Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


It is not good that man be alone; I will make him a helper corresponding to him. (2:18)

The Torah clearly states that woman was created for the specific purpose of helping her husband. There are two ways to provide help for a person: the individual in need of assistance is aware of his need and understands that he cannot do it alone; the individual is unaware of his need-- in fact, he thinks that he needs nothing and no one. In the latter circumstance, the helper must first make the individual aware of his own needs.

Likewise, there are two forms of challengers and challenges. In one situation, the individual perceives the challenger as a threat and reacts accordingly. In the second scenario, the challenger is actually attempting to help him, much like a trainer in a gym, who works opposite his client in an attempt to spur his positive development.

Hashem created man with an enormous potential for achievement. Being alone, however, can destroy one's potential. One is either challenged to maximize his potential or it will remain dormant. Someone alone on an island does not have to open a business, since there is no one present but him. Yet, even in a challenge, some challenges and challengers work to harm the other person. They are not trying to help him, but rather, to destroy him. Man's overwhelming awareness of his capabilities can cause his downfall. He fears failure; thus, he shies away from competition. Others have no idea that they have capabilities. No one has told them. In both situations, being alone can catalyze the individual's lack of growth - and even his downfall.

Hashem saw that the man He had created with incredible potential was either going to allow that potential to lie dormant or - worse - indulge in behaviors that would block the awareness of his potential. If one does not rise to the challenge, he cannot fail. These two scenarios presented themselves. Hashem created woman/wife who would serve in a twofold capacity. She would possibly be an eizar, helping her husband, working with him side-by-side as he reaches his capacity for growth. In those circumstances, when man/husband is either unaware of his abilities or refrains from reaching out for fear of failure, then the woman becomes k'negdo, opposite him, subtly challenging, politely goading, respectfully encouraging, to the point that he overcomes his fear and achieves success.

There is another drawback to levado, being alone: One does not feel the need to be overly accountable to anyone for his actions. He acts as he pleases with total impunity and lack of conscience. This could have devastating consequences for a person. Accountability is not only important - it is a requisite for life. One must be aware that his actions beget reactions, that life is about consequences. A person who lives alone, by himself - and, especially for himself -develops no sense of accountability. One who lacks a sense of accountability ultimately loses his fear of Hashem.

Chavah was created to augment Adam, so that he should not be alone. Adam alone was lo tov, not good. He would neither grow as a human being, nor would he develop properly as a spiritual person. He would either - out of lack of confidence - shy away from challenge or - out of a sense of unbridled arrogance - renege against his Creator. Chavah saved the day. This is the essence of marriage.

And G-d called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?" (3:9)

Adam HaRishon was hiding from Hashem. Having committed the first sin, the very first deviation from a Heavenly command, primordial man was cringing with fear, filled with guilt and shame. Hashem turns to him and asks: Ayeca? "Where are you?" Clearly, this is a strange question coming from the omniscient Creator. If Hashem was trying to engage Adam in conversation, then this question is nothing more than an innocuous opportunity for Adam to explain himself. Otherwise, it does not seem to be insightful - especially knowing the Source.

At first blush, the question was really focused on Adam's hiding from Hashem. "Where are you?" could mean: "Why are you hiding?" Why would a creation of Mine, whom I have endowed with so much, want to hide from Me? Is this right? There is room for discussion concerning this question. What was Adam really trying to prove by hiding? Perhaps he was ashamed of his actions, and he thought concealing himself would delay the inevitable. After all, it is not as if Adam had much experience with sin and repentance.

In his treatise on Biblical questions, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman explains that Ayeca? has many parts to it. The most significant aspect is: "Where are you now that you have sinned? Do you realize how exalted you were prior to your debacle with the forbidden fruit? Now - look where you are; and do you have any idea where you will be tomorrow?" We take the effects of sin for granted, not realizing that a sin places us in circumstances of a downward spiral such that each day that goes by in which we do not correct the error of our ways, we descend further into moral decay and spiritual oblivion. Ayeca? Do you know where you are today? Do you know where you will be tomorrow? - These are questions we must ask ourselves - constantly!

