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Toldot Ha-shamayim Ve-ha'aretz: Man's Sins Transform the World

  • Rav Reuven Taragin

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash


Parshat HaShavua
Yeshivat Har Etzion




Toldot Ha-shamayim Ve-ha'aretz Man's Sins Transform the World

by Rav Reuven Taragin

I) Sefer Bereishit - Sefer Toldot

The Yerushalmi (Nedarim 9:4) identifies the pasuk "Zeh sefer toldot adam" (Bereishit 5:1) as a "klal gadol" - a comprehensive principle - more significant than even "Ve-ahavta le-reiakha kamokha." This significance reflects the pasuk's central role in defining the agenda of Sefer Bereishit.

Bereishit covers the history of mankind from its inception to the crystallization of the Jewish people with the re-unification of the twelve brothers in Mitzraim. The sefer sustains a historical framework by deliberately listing the genealogies, "toldot," of each generation (5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10,27; 25:12,19; 31:1; 37:1).

The sefer's goal, though, is not purely historical, but rather interpretive. Although many peoples were formed in the two thousand years covered by Bereishit, the Torah distinguishes a certain line as chosen. Bereishit justifies this distinction by recounting the events that merited the preference of one brother over another - Hevel over Kayin, Noach over his generation, Shem over Yafet and Cham, Avraham over Nachor and Haran, Yitzchak over Yishmael, and Ya'akov over Eisav [1].

II) Parashat Bereishit - History and Pre-History

Sefer "toldot adam" commences five perakim into Bereishit. It reinforces its identity as an independent unit by starting again with man's creation. The preceding four perakim then "predate" the natural history of man and can be divided into two units - creation of shamayim va-aretz (1:1-2:3) and toldot shamayim va-aretz (2:4-4:26). The parallel between the opening pasuk of each unit highlights the relationship between the two:

"Bereishit BARA elokim "Eileh toldot ha-shamayim
et ha-shamayim ve-et ha-aretz"(1:1)" ve-ha'aretz behibar'am" (2:4)

The creation narrative lays the foundation for man and his belief in God while the second unit - "the history of shamayim and aretz" depicts Adam, Chava, Kayin, and Hevel in a pre-historic world (Gan Eden in perakim 2-3). Shamayim va-aretz could have remained Gan Eden; the mistakes made by pre-historic man, despite God's preemptive forewarning (of Adam and later of Kayin), give rise to the world as we know it - one that includes toil, animosity, and suffering.

III) Toldot Shamayim Va-aretz

Perakim 2-4 can be divided into two units:
1) Perakim 2-3 tell of man's placement in Gan Eden and the events that led to his eventual expulsion;
2) Perek 4 turns to the second generation and describes Kayin's struggle to outshine his brother which in the long run leads to his demise and that of his line.

A) The Gan Eden Narrative - Perakim 2-3

1) Man and Woman in Gan Eden - Perek 2

The first part of perek 2 depicts man's creation and placement in Gan Eden. Pesukim 5-6 describe the creation of the world in anticipation of man, pasuk 7 describes his creation, and pesukim 8-17 describe his placement in Gan Eden. Interestingly the Torah describes this placement twice (pesukim 8,15). The two descriptions stress the two aspects of man's existence in Gan Eden (and in general): pesukim 8-14 present man as the beneficiary of a self-sufficient environment watered by a natural river[2]; pesukim 15-17, on the other hand, stress man's responsibilities - "le-ovda u-le'shomra" and to avoid the fruits of the eitz ha-da'at.[3]

The second part of the perek depicts the creation of man's "ezer kenegdo." Although God realized the need for the ezer immediately (pasuk 18), only after man's independent recognition (pesukim 19-21) did God execute the split (pasuk 22). Adam realized the need for the ezer while naming the other animals and their mates; thus immediately after the split he names her "isha" through a song. The perek concludes with Adam's re-unification with his "bone of his bones" and "flesh of his flesh." His hope of achieving oneness is juxtaposed with the description of the "two" unabashedly "arumim" (naked).

2) Crime and Punishment - Perek 3

The description of the two as arumim not only climaxes their establishment in Gan Eden, but acts also as a transition to perek 3 in which we meet the snake who is described as the most "arum" (here meaning sly) of all the animals. The crafty snake will find the nakedly simplistic couple defenseless prey.

The first part of perek 3 describes the sin. Pesukim 1-5 describe how the "isha" is convinced by the snake and pasuk 6 adds the involvement of her "ishah" (husband). Pasuk 7 depicts the two re-examining their nakedness. The guile of the snake has poisoned them.

The second part of the perek presents God's reaction which includes the cross-examination (pesukim 8-13), curses (pesukim 14-21), and expulsion (pesukim 22-4). The two perakim together form a chiastic structure:

A - Man's Placement in Gan Eden (2:5-17)
B - The Creation of his Ezer Kenegdo (2:18-25)
B - The Sin through the Ezer Kenegdo (3:1-7)
A - Man's Expulsion from Gan Eden (3:8-24)

Each aspect of the last unit (3:8-24) contrasts the first. God's cross-examination refers back to his warning - "Ha-min ha-eitz asher tzivitikha levilti akhol mimenu akhalta?" (3:11 refers back to 2:17.)

The curses, too, contrast the world presented earlier. The snake who was the most wily of the animals (3:1) now is the most cursed (3:14), the congeniality between man and animal that was the catalyst to sin is replaced with animosity (3:15), and the balanced oneness between man and woman that allowed for man's inclusion in sin is replaced with marital imbalance (3:16).

