Sunday, October 14, 2012



The snake did not dare challenge G-d openly. But his half-question was enough to sow doubts.



The snake said to the woman, “Even if G-d said, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the Garden.’” (3:1)

Why is the snake’s statement not a complete sentence? Rabbi Nachum of Horodna explained: It was once common that when the community needed to raise money for some need, the community’s elders would announce in a town meeting that every family must donate the equivalent of its expenditures for one Shabbat. If any family did not donate the required amount, that family’s food would be deemed to be non- kosher.           

This method of fundraising was, of course, possible only so long as people observed the mitzvah to obey the Sages, and only so long as people took seriously the elders’ edict that food which was in fact kosher should be considered non-kosher (even by its owner). Therefore, this system ceased to function when people no longer had complete faith in the elders.                                                                                           

Thus, if someone wanted to oppose the elders’ decree, he did not have to challenge the elders openly. It was enough for him to weaken people’s faith in the elders, perhaps by raising his eyebrows when the elders spoke, perhaps by winking at his neighbors mockingly, or perhaps by uttering a half-question, “Even if the elders did say, ‘It’s not kosher’?” He did not even need to finish his thought, and the “So what?!” could remain unspoken.

This is why the snake’s question went unfinished. He did not dare to challenge G-d openly, but even his half-question was enough to sow doubts in Eve’s mind.                                                    

The snake’s question may also be translated as follows: “Did, perhaps, G-d say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the Garden’?” The above verse may be explained based on verse 6, where we read, “The woman perceived that the tree was good for eating.” How did she know?                                                                       Verse 1 reflects the cunning of the snake in asking whether Hashem had in fact prohibited eating the trees of the Garden. Eve responded (in verse 2) that Hashem permitted eating the fruits of almost all trees and prohibited eating the fruit of merely one tree, i.e., the eitz ha’daat / tree of knowledge. The implication was that, as for the trees themselves (i.e., the bark, trunk, branches, etc.), Adam and Eve were permitted to eat these if they chose. To prove her point, Eve proceeded to break off a piece of the eitz ha’daat (the tree itself) and chew on it, just as the snake had hoped she would.          

According to one opinion in the midrash, the eitz ha’daat was an etrog tree, a tree whose wood, our Sages say, has the same taste as the etrog fruit. This is how Eve knew, “that the tree was good for eating,” and how the snake caused her to eat of the tree’s fruit also.

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