Rabbi Feldman observes that this question did not receive an answer - but, then, there is no such thing as an unanswered question from Hashem. If He asks - we must respond. The letters of Ayeca did not disappear. Instead, they hovered in the cosmos until they formed another word, indeed, a word of lament, the saddest word in Tanach: Eichah? "How?" Eichah and Ayeca are spelled with the same letters, but the question is different. Instead of, "Where are you?", it becomes "How did this happen?" "How could it happen?" "How could it be?" Hidden in the crevices of the question, "Where are you?" is the bitter answer - the result of hiding from Hashem, a lament. Yes, the one who does not reflect on "Ayeca?", will have to deal with "Eichah."

"Where are you?" is not a spatial, geographic question. It is not about location, but about existence. It is an existential question, inquiring: Where are you spiritually - intellectually, morally, ethically, now that you have distanced yourself from Me? Who are you really hiding from? Is it from Me, or are you hiding from yourself? The path that begins with Ayeca?, ends with Eichah? How important this is for us to understand. How many people could have been saved had they stopped at the very beginning of their journey away from observance and asked themselves, "Am I really better off today than I was yesterday? And where will I be tomorrow?" Stop and think. It will make a world of difference at the end of the journey.

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will pound your head and you will bit his heel. (3:15)

The Midrash HaNe'elam applies a homiletic rendering to this pasuk and uses it as a tactic for prevailing over the blandishments of the yetzer hora, evil inclination. The serpent/yetzer hora/symbol of evil seduces the Jew to trample on the mitzvos with his eikav, heel. The Jew is able to triumph over him by using his rosh, head, and applying himself to the study of Torah. Why the heel? I think it is because the yetzer hora knows that if the mitzvah "gets off the ground," the Jew will study it and eventually embrace it. It is best not to take the chance, and trample it while his foot remains poised over it. This is why our enemies, from without and from within, have fought against the study of Torah. By allowing the Jew access to the Torah is to create the necessary opening in which the Jew can learn about and understand what he has been deprived of. The problem is getting the secular Jew to "come in from the cold," attend a Torah class. Once he has come, the light of Torah will guide his return home.

The Lachmei Todah offers an alternative exegesis to explain the concept of the eikav, heel, with regard to mitzvah performance. He explains that Hashem was telling the serpent, "If you attempt to cause the Jew to sin with his rosh, head, with his entire body, he will triumph over you. The Jew will not turn away with his whole body; he will not directly deviate from Hashem's will. A Jew, however, sins neither wholeheartedly, nor maliciously. If you instigate him to sin with his "heel," which is an allusion to the Rabbinic fences that have been erected around the mitzvos Lo Saase, prohibitive commandments, to protect and discourage us from transgressing the entire sin, you will succeed." This, of course, in turn generates the domino effect of going beyond the fences and sinning without the catalyst.

Is this not how the primordial serpent misled Chavah? He began by exhorting her to distance herself from the tree, stay away from the object of sin. Heaven-forbid she should she touch the tree. G-d would not want that. Then, he pushed her against the tree and - lo and behold - nothing happened. No bolt of lightning descended from Heaven to strike her. Apparently, she received no punishment for touching, so there must, likewise, be no punishment for eating. Chavah thought about it for a moment and decided that the serpent was correct: There probably was nothing wrong with eating the fruit. Once she took her first bite and quickly noticed how sweet and delicious the fruit was, she was trapped. She broke through the fence; the rest is history.

Sadly, this has been the tragedy of Jewish observance - or lack thereof - throughout history. Whenever we break fences, it becomes the precursor for total deviation and full-fledged sin. The yetzer hora does not have the power to ensnare us to sin, but he does have the ability to convince those who are weak to overlook and disregard the gedarim, fences.

