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Sins of the Parents

Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8 )

by Aish.com

A new world begins; or perhaps we might better describe it as another new world. In the beginning, there was the new world, the world cryptically, even mystically, outlined in the opening verses of the Parasha. Now, there is another human history unfolding, a different sort of creation: the genesis of the post-Eden existence. This is a very different sort of creation. As opposed to Eden, which literally translates as a world of pleasure, this new world will be one of pain, hard work, frustration, and death.

And yet, the chronicle of this new world begins with life1:

And the man knew Eve (Eve), his wife, and she conceived and gave birth to Kayin (Cain). She said, 'I have acquired a man with God.' (4:1)

The act of intimacy is described with the word yada – Adam “knew.” As this passage follows the episode of partaking from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, one cannot help but wonder if somehow Adam’s new knowledge is connected to the forbidden fruit of that very singular tree.2

Rashi avoids this line of thinking by observing that the word yada is (or can be taken to indicate) past tense: The intimacy had taken place at an earlier point in time – in Rashi’s opinion, prior to the sin.

And the man knew – prior to the episode recounted above, before he sinned and was expelled from the Garden of Eden; likewise, the pregnancy and birth. Had it said va’yayda Adam [i.e., in present or ongoing tense], it would imply that he had children after the expulsion. (Rashi 4:1)

Rashi’s comment indirectly points out that this is an unusual, perhaps even singular usage of the word yada; other references to the act of intimacy use the form va’yayda.3 The unusual form used in this very particular instance is a purposeful switch; the message, Rashi explains, is that it relates to an event that had already transpired.

When Eve was presented to Adam we are told:

The man said, 'Now this is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh. She shall be called Woman (Ishah) because she was taken from Man (Ish).' A man shall therefore leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the two of them were naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed.4 (2:23-25)

Rashi draws from the verses – and the gaps between the verses –to fill in the lines of the narrative, revealing what transpired during this time of innocence.

AND THE SERPENT WAS MORE SUBTLE – What does this statement have to do with the passages that precede and follow it? It should appear just before the verse, “and He [God] made for Adam and his wife garments of skin and clothed them” (3:21). Instead, Scripture informs you with what plan the Serpent assailed them: he saw them naked and engaged in the act of intimacy, unashamed, and he lusted for her. (Rashi 3:1)

The Serpent was an interloper, a voyeur, who spied on Adam and Eve when they were engaged in coitus, and he hatched a plan to come between them and take Eve for himself; the Serpent’s lust is the catalyst for the sin that will follow, but Adam and Hava’s intimacy was untainted by the sin that they would soon commit.

Following Rashi’s reading and positing that yada indicates past tense, there are a number of alternative timelines to consider. One possibility is that as a result of eating the forbidden fruit, when their eyes were opened and they realized that they were naked, a new awareness of sexuality was ignited.5 In this reading, as in Rashi’s reading, “knowledge” is the key to understanding the narrative:

(6) The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable (lust?) to make one wise. She took of its fruit and ate, and she gave some to her husband with her and he ate. (7) The eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together, and made for themselves loincloths. (8) They heard the voice of Hashem, God, walking in the garden in the breeze of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the Hashem, God, among the trees of the garden. (9) Hashem, God, called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” (10) He said, “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself.” (3:6-10)

This knowledge, this new self-awareness, gives rise to a new sense of sexuality which is consummated in the Garden of Eden, immediately following the sin but before the punishment. At the same time, this same knowledge gives rise to Adam’s sense that he has something to hide: First, their nakedness, and then their sexuality, both of which result from their act of disobedience. They were caught in the act – in flagrante delicto. If this is indeed the moment of intimacy, it follows that Kayin is literally the child born in sin and of sin.

The key term, “knowledge,” is conspicuously absent from the description of the sin itself: What is otherwise identified as the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” is described at the moment of sin as ‘pleasant’, a tree of ‘delight’ and of ‘insight’ – with an added tinge of lust.

Previously, all of the trees of the Garden were described in similar fashion:

And Hashem Elokim (the Eternal, Almighty God) made grow out of the ground every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food; and the Tree of Life was in the [center of] the garden, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (2:9)

As the sin unfolds, the tree from which they have been forbidden to eat is set apart from all the trees of the Garden with the addition of one descriptive phrase: This tree and its fruit possess one additional attribute: taava, desire, lust. How was this attribute awakened? What was the spark that ignited desire? Was the conversation with the Serpent the catalyst that sparked a lust for the forbidden, or did Eve spark this lust by simply observing the forbidden tree? In other words, was lust something external to the human psyche that was introduced by the Serpent, or was this “evil inclination” an internal, integral and essential element of the human condition?

