Hebrew In Israel | Evil In Genesis 2-3 – Learn Torah

evil in the bible, adam and eve, tree of knowledge of good and evil, God and Satan, genesis story, genesis 2, genesis 3

Hebrew In Israel | Evil In Genesis 2-3 – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi No Comments

When examining the narrative of Genesis 2-3, the Hebrew word for Evil רע-r’a is used in a manner which raises questions over what this evil is, and how it affects the narrative.  In this article I will examine the different aspects of this matter, and will try to present an interpretation of this subject.

The Question

Genesis 2:9 states:

וַיַּצְמַח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, מִןהָאֲדָמָה, כָּלעֵץ נֶחְמָד לְמַרְאֶה, וְטוֹב לְמַאֲכָלוְעֵץ הַחַיִּים, בְּתוֹךְ הַגָּן, וְעֵץ, הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע

“Out of the ground Adonai, God, caused to grow every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

The tree in question is described as ‘etz Had’at Tov Vr’a, which literally translates as “The tree of Knowledge -Good and Evil”.  The question at hand is what is the place “good and evil” has in the narrative, how does it relate to what happened to man after consuming from its fruit, and what does it mean for us?

 

Evil In The Creation Story

The creation story of Genesis 1 begins with darkness, and the darkness is controlled by Elohim and separated from the light which was created in the beginning.  The darkness surprisingly is not described as being created by Elohim, but it actually seems to be a constant which was there from the beginning.  It can be argued that the darkness is external to the creation, and does not originate from Elohim in the story.  However, the first verse of the narrative is placed deliberately to disable such an argument.  All which exists was created by Elohim, but the story of creation starts from a point where substance is already existing, and what Elohim did was allow creation to emerge from the already existing substance set in darkness.  By doing so, the narrative also gives us insight into the monotheistic ideology of Genesis, and takes away any mythology of battle between good and evil, which was prominent in ancient creation myths.  Evil, represented by darkness, is still a creation of Elohim in Genesis, and is never under any point external or in conflict with Elohim.  Elohim is the origin of both good and evil in the universe, and they are under His command.  Evil is an instrument used by Elohim to contrast Good, and to give creation a choice.  The conflict, if so, is in the realm of man and not God, making the struggle between good and evil a human and earthly struggle.

To prove that evil is in the earthly realm we can look at several points in the narrative of Genesis 2:

Man is created in the image of Elohim and from the earth.  The earth is part of the good-evil existence due to the fact that flesh is corruptible as demonstrated in the narrative.

Genesis 2 describes a creation which is lacking in parts such as trees and life.  This non-idealised reality, which is missing parts, demonstrates the “evil” in creation where things are missing.  This is not evil per se, but rather a lack which shows how the earthly reality is not perfect.

The garden created by YHWH Elohim needs tending to by man.  Though this can be used to demonstrate man’s part in God’s plan, it is also indicative of the imperfect features of the earthly creation.

The animals need names given to them by Man.  As in the case of the garden, the animals are complete, but man needs to finish the imperfect reality imbedded in the creation.

The snake, a creation of YHWH Elohim, is wicked, allowing room for evil in the creation personified by one of the animals of the garden.

In the narrative of Genesis 2 the word טובTov-Good is never used.

 

Dual Reality

As stated in the beginning we find a duality in the Garden.  This duality is expressed in the trees which represent life, and good and evil.  The duality is twofold due to the existence of two trees, with one tree being dual in its description.  However, this duality is imperfect because good is doubled in its presence due to the “life-good” existing in both trees.  It is possible that this double factor is to hint to the reader that no matter what, good is always going to be stronger than evil.

On the other side, the tree of knowledge is not evil in itself, but rather carries the potential of recognition, but not the forcing of one item or the other.  The tree allows the person to distinguish between the two opposites, but does not force one to actually choose.  Even before eating from the fruit, the choosing is done by man who has imbedded in him the potential of both.  By eating from the tree man chose to disobey God, and by doing so ripped himself from God by also giving himself insight into the terror of the darkness which God created.  This is probably what the snake meant by “being like Elohim”, the ability to see into the powers in YHWH’s creation, and being able to distinguish between them and chose the path.

 

Did YHWH Have A Choice?