If we go back in time a few hundred years, we may observe this approach as the root of the scourge that ate away at the underpinnings of Orthodoxy in Germany. The Haskalah was inspired by the European Enlightenment with a subtle Jewish bend to it. The term Haskalah is derived from seichal, reason, intellect, thus promoting a movement based upon rationality. Everything had to make sense, fit into the parameters of reason and intellect. Jews were encouraged to think outside the box and, thus, eschew anything that was beyond the scope of their comprehension. Understandably, this undermines belief in the Torah, which, being Divinely authored, is beyond the limited comprehension of the human mind. This is how it first started.

The next step in breaking down the barriers established for our protection was the rejection of Yiddish, our mama lashon, mother tongue, which had been the Jew's choice of language since the fourteenth century. German became the chosen language, since, as the secularists claimed, it was the language of culture and breeding, thus granting the Jews access to German literature and eventual acceptance by the outside world. Indeed, Moses Mendelssohn, the ideologue and progenitor of Haskalah and its reformation of Torah Judaism, authored a controversial literary venture, a commentary to Tanach, called Biur, which was a translation of the Tanach into German. The German text was printed in Hebrew letters, instead of the usual Roman Alphabet. This would facilitate easier reading and comprehension, allowing the student to develop greater profiency in the German language. Unlike the Babylonian translations which sought to greater familiarize the Jew with the Torah, Mendelssohn's Biur sought to acquaint the Jews with the German language.

The Maskilim did not have the audacity to "take on" the religion per se, Torah, mitzvos, the Mesorah, tradition. They would not succeed in diverting the nation from Hashem. It was the subtle and not-so-subtle changes made to fences, customs and rituals that eventually catalyzed their temporary success. I underscore "temporary," because today they have nothing, at best nothing more than a sham replica of what they perceive to be Jewish culture. The Torah, mitzvos, Hashem, no longer play a role in their lives. They have nowhere to go, but back. It is our function to welcome them home.

For you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (3:19)

Chavah - and by extension every human being who followed after her - was meted with a grave punishment. Death, in its various forms, comes to all of us as a result of Chavah's transgression. She ate from the forbidden fruit and so her life and that of all her future progeny was put on temporary status. Why was she given such a serious punishment? True, she transgressed Hashem's command; and true, she had only one command to observe, but still, did she deserve death for that? Is it fair that one woman sins, and the entire world pays?

I recently came across the Gemorah in Sanhedrin 38b which posits that both Kayin and Hevel were born in Gan Eden - before the chet of Eitz Hadaas, sin of eating of the Tree of Knowledge. According to Chazal's timeline, Kayin and Hevel were born during the eighth hour. During the ninth hour, Hashem commanded Adam and Chavah not to eat of the Eitz Hadaas. The tenth hour was when the sin was carried out. When Chavah sinned, she did so as a mother. Her status was different. A mother's responsibility for her actions is quite different, and has greater ramifications, than one who does not have the next generation under her wings.

A mother's actions affect her family, affect generations, because someone is always observing and eventually emulating. This is why Chavah's sin was punished with a b'chiah l'doros, generations of weeping. We do not live for ourselves. Our children are watching. We might find it hard to pass on "certain" activities, but when our impressionable children are entered into the equation, we suddenly have a change of heart - or, at least, we should. Chavah's sin was not the action of a lone woman. It was the action of a mother - not just any mother, but the mother of all life. Her actions carried serious consequences. Thus, her punishment affected not only herself, but all life that would extend from her.

We often conveniently forget or ignore the far reaching ripples our actions have on others; or how, over time, the implications of a slight deviation can generate a virulent backlash on ourselves and others. Let us look at the following example. Chazal teach that the earth/fruit tree was the first creation guilty of non-compliance with Hashem's command. Hashem commanded the earth to produce fruit trees whose bark would be as flavorful as its fruit. The earth did not do so. Instead, it brought forth trees whose fruit was tasty, but whose bark was inedible. Therefore, when Adam HaRishon was cursed for his sin, the earth, too, was taken into account for its sin and also cursed. What does this have to do with Adam, Chavah and their sin?