There is a third possible timeline for the act of intimacy referred to by the word yada: after the expulsion from Eden. In this case, while the word yada indicates past tense, it does not hark as far back as the other possibilities we have examined: After Adam and Eve are sentenced and expelled from the Garden, they start a new life. That is when a child is conceived.

The implications of this timeline debate go beyond the question of when, and ultimately attempt to grapple with a different question altogether, a question that goes far deeper to the core of human nature: What is the nature of this child? Was he conceived in the idyllic Garden of Eden, before man’s sin? Was he the child born of sin, part and parcel of the sin? Or was this child part of the new post-Eden world, the world of pain, estrangement, confusion and frustration? Was Kayin’s conception and birth unblemished by sin, a product of sin, or an aspect of mankind’s punishment?

One striking element of the narrative is perhaps easily overlooked – because it is striking in its absence: Adam, the father of this first child, is nowhere to be seen. Kayin is his progeny,6 but we find no interaction between Adam and Kayin. It is left to his mother to name him – and perhaps raise him. When another son is born, Adam is similarly absent.7

The man knew his wife Eve. She conceived and gave birth to Kayin. She said, 'I have acquired a man with God.' She gave birth again, to his brother, Hevel. Hevel was a shepherd, while Kayin worked the land. (4:1,2)

What was the impact of the expulsion on this couple? How did each of them perceive their new situation? We might consider their very different origins, and consider the implications: Adam, who was formed outside of Eden and placed in the Garden,8 may have seen his current situation as a return to his roots. Eve, on the other hand, was a product of Eden; she had lost the only home she had ever known, and now had to contend with a harsh, unfamiliar “new normal.” Perhaps the trauma of leaving Eden was felt more acutely by Eve, than by Adam. Perhaps the gap between their perceptions of the situation – Adam felt at home in exile while Eve felt estranged and lost outside the Garden of Eden – created a wedge that drove them apart.

Eve’s awareness of the results of her sin is acute, and she seeks healing, rapprochement; what we are unsure of is the nature of the “acquisition” she hopes for. Is she speaking of reconciliation with God, or with her estranged husband, or perhaps with her son? Either way, with the name she gives her son, Kayin will serve as a living reminder of the healing she seeks, the rekindling of intimacy in this strange new world.

The name of God with which Eve reaches out is surely not a random choice: She utters the ineffable name of God, which we translate as “The Eternal” – a name that invokes God’s attributes of warmth, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.9 This, in stark contrast to the aspect of God both Eve and the Serpent used in the moments before the sin, when referring to the command emanating from Elohim, “The Almighty,” the name of God related to strictness and judgement10 that forbade partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

Now the Serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Almighty, Eternal God had made. He said to the woman, “Has God Almighty (Elokim) indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?’” The woman said to the serpent, “Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat. But of the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God Almighty (Elokim) has said, ‘You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” The Serpent said to the woman, “You will surely not die. Rather God Almighty (Elokim) knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God Almighty (Elokim), knowing good and evil.” (3:1-5)

The difference between the command itself and the manner in which it is relayed is striking: The text teaches us that the commandment to abstain from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was articulated by “The Eternal, Almighty God,” (“Hashem Elokim”) – both the Eternal God, indicating warmth and mercy, and the Almighty God of judgment. This same formulation is explained by Rashi’s comments on the opening verse of the Torah: “In the beginning Almighty God (Elokim) created heaven and earth”:

ALMIGHTY GOD CREATED – It does not state “The Eternal God created,’ because at first God intended to create [the world] under the attribute of strict justice, but He realized that the world could not thus endure and therefore gave precedence to Divine Mercy, and joined it with Divine Justice. This is alluded to in the verse (Genesis 2:4) – “On the day that the Eternal, Almighty God (Hashem Elokim) made earth and heaven.” (Rashi 1:1)

In other words, the prohibition was intended to prevent death from entering the Garden; it was a commandment that created boundaries and limits, but it was a commandment emanating from love and compassion.