In contrast to the curses directed to the snake and woman which address the relationships between animals, of humans with animals, and of man with woman, the curses to man concern the relationship between man and his ecosystem - "Arura ha-adama ba'avurekha - be-itzavon tokhalena kol yemei chayekha."

The world is created for man and reflects him. Before the sin it functions self-sufficiently on his behalf; afterwards it requires his investment of time and energy. Man has earned intelligence which he will now need. Simple man found life simple; intelligent man now finds the world more complex than he himself.

The parallelism between the curses of the last unit and the first unit are most evident in the curses directed to man. Before the sin all vegetation, such as "eisev hasadeh," anticipated man's arrival so that it could grow on his behalf (2:5); now "kotz ve-dardar tatzmiach lakh, ve-akhalta et eisev hasadeh" (3:18) - thorns and thistles will now discolor the harvest. Before the sin the land was watered by a natural mist; now "be-zeiat apekha tokhal lechem" - it will be watered through the sweat of man's toil.

Man's sins affect the world created on his behalf; his sins determined "toldot shamayim va-aretz" from the world's very inception and forward. Although the Gan Eden narrative deals with man's disobedience of God as the basis for ecological change, the Midrash attributes significance to man's direct treatment of the environment:

"After God created Adam he showed him all of Gan Eden and told him -'See how beautiful my creation is; all of it is for you. Be careful not to destroy it, for no one will fix what you damage.'" (Kohelet Rabbah 9)

The curses climax by stressing man's worthlessness - "be-zeiat apekha tokhal lechem ad shuvkha el ha-adama ki mimena lukachta - ki afar ata ve-el afar tashuv" (3:19). The insult couched in this portrayal can only be appreciated by contrasting it with the description of man's creation found at the beginning of perek 2:

"Vayitzer elokim et ha-adam afar min ha-adama, vayipach be-apav nishmat chayim, vayehi ha-adam le-nefesh chaya" (2:7).

Man's potential greatness lies in the fact that he consists not only of dirt, but of a God-infused life-source (soul). In response to man's sin, God emphasizes dirt as man's core component.[4]

Man's discovery of da'atbrought the curses and the need to deal with a new reality. God fashions clothes for humans now sensitive to their nudity and must deal with a disobedient man. Man's attempt to acquire wisdom rooted on the premise that God's commandments were unwise (3:5) has set a dangerous precedent. Man who has eaten from the eitz ha-da'at assuming this premise can no longer be tolerated in Gan Eden where the rewards await those who eat what and when they are told.

Like his placement in Gan Eden, man's expulsion is described twice to accent the repudiation of both aspects of his charter. In pasuk 23 man is sent out to work the ground he consists of - man's life now revolves around the dirt aspect of his makeup. No longer will he be able to benefit from God-given ("natural") food. In pasuk 24, the Torah repeats man's expulsion - this time to stress that now keruvim with a revolving sword protect Gan Eden. Originally man was given the right the protect the Gan (2:15); now others protect it from him.

The Gan Eden narrative redefines the world as we know it. Negatives are very often the result of man's misguided actions. God's commandments must be obeyed without question. Any attempt to outsmart them is doomed to fail.

B) Kayin's Sin - Perek 4

Although perek 4 tells a new story about a new generation, it bears a striking resemblance to the preceding incident. Like Adam, Kayin sins after being warned by God. The warning paraphrases the curse to the isha:

"Ve-im lo teitiv, la-petach
chatat roveitz ve-eilekha
teshukato ve-ata timshol bo" (4:7)
"Ve-el isheikh
teshukateikh Ve-hu
yimshol bakh"(3:16)

Additionally, God's manner of approaching and curse of Kayin mirror that of Adam:

"Ei Hevel achikha" (4:9)
"Arur ata min ha-adama...
ki ta'avod et ha-adama" (4:11-2)
"Ayeka" (3:9)
"Arura ha-adama ba'avurekha" (3:17)
"et ha-adama"(3:23)

The world is created to serve man who serves God. Adam and Kayin who sin are both exiled (4:14) - the ground becomes cursed for them.

IV) The Future - Noach

The "toldot shamayim va-aretz" stories serve as the backdrop for the hope invested in Noach described at the end of Parashat Bereishit:

"Vayikra et shemo Noach leimor:
zeh yinachameinu mima'asei yadeinu
umei'itzvon[5] yadeinu min ha-adama
asher eirara Hashem."(5:29)
"Arura ha-adama
ba'avurekha- be-itzavon
tochalena kol yeme
chayekha." (3:17) i

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom.

Notes: [1] The last brother to be chosen was Ya'akov. From Ya'akov and on, all children are included as "B'nei Yisrael." Of course the children of Ya'akov were not necessarily aware of this pattern change, which well explains the animosity felt toward Yosef.

[2] Prior to the depiction of Gan Eden, the Torah describes the Earth's entirety as being watered by a different natural water source - the "eid" (2:6). The relationship between eid (a mist that rises from the ground to water it, reminiscent of the ecological cycle of evaporation, clouds, and rain) and river reappears later in the contrast between Eretz Mitzraim and Eretz Yisrael (Devarim 11:10-2).

[3] The "le-ovda u-le'shomra" description in pasuk 15 can be understood in light of God's commandment in the next pesukim (16-7) to avoid the eitz ha-da'at. See Bereishit Rabbah 16:5, Ibn Ezra, and Sforno who explain "le-ovda u-le'shomra" as independent.

[4] In light of this parallel we can understand the Torah's placement of Adam's naming of "Chava" here as parallel "Vayehi ha-adam le-nefesh chaya."

[5] The word "itzavon" (and other similar forms)