The Chasam Sofer explains that Chavah was tempted by the Eitz Hadaas because it was different from all of the other trees. While the bark of all other trees was inedible, resulting from the earth's deviation from Hashem's command, the bark of the Eitz Hadaas, was edible and quite appealing. He derives this from the pasuk's description of the Eitz Hadaas, ki tov ha'eitz l'maachal, "The tree was good for eating" (Ibid. 3:6). This implies that - not only the fruit- but the tree itself was good for eating.

Now, let us imagine that if all of the trees had been like the Eitz Hadaas, whereby the bark was flavorful, Chavah would not have been tempted to eat. It was the allure of the unknown, something different, that swayed her to eat from the forbidden tree. Thus, had Hashem's original command been strictly followed, Chavah's sin would not have occurred, death would not have been decreed and life on this world would be much simpler and happier. For the role the earth played in catalyzing Chavah's sin, it was also punished together with Adam and Chavah. One deviation brought down a world.

And the man called his wife's name Chavah, because she had become the mother of all the living. (3:20)

One mitzvah - that is all Adam HaRishon had to observe. Hashem had commanded him not to eat from the Eitz Hadaas, Tree of Knowledge. It should have been easy to observe this one single mitzvah. Apparently, nothing is as simple as it seems. We have no idea of the guile of the serpent, nor can we perceive the pleasing nature of Adam. His wife had fallen under the serpent's spell, and Adam deferred to his wife. Everything is relative. We can neither fathom the spiritual plateau of primordial man and woman, nor can we appreciate the depth of evil and craft which comprised the serpent's character. In any event, these three were punished, with the serpent the first to receive its due. The punishments were unusual in their severity, changing the conditions of life for man as he wades through life's currents in his attempt to achieve closeness with Hashem. Mankind was meted the severest punishment. No one would escape his mortality. We all must meet the Malach HaMaves, Angel of Death.

Clearly, after this episode, the shalom bayis, marital harmony, factor in Adam's house must have been stretched to the limit - or so one would think. It is, therefore, strange that following the sin and their expulsion from Gan Eden, Adam gave his wife her name, Chavah, "because she had become the mother of all the living." This has to be the least expected name that Chavah could receive. Why does the Torah write about Chavah's naming immediately following the punishment for eating from the Eitz Hadaas?

In his volume, A Short Vort, Rabbi Sholom Smith quotes Horav Avraham Pam, zl, who offers an insightful lesson to be derived from here. The Rosh Yeshivah focuses on the preservation of shalom bayis, marital harmony, as Adam's goal in his choice of names for Chavah. Discord results from negativity. Adam sought to overlook Chavah's mistake, thus circumventing a blowup in their marital relationship. Let us digest this idea. Chavah did not just make an error. Her blunder could not just be corrected. She had just caused the greatest disaster known to mankind. As a consequence of Chavah's actions, death was decreed on mankind. This is not a blunder - this is a calamity of epic proportion! Can one imagine the anger that should have been seething within Adam? Words cannot describe the effects of this sin. Yet, we do not find Adam losing it. We do not find him lashing out at Chavah for her complicity. While he did, indeed, shift the blame for his own participation in the sin onto his own wife, he did not bring his complaints "home." On the contrary, he probably comforted Chavah by giving her a name which accentuated her positive contribution to mankind: "True, you were the cause of death, but, without you, there would be no life. You are the mother of all mankind."

It is so easy to underscore the negative, to harp over a spouse's mistake, to reprove and poke fun. Finding the silver lining in Chavah's life was a task for Adam - which he successfully completed. This is why the Torah tells of Chavah's naming at this point. We are being taught how one must react to a spouse's mistake. Do not totally ignore it - but certainly do not magnify it! There will always be a time to "revisit" the situation and address it from a rational, constructive vantage point.

