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G-d took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to work it and to guard it… G-d commanded the man saying: ‘You may freely eat of every tree in the garden. But you must not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of good and bad, for on the day that you eat from it you shall surely die’ (2:15-17).
The narrative relates how Adam nevertheless came to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. He was expelled from the Garden of Eden, and he was condemned to toil the remainder of his life to grow his own food as an agricultural laborer.
Several questions present themselves on the above:
1. Adam was warned that he would die on the day that he ate from the tree. How come, therefore, that the Torah records that he lived the very long life span of nine hundred and thirty years (5:5)?
2. Why was he punished at all? He claimed that Eve gave him the forbidden fruit: ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me – she gave me from the tree and I ate’ (2:12). There is no statement in the text that suggests that Adam knew what he was actually eating in the first place.
3. The Torah emphasizes that his sin in eating from the fruit was ‘because he listened to the voice of his wife’ (3:17). Why was in not sufficient to say that he was to be punished for simply eating from the forbidden fruit?
4. Adam and Eve were both expelled from Garden of Eden. Why did G-d not warn Adam that that would happen to him if he ate from the Tree of Knowledge?
A key towards resolving these difficulties may be found in the following sentence:
G-d took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it (2:15).
This verse suggests that G-d did not create the Garden of Eden to be a paradise for Adam – so that he would be its guest and spend his life enjoying the largesse of his ‘host’. Rather, his role was to fit in with the Creation and get to know every plant and creature of the garden, work with them and develop the potential of the symbiotic relationships that would make the Garden an even greater place in which to be. For nowhere in the text does it say that the Garden of Eden was created as a perfect place.
Indeed the Talmud holds that a person must work to reach his potential and to function as a useful member of society:
Shemaya said: ‘Love work’ (Avot 1:10).
Avot de R. Natan develops this further stating that work is essential for anyone – even someone who has enough for all his needs:
What should a person who has no work do? If he has… many fields, he should occupy himself with them. For just as the Torah was given with a Covenant, similarly work was given with a Covenant: ‘Six days shall you work... and the seventh is a Sabbath to the L-rd your G-d’. Indeed, Adam did not taste anything until he did work, as it states ‘He placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it’ and only afterwards ‘You may eat freely from every tree in the Garden’ (Avot de R. Natan 11).
One may go even further. In order for a person to feel close to G-d, he has to give to Him, as it were. Adam was required to do this by working on the land. A person who puts in effort, and is closely involved in a worthy and productive project sees his own self in it. If he is honest with himself, he will also see the Hand of G-d in his success. He will be grateful to Him, and come closer to Him. As Rabbi E. E. Dessler (Michtav Mi-Eliyahu, vol. 3) writes, when a person feels gratitude to Him for all the good he receives every day in his life, he will naturally express his gratitude by sacrifice (in Temple times) or through prayer - offered in sincerity. By doing this, a person becomes a ‘giver’ to G-d. This is the relationship that causes the ‘giver’ (Man) to love the ‘receiver’ (G-d). And by loving G-d, a person wishes to serve Him to the very best of his ability.
It seems that this was Adam’s failing. He did not work on the land sufficiently. He did not experience the personal development and closeness with G-d that came with ‘working on the land’ – developing the potential within the Garden that would improve it still further. For that reason he was expelled from Eden and he had to work harder on the land – not out of wealth, but out of sheer necessity.
This may be derived from the text. Adam may well not have known that the fruit he ate had come from the Tree of Knowledge. Thus he did not willfully disobey G-d’s command. (Nor did Eve fully transgress the prohibition that was given to Adam in the singular before she was created – even though she correctly understood it applied to her through inference.) So he did not deserve to die. (Nor did she deserve to die.) However had he worked properly, he would have known the flora of the Garden of Eden well enough to know which fruit belonged to each tree – ask any gardener! His having been led into accidentally eating the forbidden fruit revealed that he did not sufficiently perform the tasks for which G-d created him – ‘to work on the land’ – and, through honest work, spiritually develop into the great personality that would become the Father of Mankind.
This is a lesson for everyone. Like Adam, each individual must find out his or her potential and develop it, serving G-d and Mankind, and thus endeavor to leave the Earth a better place.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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