Parshat  בראשית – Genesis-3:3  – Does Addition Equal Subtraction?

Genesis: 3:3 But of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, God said, “You shall not eat of it, and you shall not touch it, lest you die.'”

Gemora Sanhedrin 29(a): Chezikaya said from where is the proof that anyone who adds something [ultimately] detracts from it? From our verse which states: “you shall not eat of it and you shall not touch it”.

Torah Temimah – Colloquial translation of Note #2

God did not warn saying “don’t touch it”. Rather, she, herself, added the idea [of not touching it.] Due to that addition she caused a [flaw] detraction. The snake pushed Chava into the tree so that she touched it. Then the snake said to her “look, you didn’t die by touching it and similarly you won’t die from eating it.” See our later comments in Parshat Trumah on the verse “two and a half amot is its width” where there is a similar [rabbinic] observation.

Already many commentators have tried to explain this difficult topic. If the woman [Chava] added the prohibition herself of not touching the tree, she would have already known that it wasn’t God who said not to touch it! If that is the case, how could the snake trick her by saying “just like you didn’t die from touching it, so you won’t die from eating it?” The answer is supplied by the Avot d’Rabbi Natan (Chapter 1) where it explains that when Adam told Chava about God’s commandment concerning not eating from the tree, he [Adam] added a ‘fence’ to God’s commandment and said that it was also forbidden to touch the tree. This was a way to prevent Chava from ever coming to eat from it. This being the case, then Chava truly thought it was God’s commandment not to eat nor touch the tree. Thus we see that the criticism of “all who add, ultimately detract” is not directed against Chava but rather against Adam.

The idea of adding the prohibition against touching was from Adam’s own thought process. So, one could ask, how could Adam actually come to add something from what God had commanded? Don’t we know from our laws of forbidden foods that there is actually no prohibition against touching forbidden foods? Maybe a [halachic] answer can be found according to the reasoning that other commentators use to explain why on Yom Kipur there is no prohibition on touching food but on Passover there is a prohibition regarding touching chametz [leaven]. These commentators explain that on Yom Kipur everything is forbidden and so there is no fear that a person will eat something. While on Passover, one can eat many things but not chametz [which can be eaten the rest of the year.] Therefore, on Passover there is an appropriate halachic fence to not touch chametz. So according to this, since the Tree of Knowledge was in the middle of the Garden amongst other trees whose fruit was permitted, it made sense for Adam to add the prohibition of not touching the tree.

So, if it made sense for Adam to add this prohibition, why do we apply the idea of “all who adds, detracts” to this action; since he actually applied the additional restriction appropriately? It would seem that an appropriate additional restriction should not be termed “detraction” or a “flaw”.

One needs to say that there is a distinction to be made between chametz on Passover [and the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.] Since leaven on Passover has a period of time when it is permitted [51 weeks out of the year!], so a person is used to handling it. This is not the case with the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge which was forbidden always and had [absolutely] no period of time when it was permitted. Therefore it is more like completely non-kosher food that has no prohibition on touching it. So, Adam was in error in adding this prohibition to the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. This explanation was also written by the Shach in his commentary on Yoreh Deah Section 89; SubSection 4. Even though it is prohibited to put milk foods on the same table as meat foods, there is no prohibition of putting completely non-kosher foods on the same table since people are accustomed to stay away from completely forbidden items.  

Translator Note: I have heard from other sources that Adam’s mistake was not that he added an additional prohibition. Rather, the mistake was that he failed to inform Chava that God said “don’t eat” but I (Adam) say additionally “don’t touch”. If Adam had done that, then Chava would not have been deceived by the snake.

One thought on “Parshat  בראשית – Genesis-3:3  – Does Addition Equal Subtraction?

  1. Larry

    Problem: Even IF Adam added the touch chumra, you cannot say he warned Chava that a touch would lead to death! This was beyond his powers. So, this deprives the serpent of his “see you didn’t die argument”! In fact this would in itself be an example of a “talmid moreh lifnei rabbo” — considered a capital offence. It seems to me, in order to make a dubious point, the sages have fabricated a convoluted story with no biblical hook.


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