I am reminded of something I learned a few years ago when I
first participated in Chumash classes.
The word Chumash is from the root of chamesh meaning five, as
in the Five Books of the Torah.
Rabbi Yohushuah Harlig of Chabad of Las Vegas mentioned
that in the first three Parashot (weekly readings - plural) of
the Torah, the entire foundation is set.
In this first Parashah (weekly reading – singular),
Bereshit, God attempts to establish a link with mankind
through a couple – Adam and Chava (Eve).
As we know, this didn’t quite work out.
In the second Parashah, Noach, God attempts to once
again establish a link through a family, the family of Noach.
We also see that this doesn’t seem to have the desired
results. Then, as
we see in the third Parashah Lech Lecha, God tries to generate
this link through a people, a Nation founded through the
Patriarchs of Klal Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) – Avraham,
Yitzchak (Isaac), Yaakov (Jacob), and the 12 sons of Yaakov
who were the 12 Tribes.
With this relationship came the rest of the story that
is found in the Torah and which we will study over the next
For the newcomer, I would like to explain that the study of
Torah is so complex, it is impossible in these weekly thoughts
and commentaries to do more than focus on points of interest.
For example, the focus for this week’s Parashah will be
on the serpent. I
heartily recommend purchasing a Chumash in order to learn more
on one’s own. The
three Chumashim (plural) that I would recommend are The
Stone Edition Chumash or the Chumash with Rashi –
both published by Art Scroll, or The Pentateuch –
Translation and Commentary by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch
published by Judaica Press.
So let’s begin…
Parashat Bereshit begins in Sefer Bereshit (the Book of
Genesis) at Perek Aleph (Chapter One) and continues through
and includes Perek Vav, pasuk zayin (Chapter Six, verse 7).
For those who don’t know the story, this covers the
steps involved when God created the world and everything in it
through the introduction of Noach (Noah) into history.
In particular, this week I will discuss a key point of
the story namely when Chava ate of the fruit of the Tree of
Knowledge, an act that God had specifically forbidden, and
then induced Adam to eat as well.
The third character in this little piece of the drama
was the serpent who told Chava that this really wasn’t a
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch translates the key verses in Perek Gimel (Chapter Three) as follows:
Rav Hirsch makes some truly beautiful points in all of this
and draws a wonderful conclusion.
First, he points out that animals are, by acting through the
nature given them by God, good.
They do not have the capacity for evil in and of
themselves. This includes the serpent.
The serpent was merely acting in its nature. The word that Rav Hirsch translates as subtle in the first
pasuk can also be translated as cunning or devious.
In any event, the serpent was merely acting within the
parameters of its nature as God established that nature.
Man, on the other hand, has the capability of acting
with choice, in most cases knowing that there can be positive
or unpleasant consequences to those choices.
Such was the case here.
Chava and Adam were called upon to use their higher
nature to respect God and what they had been told to do.
Instead they chose to ignore that higher nature which
led, in this case and in many cases for all of us, to
Rav Hirsch points out that originally the serpent did not
crawl upon its belly – that God altered its form following
As well, He altered its nature.
Rav Hirsch goes on to explain that these last two pasukim (14 and 15) tell far more than appears at a glance. These two points also establish our situation with the Yetzher HaTov (the Good Inclination) and Yetzher HaRa (the Evil Inclination). The words that are used in these commentaries are lust and passion. In this instance, the intention is not sexual although that may form a part of the picture. Rather, lusts and passions can focus on many levels – money, power, honor, possessions, or position. The point that is made is two fold. First, it is up to us to recognize when we are lusting for something and that so long as we do not become passionate in that lust, we are in control of the situation and can still “stamp out” the lusts. The analogy used is that the serpent has not awakened. Second, however, the moment we become passionate in our lusts and arouse the Yetzher HaRa, arouse the serpent, we can no longer so easily stamp out the danger and protect ourselves from peril.