The Two Voices in the Garden
Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8 )
Bereishit, 3:1: “And the snake was more cunning than all the animals of the field that Hashem, God made; And he said to the woman, even if God said, ‘do not eat from all the trees of the garden?”
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Bereishis, 3:1, Dh: Did God even say: “And even if God did say so…Is the desire that is in you not the voice of Hashem?! Why did He give you the power of desire, and the power of the inclination...Didn’t the voice [inside you] come first? And isn’t it more explicit?!
The first sin begins with the enigmatic words of the snake to Eve – “did God even say, ‘do not eat from all the trees of the garden?” The meaning of these words is very unclear – what exactly was the snake’s argument to Eve? The simplest explanation is that the snake was saying, that even if Hashem said not to eat from the trees, so what? Yet this does not seem to be the most sophisticated argument on the part of the snake that would succeed in persuading Eve to go against Hashem’s explicit command.
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch1 offers a unique interpretation that emphasizes a different clause in the snake’s argument – “even if God said don’t eat, so what?” Rabbi Hirsch eloquently explains that the snake was making a very persuasive argument: Yes, it is true that God conveyed a message through speaking of how He wants you to act – He told you not to eat from the tree. However, God also put inside of you a desire to eat from the tree – that is also a form of God communicating with you, which indeed came before the actual verbal command not to eat from the tree.
In the words of Rabbi David Forhman:2
“God may have said to avoid the tree, but the question is: ‘Do you want to eat from the tree? Do you desire it? And let’s say you do desire the tree. Where do you think those desires came from? Who put them inside you? Wasn’t God the one who put them inside you? Certainly, He did…He is your Maker.”
The snake is pointing to a major contradiction. On the one hand, God's word instructs Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree, and on the other hand, another voice of Hashem – His voice inside you; your passions and desires – beckons you indeed to eat of the tree. The snake solves this dilemma by arguing that even though God said not to eat, His instilling of the desire to eat it came first, and so that should be the primary voice.
The snake himself had a valid argument because it is indeed true that Hashem communicates to animals solely through the voice inside them, which manifests itself in their natural instincts. Hence, when a bear eats a fish because of his natural instinct, he is doing God’s will. This is beautifully expressed in ‘Perek Shira’ – the series of prayers of how nature praises God, which shows how all of nature does God’s will. The only problem with the snake’s argument is that God had a totally different plan for mankind.
Man has natural desires but he is supposed to subjugate those desires to the word of God. This is not a contradiction – desires can be positive and should be harnessed but they should not define man’s actions. God wants man to control himself to do God’s will and he does this by not blindly following his desires. In Rabbi Hirsch’s words:
“Man is not like this [animals]. It is upon him to choose good and turn away from evil, from his free will and his obligation...therefore, man has spiritual strength in addition to his physicality, and it is inevitable that his physical nature will clash with good and will pull him to evil…The voice of God does not speak inside him, rather to him, and it tells him what is good and evil…in order to know exactly what are good deeds and what are evil [deeds], the only way to learn is from the voice of God that speaks to him from outside him.”3
Unfortunately, Eve fell victim to the snake’s arguments, and as the next verses tell us, focused on her natural desires – “And the woman saw that the fruit was good to eat, and that it was desirable to the eyes…”4 Consequently, Adam and Eve failed the very first test – a test to discern whether they would recognize that they are on a qualitatively different level from the animal kingdom in that for mankind, God’s word from without overrides the voice within.
Man’s job since this seminal failure is to rectify this mistake and recognize the word of God is the decisive force in determining man’s behavior, whereas his natural desires should be harnessed to do God’s will but not to contradict it. This message is highly pertinent at all times, and especially in recent generations where there is a strong emphasis on how people naturally ‘feel’ or what they are naturally pulled towards. This phenomenon is used to justify abhorrent and forbidden lifestyle choices all with the justification that the person was ‘born that way’. Apart from the dubious nature of this argument5, even when a person does feel a pull towards forbidden activities that does not mean they are permitted. The reason being because of Rabbi Hirsch’s point in rebutting the snake’s arguments – yes, God does communicate to us through the voice inside us, but this voice should be led by the voice outside of us – God’s word as conveyed in the Torah.
The job of giving primacy to following God’s words over following our instincts is one of the most fundamental roles that each person faces – if he can succeed in this area, then he can play his role in rectifying the first sin.
- This piece of Rabbi Hirsch is cited by Rabbi David Fohrman in his excellent book: “The Beast that Crouches at the Door,” Chapter 6.
- Ibid, p.36.
- Bereishit, 3:6.
- Because there are many other factors that determine a person’s attitudes and desires, including family upbringing, social pressure, and psychological factors.