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Question 12.42:
What is the theological understanding regarding the affect of the expulsion from Eden?


It is clear from the text of Genesis that the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge is of real significance. The mishnah (2nd cent) in Sanhedrin says that there are four people who didn't sin even once in their lives (Benjamin, Amram [Moses' father], Jesse [David's father], and Kilav [one of David's less famous sons]). They continue that these four would not have died, if it were not for that first sin.

That said, Judaism does not give it the centrality that Christianity does. Man is not permanently tainted, nor does man face a challenge that means he can not redeem himself. So how does Judaism view it?

Any first sin would have been "the original sin". I don't just mean that as a word game. What made the first sin significant is that until then, the desire to sin wasn't actualized. Man's whole psychology about sin was different; it changed from contemplating the theoretical to thinking about repeating what they and others had done.

The way Maimonides puts it in his Guide to the Perplexed (13th Century CE), the pre-sin Adam knew what the goal was, his free will was to choose between truth and falsehood—to find the proper approach to that goal. R' EE Dessler puts it in Michtav meiEliyahu (early 20th Century CE), that until Adam ate from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the desires for good and for evil were external to himself. The tree of knowledge of good and evil did exactly what the name says—internalized insticts toward doing good and evil, instead of making them external realities.

Perhaps these two opinions are different perspectives on the same thing. As external realities, if a person would want to do good, the challenge would be in figuring out what good is. Now, however, you have an instinct, a spiritual ear that hears the calling of G-d, the challenge is to overcome your other urges. But we believe that man is in perfect balance even after the sin. The domain over which he chooses was changed, but man is still fully free willed, poised between each side. He is not inherently evil.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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© (c) 1993-2003 Daniel P. Faigin <>