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that concentrating on the positive contribution a spouse makes to the marriage is the greatest segulah, recipe for harmony. Indeed, Rav Pam explains that this is why the Torah immediately writes that Hashem fashioned garments of skin for Adam and Chavah. Since Adam covered up the "shame" associated with his wife's shortcoming, Hashem covered up their shame with clothing.

Veritably, the above is obvious. If one wants to maintain a harmonious relationship, he will focus on the positive and eschew any negativity in his relationship with his spouse. Yet, couples still fight, and, when one of them "blows it" and makes a mistake, the other one just does not stop harping about it. Why? How does one prevent what is sadly so common? I think it is all about ego. An individual who feels the need to put down a spouse when something goes wrong is a very insecure person. Clearly, in every marriage there are differences of opinion between husband and wife, but, through a concerted effort on the part of both participants, the issues can be amicably resolved. The problem is that some people do not like to lose.

An individual who thinks of his own ego first and foremost is missing the primary ingredient essential for a happy marriage. There should be no place for egos between husband and wife. They are supposed to be one unit. In addition, one who is prone to dissention demonstrates a lack of caring for his children. A child growing up in a home where discord is predominant may end up feeling insecure. Children are the primary casualties of a contentious marriage. Consistent with this idea, it has well been said that "the greatest gift that you can give your children is the love that you give your wife."

Having explained that Adam HaRishon was a special man who went out of his way to overlook his wife's sin, it is hard to accept that he would blame her for his own eating of the forbidden. When Hashem confronted Adam, the immediate response was finger pointing at ha'ishah asher nosata imadi, "the woman whom You gave to be with me - she gave me of the tree and I ate" (Ibid. 3:12). Indeed, Rashi calls Adam a kafui tov, ingrate, for intimating that Hashem is the One who gave him the woman, and look what happened! How do we understand Adam blaming Chavah - yet giving her such a commendatory name that reflects her most positive function in life?

I think that actually Adam was not blaming Chavah in a bad way, but rather, attempting to present what had occurred in the most constructive manner. Adam emphatically says, ho'ishah asher nosata imadi - "the woman whom You gave to be with me." What Chavah did was an honest mistake on her part. The fact that she shared her fruit with me was because nosata imadi, "You gave her to be with me." The first person she thought of was me. Chavah acted like the perfect wife. She shared, immediately thinking of her husband when she obtained a tasty fruit. While Adam was inadvertently laying blame on Chavah, he was also commending her as being the perfect wife.

Va'ani Tefillah

Lishmoa, lilmod, u'lelameid. To listen, to learn and to teach.

"To listen" means to pay attention. Listening means accepting and obeying. While there are people who are prepared to do all of the above, it must be on their own terms. In other words, they have their own unique way of listening and obeying. If someone were to rebuke them, to subtly point out that they are not listening properly, learning diligently, obeying obediently, they will reject his words of reproof. This is not considered listening. To listen also includes the ability to listen to everyone. Some of us are selective in our hearing, choosing to listen only to those teachers to whom we relate. We must remember that it is not the teacher; it is the message that is important.

"To learn" means more than to study. It includes effort, diligence, comprehension and perseverance. Review is an important part of learning, for, without it, one does not retain the lesson.

"To teach" is part of our duty to study. We pray that we have worthy students and that we be worthy of them, that we teach with love, patience, empathy and feeling. Thus, the message we convey will be accepted, respected and cherished.

When we think about it, the process of teaching begins with listening. One who listens well will have the desire to learn, and one who appreciates and succeeds at learning will seek to impart it to others.

Sponsored by
Etzmon and Abigail Rozen and children in loving memory of their Father and Zaide
HaRav Nosson Meir ben Yechiel z"l
niftar 2nd day of succos(16 Tishrei) 5748

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

The Fifteenth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel