Stuart Fickler, Ph.D. 

Chapter 7 – The Ultimate Teacher

And G‑d said: Behold, the man is become like one of us, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:22)


Act 3: The confrontation. Upon hearing the approach of God, Adam and Eve hid themselves in fear. God calls them, and they must confront God. What follows is an awesome revelation of the nature of God and the role of humanity in God’s creation. It will establish the context of humanity’s relationship with self, community and God.

Let’s go back to the analogy of the child and the freshly baked cookies. The parent returns and sees that a couple of cookies are missing. What happens next? The parent has a number of choices. Punishment is one, but are there others?

As we have said, Adam and Eve have lived in a state of childlike innocence. In Eden there was no awareness of good and evil. Only God possessed that knowledge. Now they, by choosing to disobey God, have acquired that knowledge. In this encounter, is God angry and wrathful, raining down hellfire and brimstone?

What does Rashi say about this? The encounter begins with: And the Lord God called to man, and He said to him, "Where are you?"  (Gen. 3: 9). Rashi’s commentary on this verse begins with: Where are you? - He knew where he was, but [He asked him this] in order to enter into conversation with him, lest he be frightened to answer if He should punish him suddenly.” 

Clearly, this is not an angry and wrathful God.  The text continues in a similar fashion. It is conversational. What did you do? Why did you do it? Each step in the interchange draws out a response. The Creator (parent) must have a purpose that is not merely punitive.

What if we suppose that God did know that Adam and Eve would be tempted and disobey?  Could it be that Adam and Eve were being tested and the outcome rested on the answers they were giving and not on their predictable disobedience? 

Eve’s response was to blame the serpent (Gen. 3:13). Adam blamed both Eve and God. [Gen. 3:12. And the man said, "The woman whom You gave [to be] with me — she gave me of the tree; so I ate."] Isn’t this the behavior of a couple of children caught having eaten the cookies? Is this the behavior required of those designated to have dominion?

When young children begin to assert their independence (taking the cookie), isn’t it time for a parent to begin to teach the children about their role as adults? This is the point where the parent becomes a teacher. The parent wants the child to be able to deal with the challenges of adult life. Then the parent may use incidents such as these as learning devices.

God had already decreed that humans were to have dominion. This requires the capacity for intelligence, creativity and governance. Even more than that, that capacity had to be directed toward a specific goal: “You shall be holy, because I the Lord, your God am holy.” Up until this point, Adam and Eve knew nothing of good and evil. Everything in their lives was good. Only God had the knowledge of good and evil. In order for the humans to govern justly, as King Solomon asserted, it was necessary to know good and evil. The decree had been made, now their education had begun. 

There are two aspects of learning: to know about and to know. Knowing about comes from books, lectures, videos and the internet. It fills the memory and allows recall. It is stored in the brain. Knowing requires experience. This knowledge fills the entire person. It becomes an intrinsic part of the person. It becomes part of a person’s identity.

Would you want to undergo surgery in the hands of a recent graduate from medical school? Or would you prefer someone who has successfully performed the same operation a hundred times? This need for knowing applies to all aspects of human endeavor: medicine, science, teaching, welding, mechanics, athletics, etc. Surely, King Solomon knew this when he asked for an understanding heart (not mind) to judge God’s people.

Adam and Eve, by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, now know about good and evil. Now they must acquire an understanding heart in order to fulfill God’s decree.

An awesome transformation has taken place. God has now become the Ultimate Teacher. Adam and Eve have been elevated to a more Godlike status, making it possible for them to begin to comprehend their role in creation. Life is the classroom, and Torah is the textbook.

An aching question still remains. Why were they punished? Or, was it punishment in the usual sense?

With God’s help, to be continued. Next time: “Reward and Punishment”.

Emmet v’chaim.