Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Adam, The Silent Witness (From a Literal Point of View)

Now, this is a very radical reading of the Torah, and I do not know of any commentary who states that it is true (and I have just looked up a lot of them.) Therefore, I regard it as legitimate from a literary approach and a literal reading (that is, Bible as Literature) but not from a religious approach. If such a divide bothers you, you should not read this post.

It is commonly assumed that Adam was not present when Eve faced temptation by the snake. There are even suggestions as to where he was- he had performed his natural functions [a euphemism for intimate relations] and was asleep, or God had taken his hand and was leading him about the world. But if you look at the actual text, you will notice that nowhere does it say that Adam is not there. It is simply that if he is there, the serpent does not address him, and he does not speak.

In fact, an actual reading of the text suggests that Adam is there, but he is a silent witness, simply listening.

ו וַתֵּרֶא הָאִשָּׁה כִּי טוֹב הָעֵץ לְמַאֲכָל וְכִי תַאֲוָה-הוּא לָעֵינַיִם, וְנֶחְמָד הָעֵץ לְהַשְׂכִּיל, וַתִּקַּח מִפִּרְיוֹ, וַתֹּאכַל; וַתִּתֵּן גַּם-לְאִישָׁהּ עִמָּהּ, וַיֹּאכַל.

6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, [emph mine] and he did eat.

The problem, of course, is the addition of the word עִמָּהּ , with her. We have all been taught that the Torah does not put in extra words. The verse would have read just as well if it had merely stated "and she gave also unto her husband and he did eat."

So what does it mean that Adam was with her?

A variety of interpretations are given. One commentator explains that Eve was immediately concerned over the fact that she would die, and she desired Adam to be with her at all times, even in death (also, she was jealous- she didn't want Adam to have another wife who would live forever alongside him.) Most interpretations range along those lines- that Eve wanted Adam to be with her forever- in fact, she even gave the animals of the fruit, and all the animals ate it and became mortal, excepting the hol, or phoenix, which is why it is immortal. Aznayim L'Torah has a very interesting statement regarding the fact that all the animals ate of the fruit, as did the humans, but of them all, only the human's eyes were opened to knowledge of good and evil (while animals act on instincts alone.) Aznayim L'Torah then explains that the nature of a human is fundamentally different to begin with- hence, while everyone became mortal from eating of the fruit, only humans could acquire higher knowledge (which then leads to the question as to why the blessing suggests that a rooster can understand the difference between good and evil, but I digress.) Abarbanel, incidentally, claims that Eve simply handed Adam a piece of the fruit, as though she had come back from her foraging mission, and he, thinking there was no need to ask questions, ate of it- and then his eyes were opened, only then did he realize from whence it had come.

Very good. But I think that there is room to suggest, at least from the literal reading of the words, that Adam was with her all along.

And he was silent, passive; he ate of the fruit that his wife gave him.

But no! you cry. After all, if Adam were there, why wouldn't he protest his wife's action? Why wouldn't he correct her when she states that God said not to "touch" the tree by explaining to her that he had added that to the prohibition; God had only said not to "eat" of the fruit? Why would Adam remain silent and acquiesce? And most importantly, wouldn't God rebuke him for this silence, and yet God does not seem to say anything about Adam silently observing the drama played out between his wife and the snake.

Aha! But that is until you look at what God actually says to Adam.

יז וּלְאָדָם אָמַר, כִּי-שָׁמַעְתָּ לְקוֹל אִשְׁתֶּךָ, וַתֹּאכַל מִן-הָעֵץ, אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִיךָ לֵאמֹר לֹא תֹאכַל מִמֶּנּוּ--אֲרוּרָה הָאֲדָמָה, בַּעֲבוּרֶךָ, בְּעִצָּבוֹן תֹּאכְלֶנָּה, כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ.

17 And unto Adam He said: 'Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying: Thou shalt not eat of it; cursed is the ground for thy sake; in toil shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.

