In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Nov. 12, 2004 / 28 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Serpents of desire: Good and evil in the Garden of Eden — The Naked Truth

By Rabbi David Fohrman

Printer Friendly Version

Email this article

The fifth installment of a weekly series examining themes in the Book of Genesis, with the goal of revealing progressively deeper layers of meaning in what too many dismiss as myth. Links to the previous lessons can be found at the end of the article.

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | The entire story of Adam and Eve in the Garden is no more than twenty-five verses long. That's a pretty small amount of space in which to tell a story that changed the course of human history. The Encyclopedia Britannica would have devoted tens of pages to an event of such magnitude. We might wonder: How can the Torah (Bible) communicate anything really profound with such a scarce amount of words?

One of the ways it can do so is by creating more than one "layer" of meaning in its narrative. Twenty-five verses may not sound like a lot, but its plenty if the text is somehow "layered"; encoded so that it contains meaning far out of proportion to its size. Jewish tradition has long assumed that the Torah employs various techniques to help it "encode" meaning. One of those techniques is a device that's come to be known as "the leading word".

Every once in a while, when you are reading a Biblical narrative, you will find that the text seems to go out of its way to use a certain word, phrase or idea, consistently and repetitively throughout a story. When this happens, it often indicates that this repetitive element holds a key to the meaning of the narrative. The word or idea in question "leads" the reader, as it were, to a richer and deeper understanding of the text.

It just so happens that the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden contains such a repetitive word. If you take a quick break to scan the story yourself, you may well find it.

Well, ready or not, here it is:

The word is arom — the Hebrew word for "nakedness".

Nakedness appears everywhere throughout our story. It appears at the beginning, just before the snake tempts Adam and Eve: and they were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed. It appears at the end, where G-d makes clothes for Adam and Eve so that they are no longer naked. And it appears right in the middle of the story, at its turning point, when man and his wife eat the forbidden fruit:

And the eyes of both of them were open and they knew that they were naked.

Strange, isn't it? If someone asked you to imagine how eating a fruit that imparts "knowledge of good and evil" would affect mankind, what would you have said? Perhaps Adam and Eve would become instantly aware of a whole new world of moral dilemmas that lay before them. Right to Life vs. Right to Choice; or: Ten people are in a lifeboat and the whole boat sinks unless you throw someone off, what should you do? All sorts of such dilemmas. Their heads would be spinning with possibilities.

But no. None of that preoccupied Adam and Eve. When they ate from the Tree of Knowledge, the immediate effect was: they knew they were naked. It seems odd. Why does knowing "good and evil" affect our perception of nakedness? But there is nakedness again, front and center in the story.

Let's continue reading the text. Adam eats from the tree, and he immediately hides from G-d. Now lets ask, "why is he hiding"?

We received a flood of extremely perceptive and downright profound letters on last week's class. Some were even essays in and of themselves. The rabbi has answered a number of questions and commented on others via Real Audio. Click HERE to listen.

Again, this series was designed to be interactive, we encourage you to challenge the rabbi. Don't feel shy about doing so! Use the link in the bio at the bottom of this article to e-mail him.

Before looking at the reason the text gives us, consider why it is that you would think Adam would be hiding. If the Bible had stopped its story just after Adam ate from the tree and hid from G-d, how would you explain Adam's act of seeking refuge? Imagine that some industrious CNN reporter managed to spot Adam hiding behind a bush and got an exclusive interview with him. He asks Adam a basic question: "I see you are crouching here behind this bush; you seem to be hiding from G-d. Can you explain to our viewers why?" If you were in Adam's shoes, what would you have said in reply?

You probably would have told him that you were embarrassed of what you did. Here you were, placed in Paradise, with the whole garden available to you for your enjoyment. One little thing G-d asked of you — not to eat from a certain tree. And then you had to go and eat from it! You feel filled with shame; you've disappointed your Creator, and can't bear to face Him. If you are hiding, one would think that this would be the reason why.

But the text tells us something else. When G-d asked Adam why he was hiding, this was his reply:

I heard your voice in the Garden and I hid because I was naked.

Somehow, Adam's consciousness of being naked was so profound, so disturbing to him — that it trumped in his mind even his sense of shame at having disobeyed the one command of his Maker.

Why is nakedness so important to this story? Why is humanity's realization of it the one natural consequence of eating from a "Tree of Knowledge"? And why would this realization be so disturbing that it is the only reason man can think of to explain why he is hiding?

