seem to be a definite statement: That G-d forbade all the fruits in the garden. But that certainly was not so.

How does Rashi deal with this?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Rashi changes "Even though" (Hebrew "aff ki") to "perhaps" (Hebrew "shema") witha question mark? Rashi says in a long Rashi-comment (maybe his longest in Shas) in Tractate Gittin (90a) that the words "aff ki" mean "a question." This is crucial in our verse. "Perhaps?" makes the words of the serpent less certain and thus opens up the way for a discussion, as Rashi says this was his intent.

We can see other evidence for this. Did you notice that the serpent did not finish his sentence? He seems to have left it dangling in the middle. This is possibly the reason that Rashi saw the serpent's unfinished words as a pretext for beginning a longer discussion.


But the serpent did something else in his unfinished sentence. He intentionally exaggerated G-d's commandment, saying G-d forbade all the trees in the garden. Why did he do this? This is a trick that all Shuk bargainers in the Middle East are familiar with. Ask for a very high price (even if you certainly don't expect to get it) by doing that you create a mental framework that the buyer must deal with. He can no longer give the low bid he may have thought reasonable because now it would look ridiculous compared to high price being asked. Therefore he instinctively raises his first bid - even beyond his original intention.

What was the consequence of the serpent's craftiness? In response Eve instinctively exaggerated G-d's command as well (she raised her initial bid!) by saying that G-d forbade even touching the tree - which of course He did not. This was her downfall. And this was the result of the serpent's subtle craftiness.

Let us now examine the second Rash-comment.

3:3 and do not touch it: Rashi: She added to the commandment thus she was brought to detract from it . That is what is written (Proverbs 30:6) "Do not add to His words..."

What would you ask here?

Your Question:


A Question: What is so terrible about adding to G-d's restrictions? Judaism as we know it today is suffused with additions to the Torah's (G-d's) commandments. The laws of Kashrus - so central to a Jewish life routine - are probably 60-70% additions, through Rabbinic injunctions and local customs. According to the Torah we could eat chicken (it is not meat) with milk; we could eat milk after meat immediately without waiting several hours. The laws of family purity - also central to a Torah abiding life - are also "inflated" by Rabbinical additions. The symbol of the Orthodox Jewish male is his kipa. That too is custom. Without the additions over the centuries, Judaism would look much different than it looks today. So what was so terrible about Eve's addition to G-d's mitzvah?

Your Answer:


An Answer: An addition, which serves the purpose of building a fence to keep us from transgressing G-d's law, is the purpose of Rabbinical additions. As Robert Frost wrote "Good fences make good neighbors." Good fences make good observant Jews. But one must always be aware of the difference between laws that are directly from G-d and those that are additions. There are extenuating circumstances when we must put aside Rabbinical decrees but not so those laws that are original Torah laws. By confusing the two Eve opened herself up to being disproved by the clever serpent. That was her error.


A Question: Rashi cites a verse in Proverbs ( 30:6) to show that we must not add to G-d's commandments. Why does Rashi have to search so far, when the Torah itself forbids adding to the mitzvos? In Deuteronomy 4: 2 "Don't add to the word that I command you " etc. As a rule, whenever Rashi's quotes a verse to support his interpretation we must understand why he chose the verse he did and some other apparently more appropriate verse

Hint: See the whole verse in Proverbs.

Your Answer:


An Answer: The verse in the Torah only forbids adding to the mitzvos, but says nothing of the unintended consequences that could follow. The verse in Proverbs does. There it says: "Do not add to His words, lest He reprove you and you are found to be a liar." Here we see the consequences of adding to G-d's words - you will be seen to be a liar (your addition will be shown to be untrue). This is why Rashi chose this verse and not the one in the Torah.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi." The 5 Volume set is available at all Jewish bookstores.

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