The above question is extremely controversial, but only by asking it can we understand what happened to man after eating from the fruit.  In truth there is no actual way of knowing the answer because YHWH is above all and everything.  However, because man was created in His image, we are also a reflection of Him.  Hence, it is possible, as a philosophical idea, to ask “Did YHWH have a choice?”.  Based on the narrative the answer would be yes.  The same way man is given a choice after eating from the fruit, and has been plunged into the long struggle between good and evil, YHWH chose to allow light and creation to come into the darkness, and allow good to be prevalent in His creation.  By presenting the creation story in this manner, we get insight to a larger message given to us by the Torah.  This message presents before man the choice of good and light, or evil and darkness.

 

The Torah As A Cycle

As the the tradition goes, Jewish communities read the Torah in an everlasting loop where the end of the Torah and it’s beginning are read on the same day of Shemini ‘atzeret also know as Simchat Torah.  By doing so both ends are placed side by side.  In the creation narrative we are presented with good and evil, and in Moses’ speech we are given a choice with heaven and earth as witnesses:

טו רְאֵה נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַיּוֹם, אֶתהַחַיִּיםוְאֶתהַטּוֹב, וְאֶתהַמָּוֶת, וְאֶתהָרָעטז אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ, הַיּוֹם, לְאַהֲבָה אֶתיְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו, וְלִשְׁמֹר מִצְותָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו; וְחָיִיתָ וְרָבִיתָוּבֵרַכְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁראַתָּה בָאשָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּיז וְאִםיִפְנֶה לְבָבְךָ, וְלֹא תִשְׁמָע; וְנִדַּחְתָּ, וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ לֵאלֹהִים אֲחֵרִיםוַעֲבַדְתָּםיח הִגַּדְתִּי לָכֶם הַיּוֹם, כִּי אָבֹד תֹּאבֵדוּןלֹאתַאֲרִיכֻן יָמִים, עַלהָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹבֵר אֶתהַיַּרְדֵּן, לָבוֹא שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּיט הַעִדֹתִיבָכֶםהַיּוֹם, אֶתהַשָּׁמַיִםוְאֶתהָאָרֶץהַחַיִּיםוְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ, הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה; וּבָחַרְתָּ, בַּחַיִּיםלְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה, אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶךָכ לְאַהֲבָה אֶתיְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקֹלוֹ וּלְדָבְקָהבוֹכִּי הוּא חַיֶּיךָ, וְאֹרֶךְ יָמֶיךָלָשֶׁבֶת עַלהָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב, לָתֵת לָהֶם.

15 “Look! I am presenting you today with, on the one hand, life and good; and on the other, death and evil16 in that I am ordering you today to love YHWH your God, to follow his ways, and to obey his commandments, regulations and rulings; for if you do, you will live and increase your numbers; and YHWH your God will bless you in the land you are entering in order to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, if you refuse to listen, if you are drawn away to prostrate yourselves before other gods and serve them; 18 I am announcing to you today that you will certainly perish; you will not live long in the land you are crossing the Yarden to enter and possess.  19 I call on heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have presented you with life and death, the blessing and the curse.  Therefore, choose life, so that you will live, you and your descendants, 20 loving Adonai your God, paying attention to what he says and clinging to him — for that is the purpose of your life!  On this depends the length of time you will live in the land Adonai swore he would give to your ancestors Avraham, Yitz’chak and Ya’akov.”

(Deuteronomy 30:15-20).

In both places good and evil are present, and in both places the heavens and the earth are present too.  It is possible that the same way the heavens and the earth witnessed YHWH’s choice of allowing good, light and life to come into existence, man is to imitate Him with the heavens and earth as witnesses and evidence of that choice.  By doing so man fulfills his potential of being created in the image of Elohim.  By this, man is both of Elohim and the creation, and brings into existence a perfection in the creation of YHWH.  The story of Adam in the garden is a refection of us in each generation, and the choice given to us to keep YHWH’s Torah.

 

Sources:

גלנדר שמאי, ספר בראשית, רעננה 2009

ויינפלד משה, ״האל הבורא בבראשית א ובנבואות ישעיהו השני״, תרביץ לז תשכ״ח, עמ׳ 132-105

קנוהל ישראל, אמונות המקרא גבולות המהפכה המקראית, ירושלים 2007, 40-9

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