A major theme found throughout this week's Torah portion is the unfortunate sin of Adam. Even though he was warned by Hashem not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, he did so anyway and was punished with expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
A major theme found throughout this week's Torah portion is the unfortunate sin of Adam. Even though he was warned by Hashem not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, he did so anyway and was punished with expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Thereafter he not only had to work in order to attain a livelihood, but he and his descendents became mortal beings.
At first glance, Adam's sin seems like a brazen disregard for Hashem's command. However, upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that the sin committed was actually of a much smaller degree. For one, the heavenly angels clearly did not comprehend what was done wrong at all, for the Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 55b) states that they questioned Hashem in disbelief as to why death was brought into the world. In addition, Adam himself seems to have a perfect excuse, as he explains that it was Eve who offered him the fruit to eat. What then was this slight, almost negligible, misdeed for which we today still suffer the consequences?
To answer, we must examine Adam's excuse, as well as the way in which he presented it to Hashem. Adam states, "The woman whom You gave to me - she gave me of the tree, and I ate" (Genesis 3:12). In this one sentence Adam made two vital errors. Our sages teach that the first mistake was when Adam said, "the woman whom You gave to me." He was illustrating here a small, yet severe deficiency in the attribute of hakarat hatov, being grateful to those who do good onto you. Adam failed to see Eve as a gift from G-d, and instead he viewed her only as a negative influence, thus attributing the sin to her. Adam's second mistake was more generic in nature. The Sforno, a classic 16th century Italian Torah commentator, explains that when Adam realized that Hashem had come to rebuke and castigate him, Adam immediately proffered an excuse to hide his guilt, instead of initiating a path of proper repentance.
Unfortunately, the tragedy does not stop there. These two fundamental shortcomings in Adam's character have continued to emerge throughout Jewish history. The Talmud (Tractate Avodah Zarah 5a) states that Moses told the Children of Israel in the desert that they were kafui tovah bnei kafui tovah - ingrates who are descendants of ingrates. The Talmud goes on to explain that Moses was referring to their designation of the manna as lechem haklokel - indigestible food. In this regard, they were ungrateful for the good which Hashem had given them - food at no cost that did not make them have to relieve themselves, thus saving them a trip outside the camp. Further, the Talmud calls them bnei kafui tovah - descendants of ingrates, explaining that Moses was tracing this character trait back to the Children of Israel's earliest progenitor, Adam, who as we have seen was deficient in this area as well.
The sin of rationalizing one's mistakes is also found in Jewish history, though in a later time period. The Talmud (Tractate Yoma 22b) writes that King Saul sinned once and lost his kingship because of it, while King David sinned twice and kept his reign. The question arises as to why Saul received such a severe punishment while David escaped with lesser consequences? The Sefer Haikarim, a classic work on Jewish philosophy, answers by explaining that there was a fundamental difference between the episodes involving David and Saul. David, upon being informed by the prophet that he had sinned by killing Uryah and again by directly counting the Children of Israel contrary to G-d's command, immediately confessed his guilt. He did this even though, like Adam, he had a plausible alibi. As our sages teach us, "He who says that King David sinned is gravely mistaken" (Talmud Tractate Shabbat 56a). Saul, conversely, failed this test. His sin occurred when he saved the sheep of Amalek, specifically defying Hashem's command to wipe out any and all vestiges of our arch nemesis. When Samuel approached to chastise him, Saul began making excuses claiming that it was the nation that he was leading which pressured him into saving the sheep. It was not until he was clearly told that he had sinned that he admitted his error. It was on account of this character flaw, exacerbated by the fact that he was in a position of leadership, that Saul lost his kingship for his solitary offense, whereas David retained his royal position even after sinning twice.
In our own day and age these two sins have been magnified to the point where they have become part of our very nature. There are many gifts in our lives which we take for granted and for which we do not properly express our gratitude to Hashem. In this respect, we are kafui tovah - ingrates, for often we only recognize the good we have after it has been taken away from us. Further, whenever we are accosted by a figure in authority we are immediately prepared to offer an excuse, without even considering the possibility that we may truly have been at fault. As we move into the new year, it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to slowly disengage ourselves from these harmful traits. This will enable us to remove from ourselves the deficiencies that Adam first succumbed to.
Joshua Gottlieb, who hails from Atlanta, is a senior at the Ner Israel High School in Baltimore.
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