For the week ending 17 May 2014 / 17 Iyyar 5774

The Bite of the Snake

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Shlomo

Dear Rabbi,

How come G-d punished all the generations for the sins of Adam and Eve? The Torah says if the children do not continue with the sins of their fathers they will not be punished for those sins. Did their children continue the sins of Adam and Eve?

Dear Shlomo,

This is a good question. To answer yes, the children are being punished because they continue to sin might be true generally speaking, but it’s not sufficient in light of the Talmudic statement that lists four people who never sinned, yet died nevertheless “from the bite of the snake.” That is, they died from the curse that followed Eve’s encounter with the snake. So why were those four people punished?

There are different approaches to answer this question.

One is that Adam’s sin changed the whole of creation, creating a new reality. Therefore, we were furnished with a new type of life, new parameters and new tools to deal with this new reality, to complete our task in the new creation. The curses, such as toil, pain of childbirth and death, are all part of the plan now, somehow necessary to give us the opportunity to accomplish our purpose. Those who died sinless, therefore, weren’t being “punished.” Rather, they were simply born into a new reality in which these negative factors are a necessary part.

Another approach is found in the Kabbalah. The Kabbalistic works say that Adam’s soul was a very “large” soul, a mosaic of all future souls. These souls were then disseminated after his death among all his descendants. In this sense, every soul participated in the sin and so also has to atone.

  • Sources: Shabbat 55b, Shelah, Shavuot 213

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