By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
23 Tishrei 5765 - October 8, 2004
Man is a choosing being. Hashem forms the
first man from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nose the breath of
life so that man became a living being (Bereishit 2:7).
Then Hashem places man in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it
But man’s purpose is far more than tending, monitoring and, in effect, serving
nature. As the only creature endowed with free will, man receives his first
message from Hashem in the form of a mitzvah:
And Hashem G-d commanded (VA’YETZAV) the man, saying, “Of every tree of the
garden you may surely eat. But of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
you shall not eat from it, because on the day you eat of it, you shall surely
It is through the medium of Mitzvah that Hashem establishes His relationship
with man, and it is through the mitzvah that man defines himself. Will he obey
Hashem, or disobey? And if he makes the wrong choices, will he own up to his
Subsequently, Hashem forms woman one of man’s sides (verses 21-24). The snake
dares the woman, who did not hear the command directly from Hashem, to
And the woman said to the snake, “Of the fruits of the garden we may eat. But
of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden G-d has said, ‘You
shall not eat of it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’” And the snake
said to the woman, “You will surely not die” (3:2-4).
The obvious question is, when did Hashem say, “nor shall you touch it?”
Rashi’s answer is based on Bereishit Rabbah 19:4:
She added to the command, and therefore she came to detraction. That is [the
idea of] what is said, “Do not add to His words” (Mishlei 30:6).
Her tampering with Hashem’s command violated the prohibition and led to
mankind’s first sin. Rashi explains how:
“You will surely not die.”: He pushed her until she touched it, and said to
her, “Just as there is no death for touching, so is there no death for
But, Chavah knows that Hashem never said “nor shall you touch it”, that it is
in fact her own addition. Why then does she succumb to the snake’s trick?
R. Yaakov Kamenetsky (1896-1981) in Emet L’Yaakov cites Avot d’Rabbi Natan
(1:5), that explains the importance of “making a fence for the Torah”:
“Adam did not want to tell Chavah what the Holy One blessed be He had said to
him. Rather, he said [nor shall you touch it] to her, thus making a fence to
his words more than that which the Holy One blessed be He had said. … He
wanted to guard himself and Chavah from the tree, even regarding touching.”
This explains how Chavah was deceived. However, if “making a fence for the
Torah” is a positive and exemplary pursuit, then why did it lead here to sin?
Reb Yaakov answers:
“Adam didn’t explain that the addition came from him as a fence around the
words of Hashem, so [Chavah] thought it all came from Hashem. …Consequently
Adam’s sin was not that he made a fence for Hashem’s words. On the contrary,
this is a proper thing to do, as our Sages of blessed memory did in many
instances. Rather the failing was in that he did not reveal to Chavah what is
Hashem’s decree and what is the fence that he added. From this resulted the
This was the cause of Adam’s sin, which is the prototype of all human sin and
the basis of mortality.
In his commentary to Pirkei Avot (2:5), R. Kamenetsky develops this idea
further. Although the Torah prohibits adding to the Torah (Devarim 4:2), it is
praiseworthy “to add fences to the Torah.” The difference between the two lies
in knowing what is the mitzvah and what is the fence. For example Shimshon, as
a nazir, was forbidden to partake of wine or grapes, but he consciously
distanced himself from transgression by even avoiding walking through a
vineyard (Shoftim 14:5; see Shabbat 13a). Not knowing the difference, on the
other hand, can lead to grave error.
Moshe emphasizes the centrality of being informed about
the statutes and the laws that I speak in your ears today; you shall learn
them, and be careful (guard) to fulfill them (Devarim 5:1).
One must acquire learning in order for the guarding to be effective.
Moreover, says Reb Yaakov:
“It is not sufficient for a person to imitate every movement of his father,
even if he is a completely righteous person. Since he does not know whether
what he does is a law or just a custom, he ends up transgressing Torah
prohibitions, like baseless hatred and dispute, which are certainly Torah
prohibitions. For when he sees others who do not act according to his father’s
behavior he will consider them sinners, since he thinks that they are
violating essentials of the Torah. In actuality, they are following their
fathers’ custom just as he is following his father’s custom. Consequently, he
will transgress, And you shall love your friend as yourself (Vayikra 19:18),
and You shall not hate your brother in your heart (19:17), and You shall not
break into factions (Devarim 14:1), which is a warning to dissenters according
to the view of the Rambam. And this is the meaning of “nor can an ignoramus be
a pious person.” One must know that a custom is not a fence and a fence is not
Biblical. Everyone has a special determination and his own laws, and not
necessarily that which one person does is obligatory for everyone.”
In fulfilling Hashem’s commands, man becomes most truly himself, because he
knows more profoundly who he is and Who the Creator is.
“Then the Lord formed the man of dust of the earth and breathed into his
nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living soul (Bereishit
From where did Hashem take the dust out of which He formed man? Rashi
cites two different rabbinic views. According to one, God gathered this
dust from the four corners of the earth (Sanhedrin 38a-b). Another view
has it that God took this dust from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, from
the place where the altar would later be built (Bereishit Rabbah).
What do these differing views imply as to the nature and destiny of man?
The first view suggests that unlike plant and animal life, man is not
limited to a particular environment. His nature is such that if necessary
he can survive anywhere, from the heat of the tropics to the frigid
temperatures of the poles. The second view states that man’s origin and
destiny are ultimately tied to the place of the altar, that is, to the
sphere of expiation and atonement. Man cannot be satisfied with mere
material and social adjustment to his immediate environment but must seek
spiritual fulfillment wherever that may take him.
To our cosmopolitan brethren who still tarry “in the four corners of the
earth,” proud of their ability to “make it” everywhere, the message is
clear. From the very beginning, your destiny as Jews has been linked to
Jerusalem. Today it is not a question of “finding one’s roots.” Your
“roots” are alive and well. The problem is to find the right “soil” where
the Jewish soul can renew its creativity and flourish in a national
framework. Behold the road to Zion and Jerusalem is open and your people
Rabbi Shubert Spero
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North
American Rabbis and laymen who successfully made Aliyah, aimed at
highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting Aliyah. They send
emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on speaking-tours
throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320