16) And the Eternal, Almighty God (Hashem Elokim) commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may surely eat; (17) but of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, you shall not eat of it; for on the day that you eat of it you will surely die.” (2:16,17)

Eve’s use of the name of God that implies judgement, boundaries, and limitations – the name used by the Serpent to express a very subtly insidious philosophical position – reveals her own inner world: She perceives the law as arbitrary, the prohibition against the Tree of Knowledge coming from a place of strictness. This position is only possible if reality is obscured. The fruit of this tree is deadly. The prohibition was created in order to protect Eve and her husband, to save all of humanity. This is not a meaningless, arbitrary law. Her life depends on adherence. When God commanded not to eat from this tree, both names – Eternal and Almighty, Hashem and Elohim – were used to indicate that although it is a strict law with massive consequences, it emanates from a place of compassion. The Serpent turns the tables by shifting the focus; he refers only to the limiting aspects, speaks only to the power that is embodied by the ability to make life and death judgements, attempts to entice her with the promise of unlimited power unhindered by compassion and intimacy.

In the desolation of the aftermath, Eve takes charge. Determined to fix the shattered world, Eve now speaks of the aspect of God which is identified with mercy and compassion. She counters the specter of death with a commitment to life, and healing11 as her son Kayin arrives.

Apparently cognizant of the role he was born to play in human history, Kayin sets out to make things right. He dedicates his life to working the land, to workings the earth that has been cursed as a result of that same sin. This is his destiny.

But there is a slight complication. Another brother arrives. We are told nothing about his parents’ intimacy or the pregnancy; without fanfare or expectation, he simply arrives. This child’s name is not explained; he simply is, he comes to be, his existence almost an afterthought. Even his name indicates this ephemeral, weightless existence: “Hevel” is nothingness, or close to it. It is a wisp or a whisper. He seems devoid of importance.

She continued to give birth to his brother Hevel. (4:2)

The one piece of information which is shared is that Hevel is Kayin’s brother. We don’t know if they are twins, but brothers they are. As their story unfolds we learn that “brotherhood” is an emotion that is absent in Kayin. Perhaps his hyper-focus on fixing his mother’s world leaves his own inner world with no room for another task – even if it is the task of building a loving relationship with his own brother. Perhaps Eve’s dismissive attitude toward her second son is internalized by her first son. Perhaps in her quest to create life and rekindle hope, Eve paved the way for the actualization of the curse which she brought into the world: Indeed, there is death, and she is its unwilling architect.

Kayin’s downward spiral was avoidable. We see it set in motion – in terms of language and content – by his mother. His failure to gain God’s favor – which was, quite literally, his raison d’etre, the meaning and purpose of his existence – was more than he could bear. Coming in second in a two-person race, bested by someone whose existence was a mere afterthought at best, sent him into a depression. Healing the world was his job, his only job, and his alone; how had he failed? The problem seems to be that his offering was, in a sense, “Hevel-like,” an afterthought, another check on the checklist, and was therefore not accepted by God.

(5) But He did not favorably regard Kayin and his offering, and Kayin was very angry, and his face fell. (6) The Eternal (Hashem) said to Kayin, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?(7) If you do well, will you not be uplifted? And if you do not do well, sin crouches at the door. Its desire is for you, but you shall rule over it.” (4:5-7)

Kayin becomes depressed, but God admonishes and instructs him, reminding him that he has the ability to control these feelings. We should not overlook the cluster of words used here that echo God’s words to Kayin’s parents:

(16) To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your travails in pregnancy. In sorrow you will bear children; and your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (17) To Adam He said, “Because you have listened to your wife’s voice, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground on your behalf. Through sorrow you will eat of it all the days of your life. (3:16,17)

Eve was punished with the pain and sorrow of childbirth, and Adam with the pain and sorrow of working the land. Kayin inherited their combined sorrow, but his pain was different than theirs. Neither childbirth nor even physical labor broke his spirit or his resolve; it was his brother’s success that tormented him. God reminds Kayin that he has the ability to rule (timshol תִּמְשָׁל־בּֽוֹ) over his desires, to control his passion (teshuka תְּשׁ֣וּקָת֔וֹ), using the same words He used to describe to Eve the impact of her sin on the human condition in the post-Eden world.

Kayin was born with the innate ability to control his passions, but he fails to develop this ability. He sees himself as the savior and his brother as expendable, unimportant, an annoyance standing in the way of his mission. He has no sense of brotherhood. He takes no pleasure in his brother’s success, learns nothing about the service of God from his brother’s offering. In a fit of passion, Kayin snuffs out the wisp that was his brother.

Apparently, the sins of the parents are, indeed, visited on the children.

While Eve may have been convinced that as she and her husband still live and breathe, the ultimate punishment has been avoided and death has been averted, Kayin bears the curse. Through Kayin and Hevel, punishment is exacted.

