Rabbi Ari Kahn
Parashat Bereishit 5779
Death and Taxes
They may well have thought that they had escaped relatively unscathed. While Adam and Eve had just been sentenced to the worst punishment in the history of the world, there was nonetheless reason for optimism: As they slunk away, casting their last glance at the Garden of Eden in the proverbial rear-view mirror, they must have known that things could have - or perhaps should have - been worse; all in all, they were quite lucky. They were still alive.
The Garden of Eden was made up of many trees, and Adam and Eve had been invited to enjoy the fruits of all but one. There was one tree, and only one, whose fruits were forbidden – and it was precisely this forbidden fruit that they desired.
God made grow out of the ground every tree that is pleasant to look at and good to eat, [including] the Tree of Life in the middle of the garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Bereishit 2:9)
God gave the man a commandment, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; but from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil do not eat, for on the day you eat from it, you will surely die.'” (Bereishit 2:16-17; also see Bereishit 3:3)
Eating from that tree – the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – should have resulted in immediate death. As they bit into the fruit, chewed it, tasted it, swallowed it - they began to feel strange, transformed. As they lost their innocence, they felt vulnerable and naked. Immediately, they sought shelter, and a place to hide from God.
When cross-examined, Adam and Eve were forced to admit their guilt, but they did not take responsibility for their actions. In a pathetic attempt to pass the blame and avoid the punishment about which they had been warned, they pointed accusative fingers in different directions. When their sentence is handed down, when they understand that they will live to tell the tale, they may actually have believed that their excuses had "done the trick." They believed that they had been saved from death; they believed they would live.
They quickly realized that they were not completely “in the clear:”
To the woman He said, 'I will greatly increase your anguish and your pregnancy. It will be with anguish that you will give birth to children. Your passion will be to your husband, and he will dominate you. (Bereishit 3:16)
To Adam He said, “Because you listened to your wife, and ate from the tree regarding which I specifically commanded you, saying, 'Do not eat from it,' the ground will be cursed because of you. In anguish shall you eat of it all the days of your life: Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you. But your food shall be the grass of the field; by the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat, until you return to the ground— for from it you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (Bereishit 3:17-19)
While the punishments may strike us as severe, to Adam and Eve they seemed like a reprieve: They would live. Life would go on. They would have children, though the process would be painful. They would have food outside of Eden, though that would require work. In place of a death sentence, they were sentenced to hard labor, in every sense of the term - but they were sentenced to life.
Only after the crime and the punishment, only after the sentencing, Adam gives a name to his wife, the woman whom he had accused of infecting him with the curse of death -and the name he bestows upon her is a name of life:
The man named his wife Eve (Chava), because she was the mother of all the living. (Bereishit 3:20)
It sounds like a happily-ever-after ending. Adam and Eve survive. They embrace their new lives and bring children into the world. Their firstborn son becomes a farmer, and they live according to the rules of post-Eden existence: They bear children and they work the land – hard work, but certainly better than the alternative.
And then, something unexpected happens, though the details are far less important than the result: Competition leads to jealousy, angry words are exchanged, and then - a lethal blow. Death had arrived.
Kayin shows none of the embarrassment or vulnerability his parents displayed. He does not hide from God. Instead, he hides the evidence of his crime, quickly covering the corpse - an action as ineffective as his parents' feeble attempt to hide themselves from God. Like his parents, Kayin is sentenced to life – a life of isolation and pain, rootlessness and estrangement.
But what of Adam and Eve? What did they see in this second crime, this new punishment? They knew, above all else, that they had not really escaped the death sentence. Death had found them; they could not hide. Although the Torah does not describe their emotional state, it is not hard to imagine their pain. Surely, Adam could not have imagined that life would be so full of anguish. Surely, Eve never imagined that the pain of bringing children into the world would be so overwhelming. She had lost both sons – one was dead, and the other was set adrift forever – but the worst part of it may have been her own guilt: She knew deep inside that although it was Kayin who had struck the deadly blow, it was her own sin that had created the world in which such a crime is possible.
Adam and Eve live on, but they are condemned to live in a world of their own making. As a result of their sin, the world became a place of toil, pain, and death.