April 21, 2024
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In the beginning…there was chaos. And then there were heaven and earth. And plants and animals and man. Then there was the Sabbath, and Eden…and then there was sin.

Trouble in Paradise. The first Torah portion that describes to us the sources of life and creation also describes the archetypes of nature and humanity, immediately exposing us to the reality of sin.

Not once, but twice.

Reading carefully through Adam and Eve’s sin of disobedience in Gan Eden sounds very much like Kayin’s morally corrupt murder of his brother. Twice, the all-knowing all-seeing God seemingly naively asks the rhetoric “Where are you?” and “Where is Abel, your brother?”

In both cases the humans toy with the absurd notion of hiding: Adam says, “I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” Kayin proclaims “from Your face I will be hidden.” 

In both cases God cries, “What have you done?”

The similarities go on and on. The curse, the following pregnancies, the cryptic verses about desire and ruling.

What does the clear connection between these two stories come to teach us?

In both cases, sin results in exile. In the very beginning of the Torah we are presented with the idea that there are locations on earth—holy land—where God dwells, and from where the sinners are automatically expelled. This sacred land cannot stand moral corruption and innocent bloodshed. The land literally vomits the sinners.

In this sense, the Land of Israel is a paradise, that is, it operates on the same criteria that got Adam and Eve expelled from Gan Eden. Eretz Yisrael is described as a land with a conscience, a highly sensitive being that simply can’t stomach sin and corruption.  

Rashi famously begins his commentary by wondering why the Book of Genesis is even necessary; it has no laws, no practical commandments.

It is amazing to note how Rashi, a Jew living in 11th-century Europe without a shred of self-rule anywhere in sight, maintains a double reality: outside there might be crusades and pogroms, but in his mind he lives in the day when we will be sovereign in our land, and our immediate problem will be how to respond to the accusation that we stole other nations’ land. Incredible.

Nachmanides (Ramban) is surprised by the question: how could we do without Bereishit? It deals with the basis of faith, with creation. But then he states: let’s not delude ourselves. None of the secrets of creation could actually be understood from these verses. Ma’aseh Bereishit (the act of creation) is a mystery beyond human comprehension. It cannot be put into words.

What then can we learn from Adam being placed in the best of all the places created in this world until his sin drove him out? Similarly, what can we learn from the people of the generation of the great flood and their sin that had them expelled from the entire world?

When a people continue to sin, it will be exiled from its place and a new people will inherit their land, for this is the law of God in the world since its very creation.

Nachmanides concludes with his version of Rashi’s idea: Galut (exile) is the natural result of sin. The people who inhabited this country before you lost their right to live on it, and beware, as a people, you will have to live up to this land’s high standard. Both Rashi and Ramban quote the verse: “The strength of his actions He told His people to give them the inheritance of the peoples” (Psalms 111:6). God told His people, not other relevant nations.

Ownership depends on the consciousness of the people. Jews, anywhere in the world, if they realize that the Land of Israel belongs to them, then they have a real share in it. If one doesn’t truly understand his affinity to the land, his ownership upon it may be lost.


Rabbanit Rachelle Fraenkel teaches Torah at midrashot in Israel. She is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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