By Rabbi Andrew Paley
This week, as we begin anew to read the famous words from the first book of the Torah, Bereisheet, and the first portion from that first book by the same name, I am struck, again by the incredible scene depicted in the Garden of Eden by the first human beings. We pick up the story in Chapter 3. Beginning with this chapter, we read the famous story of Adam and Eve, the Serpent and the forbidden fruit — the one from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. After placing Adam in the Garden, God commands him not to eat of the fruit of that tree, lest he die, (Gen 2:17) the Serpent, in Chapter 3, asks Eve to try it and not to worry…God won’t really kill you. So in fact she does. She then gives some to Adam, and at that point, “…then the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked; and they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths.” (Gen 3:7)
Gevalt! So many things wrong here. Classic interpretation here tells us that they “sinned” because they ate the fruit God told them not to eat. Is that really so bad? Is that really THE sin? Is that really the only sin? While clearly the first humans disobeyed God’s command, I don’t believe that to be the gravest sin. It’s what happens next in the story that determines, for me, the fate of humankind.
After their eyes were opened to the “real” world around them, Adam and Eve hear God flittering about in the garden, and so they hide. God asks them the most important existential question; “WHERE ARE YOU?” I believe God knew exactly where they were, in the same way I know where my son is hiding when his feet are sticking out from underneath the couch! Adam’s answer is the lynch-pin and the real sin. Adam says, “I heard the sound of You in the Garden and I was afraid because I was naked, and so I hid.” (Gen. 3:10) God doesn’t ask Adam Why, God asks Adam Where? God then says, “…who told you that you were naked? Did you eat the fruit from the tree which I had forbidden you to eat?” And then the blame game begins. Adam says…Eve made me do it! Eve says…the Serpent made me do it! And all the while you can practically hear God shaking his head and sighing as only a Parent can do. No! No! No! All God asked was, “Where are you?” And the humans had to attempt to hide, mislead and deny responsibility. This is the real sin. The answer to the “where are you?” question is, “Hineini — I am here God and I am sorry for the mistake that I made. Please forgive me.” Instead, our first parents had to try what every child tries; an end around of the truth. God knew exactly what happened. The question I bet God was wondering was, “Are they going to admit to this or not?” And of course, they did not. As a result, they weren’t killed like God threatened but they could not stay in a place of purity when they were tainted by their sin of hiding from the truth. Had they only come clean from the beginning and not misunderstood God and their relationship with God, I believe we would still be in the Garden today, eating our figs, enjoying the wonders of creation and not worrying one bit about anything else!
Rabbi Andrew Paley serves Temple Shalom in North Dallas and is a member of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.