Donate to JWR

In order to answer this, we need to realize that, surprisingly, we haven't seen the end of nakedness in this story. It actually makes one more hidden appearance. Believe it or not, there's one more creature in the garden that's naked, and he may hold the key we have been seeking. Can you spot him?

If you had trouble identifying the "phantom nakedness" in our story, it may have been because you were reading the story in English. As it happens, most English translations, almost without exception, conceal the missing occurrence of "nakedness". They usually render the telltale verses in something like the following fashion:

And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed.

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field... (Genesis, 2:25-3:1).

As you read these words, you surely noticed that Adam and Eve were described as unclothed. But you probably didn't observe anyone else described the same way. Now trust me on this one — you didn't see it because you were reading the words in English. Try reading the verses now, when we substitute the Hebrew word for "naked" — arom — in place of its English counterpart:

And they were both arom, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed.

Now the serpent was more arom than any beast of the field... (Genesis, 2:25-3:1).

One second. The snake is "arom" too?

Absolutely. Immediately after the Torah describes Adam and Eve as being naked, the Torah uses the exact same Hebrew term to describe the snake. It just so happens that "arom" can mean not just "naked", but "cunning" too. What does it all mean? Well, at face value, the text is certainly telling us that the snake is cunning; sly and deceitful — that's certainly the peshat, the "simple meaning" of the text. But it hardly seems a coincidence the Torah picked this particular word to describe the snake's devious intentions. The Torah seems to go out of its way to take this very key word in the story — arom — and attach it, backhandedly, to the "cunning" snake as well.

What does the Torah mean to imply by this?

The mystery deepens when we ask the question: Are the two meanings of "arom" — "naked" and "cunning" — related conceptually in any way? Are these apples and elephants, two entirely unrelated ideas, or is there some essential connection between them?

At first glance, the ideas "naked" and "cunning" don't seem to have much in common. But on reflection, they do seem related in a curious way. Mull the terms over — "Naked and cunning, naked and cunning..." — what comes to mind?

These words just happen to be opposites of one another.

When someone is naked, unclothed, there is no hiding. That person's "self" is laid bare for all to see.

"What you see is what you get". On the other hand, when one is cunning — he is sly and devious; he "cloaks" his true intentions and hides behind a facade. His true self is not seen. Fascinating. The two meanings of arom are mirror images of each other.

And this just adds another dimension to our question: Why would the Torah take the same word it uses over and over again to mean "naked", and then, when describing the snake, twist its meaning to convey the very opposite idea — "cunning"?

Could the Torah possibly be suggesting that — yes, the snake was of course cunning — but somehow, he was not just cunning — but he was "naked" as well?

What could that mean?

Biologically, of course, a snake really is naked: It is a reptile, a creature that, unlike most other members of the animal kingdom, lacks fur or hair to cover it. But if we think beyond biology, what would it mean for the snake to be not just "cunning", but "naked"?

If "naked" is really the opposite of "cunning", then it seems to follow that the snake had both, opposite, qualities: He possessed both honesty and stealth. In other words, the snake really is deceptive — but on another, perhaps deeper, level, he's very straightforward. It all depends at how you look at him. From one perspective, what he's saying doesn't really work for Adam and Eve, so his words are deceptive to them. But from another perspective — what you see is what you get. He's just telling it like it is — from a snake's point of view, of course.

As we shall see in coming weeks, this perspective may well provide us an important stepping stone in understanding the story as a whole. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. We'll explore that, and more, when we return.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes inspirational articles. Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Rabbi David Fohrman directs the Hoffberger Foundation for Torah Studies, and is an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches Biblical Themes. He has also authored several volumes of the ArtScroll Talmud.

No need to be shy! To comment or ask a question, please click here.

Special Offer: For the next seven days, JWR readers get a $100 discount, and free shipping, when buying the full library of Rabbi Fohrman's audiotapes on Biblical Themes. These fascinating recordings will give you a new handle on many difficult Bible stories, from the Binding of Isaac to the Book of Jonah, and even the Hidden Structure of the Ten Commandments. Take advantage of this offer at http://www.jewishexplorations.com.


The dark side of paradise
A Tale of Two Trees
Adam, Eve, and the Elephant in the Room
Serpents of desire: Good and evil in the Garden of Eden

© 2004, Rabbi David Fohrman