I read this verse a number of times today before realizing that it did not say what I always thought it said, but something quite different.

This verse does not say, "Because thou has hearkened unto the voice of thy wife to eat of the tree."

Instead, it makes two separate points:

1. Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife
2. Because thou hast eaten of the tree

Now, if you look at the text- the literal text, mind you, not the Midrashic interpretation which waxes prosaic about Eve's wiles and how she beguiled Adam to eat the fruit, crying and screaming and bothering him until he acquiesced- you will notice that Eve does not speak when it comes to convincing Adam to eat the fruit.

The verse states, "she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat. "

Adam, too, states that she "gave [emph mine] me of the tree, and I did eat."

Therefore, Adam could not have "hearkened unto the voice" of his wife when it comes to the eating of the fruit (at least literally speaking) because she did not speak, she only gave.

This means that the only place where Adam could have "hearkened unto the voice" of his wife was earlier when she was engaged in the conversation with the serpent.

Which means that yes, God did rebuke him for his part in this little play. "Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife"...and didn't stop her, the reader can almost add in. Because you did nothing. Because you were silent. Because you were passive, and did what she wished you to do, because you ate of the fruit when she gave it to you. Because of all this, now you shall be punished.

Incidentally, it is not necessarily surprising that Adam would be passive. If you look at Adam's function throughout, he is a Name-Giver (I think I owe this concept to Elie Wiesel.) If you look at everything Literal Adam does, it has to do with assigning proper names to objects. Whenever he speaks (other than in his conversation with God, where he admits to fear and blames Eve), that is his function.


כ וַיִּקְרָא הָאָדָם שֵׁמוֹת, לְכָל-הַבְּהֵמָה וּלְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּלְכֹל, חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה; וּלְאָדָם, לֹא-מָצָא עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ.

20 And the man gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him.


כג וַיֹּאמֶר, הָאָדָם, זֹאת הַפַּעַם עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי, וּבָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי; לְזֹאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּׁה, כִּי מֵאִישׁ לֻקְחָה-זֹּאת.

23 And the man said: 'This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.


כ וַיִּקְרָא הָאָדָם שֵׁם אִשְׁתּוֹ, חַוָּה: כִּי הִוא הָיְתָה, אֵם כָּל-חָי.

20 And the man called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.

Adam is very good at assigning names, but once he is involved in an actual dilemma, a problem where someone or something is confronting his reason (in this case, the snake), he is unable to speak up, only listens as his wife converses with the creature. This passivity and inability to act is further echoed in the fact that he and his wife hide from God, unable to directly face the consequences of their actions. In that case, note the order of the words in the verse:

ח וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶת-קוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, מִתְהַלֵּךְ בַּגָּן--לְרוּחַ הַיּוֹם; וַיִּתְחַבֵּא הָאָדָם וְאִשְׁתּוֹ, מִפְּנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, בְּתוֹךְ, עֵץ הַגָּן.

8 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden toward the cool of the day; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.

Notice who is placed first in that verse. It is the man and his wife who hide from God. The suggestion is that the man hides first, or that it is his idea to hide from God. Again, this suits Adam's nature. He is passive, silent; he listens and obeys. This is his flaw. Incidentally, the flaw is rectified because of Eve's curse, "thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." Formerly passive, formerly hearkening to Eve's voice without raising objection, new Adam will be toughened, strengthened. He will work the earth through the sweat of his brow; he will learn that at times he must rule over his wife. These curses serve a purpose; they are "fixing" human beings to make them into who they should have been in order to prevent the awakening in the garden.


Larry Lennhoff said...

Wow. I'll have to think about this for a bit. Good work.

The Friendly Neighborhood Piper said...

Just a passing commenter...
Yes, he was with her, it is obvious from the text. That is why we need to look at the Second Adam (Jesus Christ) who didn't make the same mistake, he told the Serpent what he could do with his conniving words.

