Stuart Fickler, Ph.D.

Chapter 5 – The Choice

Genesis 2:16. And the Lord God commanded man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely 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 thereof, you shall surely die."


Having received the gift of speech and intelligence, Adam and Eve (humanity) now stand on the brink of an irreversible and irrevocable transformation that will forever change humankind. God has commanded them to not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. At this stage of their existence Adam and Eve are childlike in their innocence. Think of a child being told by a parent not to take a cookie from a pile of freshly baked cookies. At this point we are confronted with one of the most perplexing mysteries in the Torah. If God is omniscient, then didn’t God know what the outcome would be? If so, what was God’s purpose?

The literal, traditional view is that Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent to make a choice: to obey or disobey God’s command. They chose to disobey. Their disobedience was the first sin. As a result, they lost their innocence. God punished them by driving them out of the idyllic Garden of Eden. Case closed.

Does that description answer the questions that have been raised? This mystery has challenged the Jewish sages for centuries. Maimonides provides the following example from his “Guide for the Perplexed”, Part I, Chapter II.

Some years ago a learned man asked me a question of great importance; … “It would at first sight," said the objector," appear from Scripture that man was originally intended to be perfectly equal to the rest of the animal creation, which is not endowed with intellect, reason, or power of distinguishing between good and evil: but that Adam's disobedience to the command of God procured him that great perfection which is the Peculiarity of man, viz., the power of distinguishing between good and evil-the noblest of all the faculties of our nature, the essential characteristic of the human race. It thus appears strange that the punishment for rebelliousness should be the means of elevating man to a pinnacle of perfection to which he had not attained previously." …

Wasn’t this elevation foreshadowed when the serpent said to Eve    “For God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5)? And, later it is confirmed when God says “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:22).

What is going on here? Is it possible that humanity can be punished by being elevated? The Torah is not illogical. It may present a paradox, but it also provides resolution. To seek that resolution, we turn to allegory, which often is the sword that cuts the Gordian knot of paradox.

Adam and Eve were commanded to not eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and then had been given the gift of intelligence. The Torah also tells us the Tree was “pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise”. Implicit in the command is a choice.

Intelligence is necessary for choice. It allows us to examine various sides of a situation. In order to govern, humans must have the capacity to choose. And, governance is one of the necessary attributes required to achieve the Prime Directive of dominance. But choice must be freely made within the mind of the one who chooses. There can be temptation, but there cannot be coercion. God cannot make it happen. Is it possible that what is about to take place is the next scene in a carefully directed drama? The stage is set. Enter the serpent!

Consider the role of the serpent. In the ancient Middle East, the serpent played many symbolic roles: royalty, deity, life, death, healing and deceit. In Torah, we see the serpents of Moses in conflict with those of Pharaoh (Ex. 7:10-12). Later, Moses’ bronze serpent heals the poisonous bites of serpents sent by God to punish the Israelites (Num. 21:9). In both situations the serpent appears on both sides of a conflict. 

In the Garden of Eden the serpent is engaged in an intellectual contest. Genesis 3:1 says that “the serpent was more subtle than any beast”. The serpent’s role in this drama is to be the tempter. Could it be that this symbolic tempter is the intelligent mind at work – an external symbol of an internal process?

Now the humans will be led to a decision of their own choosing and act on it. That choice and action might have a variety of options associated with it. The final scene will depend on the option that is chosen.

With God’s help, to be continued. Next time: “The Naked Truth”.

Emet v’chaim.