We do not know if Eve experienced the pain of childbirth; this would depend on when she conceived and gave birth. Perhaps she thought she could skip over the pain of raising children by channeling all her hopes and dreams through Kayin, who would fix the world from the ground up and clear the way for their return to Eden. But eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil results in Eve carrying two children, one who would prove to be good by living his life to serve God with the best of what he has, while the other son would carry evil within – evil which he should have controlled, but did not.

Kayin goes through the perfunctory steps of serving God, as he was programed to do, as he must, but he allows the evil within to control him. And when that evil is allowed to metastasize, Kayin morphs into an angel of death. Eve’s hope for redemption, for life, becomes the source of death.

Perhaps only when her other son lay lifeless on the ground, as his blood seeped into the cursed earth, did she come to understand that the curse of death she had brought upon the world was unavoidable. Now, the pain of childbirth, the sorrow of raising children, and the finality of death become wrapped together for all time. At that moment she finally learns that man can hide from God but cannot avoid His gaze. Death has invaded her home, and will continue to visit the homes of her descendants – even as they bring more life into the world. She is, indeed Eve, the mother of all life – but she is also the mother of Kayin, and the mother of all death.

  1. Adam named his wife Chava- because of her identity as the mother of all life Bereishit 3:20.
  2. See Bereishit 3:5, 19:33, 38:16, 39:6 for other uses of the word which are intriguing.
  3. See Bereishit 4:17, 25
  4. See the comments of Rashi (2:25) – prior to eating the fruit they didn’t know of modesty to distinguish between Good or bad.
  5. See the comments of Radak 3:7, Seforno 3:7
  6. Regarding the possibility that Kayin is not the progeny of Adam, see my Echoes of Eden Bereishit – chapter one, “In Search of the Serpent”.
  7. Bereishit 4:25. Also note that as opposed to the birth of Kayin when the name of God is used, in this naming “Elokim” is used.
  8. See Bereishit 2:15:
  9. “God Elokim, took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.”
  10. See Rashi Shmot 34:6, and Bereishit Rabbah 8:4, and note the use of the word yodaya יוֹדֵעַ from Psalms 1:6.
  11. This is the attribute of Divine mercy. The one (the first ה׳) alludes to God having mercy on the sinner before he sins and the other after he has sinned and repented:
  12. See Rashi Shmot 20:1.
  13. See the comments of Bkhor Shor, Hizkuni and Rabbenu Bachya on Bereishit 4:1.

    בכור שור בראשית פרשת בראשית פרק ד פסוק א

    קָנִיתִי אִישׁ אֶת־ה'. קָנִיתִי אוֹתוֹ בְּגוּפִי וּבְצַעֲרִי וּבְעִצְּבוֹנִי אֶת הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לֵשֵׁב אֶת עוֹלָמוֹ, וְאִם אִישׁ הֵמַתִּי הִנֵּה אִישׁ שִׁלַּמְתִּי.

    חזקוני בראשית פרשת בראשית פרק ד פסוק א

    [והאדם ידע את וגו' למשכב]. קניתי איש את ה' בבריאת עולם דהיינו מבראשית עד אלה תולדות השמים לא נזכר הקדוש ברוך הוא אלא בשם אלקים לומר שברא עולמו במדת הדין ובעשיית העולם ובתיקונו דהיינו מאלה תולדות השמים עד והאדם ידע הוא נזכר בשתי אזכרות לומר לך ששיתף הרחמים עם מדת הדין אולי יוכל עולמו לעמוד ואל תשיבני אף כי אמר אלקים, אשר בתוך הגן אמר אלקים, כי יודע אלקים, לפי שהן דברי הנחש וחוה, ומן והאדם ידע ואילך שיצר הרע בא ומתגדל בבריות סילק הקדוש ברוך הוא את מדת דינו ונזכר במדת הרחמים לבדה להתנהג בה עם בריותיו כדי להעמיד ולקיים עולמו.

    רבינו בחיי בראשית פרשת בראשית פרק ד פסוק א

    והאדם ידע את חוה אשתו. אחר שראה שנטרד מגן עדן בחטאו ונקנסה עליו מיתה ולא יחיה לעולם, הוצרך להזדווג עם חוה לקיום המין להשאיר אדם אחריו. ודע כי התשמיש בלשון התורה נקרא "ידיעה", …ועוד תאות התשמיש היתה סבתה עץ הדעת, ולכן נקרא בשם ידיעה.



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