Anonymous said...


Hey Chana,

I really enjoyed your analysis. I just have two comments.

1. About your question concerning the bracha in birchot hashachar that says that the rooster can discern between day and night. You quoted a less literal explanation of the bracha that day and night actually refer to good and evil, respectively. Since your whole analysis is based on reading the psukim very literally, perhaps it is wise to keep in mind the literal meaning of the bracha as well, i.e. the rooster's ability to discern between night and day. Also, although I do not know the source for the deeper explanation of the bracha, when I learned that explanation, I learned that the word "sechvi," which is translated as rooster, could actually refer to man's "lev." So if you follow the deeper meaning through, then it refers to man's ability to discern between good and evil. (In any case, it's necessary to find the original source of this interpretation to come to a more definitive understanding of the bracha.)

2. You wrote:
"Formerly passive, formerly hearkening to Eve's voice without raising objection, new Adam will be toughened, strengthened. He will work the earth through the sweat of his brow; he will learn that at times he must rule over his wife."
I disagree that Adam, or all men after him, must ever learn that at times they must rule over their wives. Just as working the earth through the sweat of one's brow is an avoidable curse (take up a different profession) and just as painful childbirth is an avoidable curse (drugs work wonders, or so I've heard), man's domination over his wife is a curse, not a Torah-prescribed outcome. (This idea is based on a shiur given by R' Dr. Dovid Gottlieb.) I understand that you were trying to give a full description of Adam's personality, but I think that it's important to keep in mind the pshat of the psukim--domination over women is a curse, something that men should not strive to achieve. (I know that your analysis is a literary, not religious, one, so forgive me if I've reacted too strongly.)

Kol ha'kavod on a thoughtful analysis.

Josh M. said...

he will learn that at times he must rule over his wife.

RYH Henkin notes in "Equality Lost" that "V'el isheich t'shukaseich" is not a command to Adam, but is rather a curse, a change in Chava's psyche. This curse serves as a psychological shackle to mitigate the female's innate control over the male (as per "ha-kol holeich achar ha-isha")

David Fryman said...

Chana, very nice idea. Not sure why you apologize for the "very radical reading of the Torah." It's true that we have a midrashic tradition but we have a peshat tradition as well.

Chana said...


Thank you. :D

The Friendly Neighborhood Piper,

Thanks for your point of view!

Chaya and Josh,

I quite agree with you. It is a curse; I was simply trying to demonstrate why it might logically make sense- why it is a logical punishment. In fact, so much do I agree with you that I said exactly the same thing way back when.

David Fryman,

I meant it more as a disclaimer than an apology, though either way, the truth of it is that it is a strange and heady feeling for me to be allowed to look at my own Torah the way I've always liked to. Until now, I had forbidden myself to look at the Torah as I wished, a necessary action brought on by my stay at my first high school, Templars. Hence my initial hesitancy, and more importantly, my fear of having certain people pounce on me. I figured I would siedestep the issue by telling such people to leave me alone by intimating this post is not meant for them to begin with. The truth is that it is not- for such people, such a post would seem irreverant, heretical and problematic. And I am far too emotionally tired to expend the necessary effort defending myself, though I would do it if the stakes were high enough.

M.R. said...

Dare I ask you to name your stakes, my friend? Though they'd have to be pretty high indeed for me to start playing such a dangerous game. Actually, I think I have enough sense to listen to your disclaimers. [Nearly] silent witness I'll remain!

smoo said...

Nice Post.

I think you might enjoy an entirely different take on Adam & Eve by psychologist, Naomi H. Rosenblatt, the author of Wrestling with Angels. She depicts Eve in a radically different way than in the past. Here, it is the woman who brings knowledge and personal growth to mankind. She is no longer the temptress but a savior of sorts! For more details you can see my post at http://shmuzings.blogspot.com/2006/06/eden-revisited.html