Why is it that most people find snakes repellent? As in
everything else in the world that HaShem created, there is a reason for this. It
is because the snake is the embodiment of materialism for its own sake, which is
its misuse. Our loathing for these creatures serves to provide us with an
inkling as to how we should feel about materialism divorced from spirituality.
HaShem cut off the legs of the snake so that it crawls on its
belly. This represents the fact that sheker—the illusion of a life
devoid of godliness—has no leg to stand on. It’s fantasy, an illusion.
The snake eats dust. But not literally. Rather, the Torah
means to say that whatever it eats tastes like dust. (The opposite of mana,
which had the taste of whatever was in the mind of the one eating it. That which
is real in this world, which is from HaShem, is all one thing, but has various
tastes.) Taste is what connects the thing to the person, and affords pleasure.
The yetzer hora, which consists of illusion, in the end comes down to the same
bland, tasteless form. It is the flavor of emptiness.
What was Chava’s chet? She didn’t appreciate what was real
and beneficial in the long run. She allowed herself to be enticed by what seemed
pleasurable in the here and now. Therefore, her punishment—her
rectification—was that in bringing the long-range benefit of life into the
world, she would have to suffer. In the Torah, it is told in reverse chronology:
First the pain of raising children is mentioned, then the pain of giving birth,
and then the pain of pregnancy. It could be the reason is that if it were just
the nine months of pregnancy, it might not seem so bad; but if you know that the
pregnancy is followed by birth and child raising, which is never-ending, it has
the effect of making the pregnancy and birth even more forbidding. But it’s all
worth it for the goal. All of this is the corrective to the chet of
seeking immediate gratification.
Adam’s chet, on the other hand, was b’shogeg;
it wasn’t a deliberate, outright transgression of HaShem’s command. In fact, it
is not immediately apparent what he did wrong, that he deserved to be punished.
She brought him something to eat, and he ate it. She didn’t even tell him it was
from the Eitz HaDa’as. But Adam wasn’t innocent, either. For if a person
really wants to do the right thing, he’s careful, and he first finds out what it
is he’s going to eat before he eats it. He investigates. Adam didn’t do that; he
was content to listen l’kol ishtecha, to his wife’s seductive
voice. He didn’t ask questions, because he didn’t want to hear the answers. It’s
like someone who eats something, and then asks afterwards, “By the way, does
this have a good hechsher?” Why didn’t he ask before he ate? Because he
really wanted to eat it, even if it would be ossur (prohibited).
So that was Adam’s chet. He was too weak to stand up
to the nisayon (test), and consider prior to acting, before partaking of
the forbidden fruit. He could have seen that it wasn’t like the fruit of the
other trees. So he was taught a lesson, midah keneged midah: Since he was
not careful about what he accepted as food, the earth was not going to be
careful about the food it would put forth for him. It would produce thorns and
thistles. Furthermore, he acted like an animal, unthinkingly obeying his
appetite. So, like an animal, he was condemned to a diet of grass and herbs.
The sin of the first couple brought death into the world.
Death is that juncture when an individual can see what a life bereft of all
spirituality is all about. When the guf (body) and neshama (soul)
separate, it becomes possible to look at the guf, emptied of the
neshama, and realize that the only thing that makes the guf
worthwhile is the neshama. Without it, it’s nothing; it dies and decays.
After the chet, HaShem clothed their bodies. After
they used their bodies in a way that didn’t follow the neshama, it became
something to be ashamed of, to a certain degree. That is because through the
chet, the body became an instrument of pure physicality without the
redemptive value of the spirit.