The first recorded conversation in the Bible neither involves nor concerns a man, and therefore almost passes the Alison Bechdel test. Why did Eve speak to the serpent? Maybe because it spoke to her.

Why does the serpent tempt Eve? Because it can.

People sometimes ask why the serpent, specifically, had a motivation to cause man’s fall. But I think this is the wrong question. What the text actually tells us, the very first thing it tells us about the serpent, is this: “The serpent was the most cunning of all the beasts of the field.” This answers the question, Why could the serpent, specifically, cause man’s fall? Nowhere does the text ask why the serpent wanted to, because we’ve already been told that – in 1:28.

What the text tells us is that the serpent was unique in its capabilities; it does not say that the serpent was unique in its motives. I think the serpent’s motive was shared among all the animals: resentment towards man for man’s having been given dominion over all other life forms.

All the animals had the motive, but only the serpent had the method; all had the intent, but the serpent alone had the capability.

This, then, is the first instance of envy and jealousy in the Bible, even before the well-known brothers whom we’ll meet in the next chapter. And it is also of the same theme: rather than wanting to better itself and improve its own standing, the serpent wants to bring the other guy down. This is the nature of envy and it’s an all too common human weakness.

Venturing just a little bit into symbol, we might take the snake – and, in my reading, the putative rebelliousness of the animal kingdom generally – as a metaphor for how our lower nature, our animal instincts, will often use rationalization to get us to do things we know we shouldn’t do.


“He named her Life [chava]” – as Steinsaltz drily observes, he could have called her a lot of things at that moment. But he didn’t. He named her Life.

“- because she was the mother of all life.” I think the verb here [hayetah] really wants to be translated as “had become” – “she had become the mother of all life.” And indeed that’s exactly how Steinsaltz reads the later verse, “the man had known his wife”.

So, what is really going on here? I think she must have been already pregnant, and perhaps she told the man her wonderful secret right then and there. And now, suddenldy, the fruit, the fall, the curse – none of that matters now, because they are about to bring a new human life into the world.



This chapter begins with the Sabbath day, on which the Creator rested and refrained from creation. I want to point out the verb “and He rested” [vayanach]. The root verb is [nachah], meaning to rest or to be contented, and we’re going to see it again.

The narrative then seems to begin again at the beginning, with a second account of the creation of the heavens and earth. There are some tantalizing details about the climate and landscape: there’s mist but no rain, and four rivers are named.


And He set him in the Garden of Eden:
The verb here is [vayanichehu], literally “set to rest”; it’s that root again.

The tree of knowledge, good and evil:
Robert Alter correctly translates this as “the tree of knowledge, good and evil” (and not “… knowledge of good and evil”). The definite article here is attached to [ha-da’at], knowledge, and therefore by the rules of Hebrew grammar it cannot be “knowledge of” something else. “Good and evil” therefore describes the ambivalent nature of the tree and its fruit – both good and evil.

It is not good for man to be alone:
Notice that the solution is not to create a second Adam from scratch; rather, the single, unitary man must give up his completeness – just as (so to speak) the Creator must self-limit and withdraw to make room for man and free will.


When woman is created as a separate entity, man exclaims, “This one shall be called woman, for from man she was taken.” Notice that he does not address her directly. Who’s he talking to? His words – the first recorded human speech in the Bible – are spoken in the third person, and there isn’t even a third person in the world yet!

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife” – here is a moral imperative, a commandment, explicitly linked to the Garden of Eden. The message is that our instinct to seek union and wholeness cannot be fulfilled by staying in our parents’ home. The way home is forward.

And notice that here the narrative voice of the text exhorts the reader directly for the first time. Up until now, the text has been declarative and expository: this happened, and then that happened. Here for the first time the text says: you shall do this.



In the beginning verses of the Bible, we see the Creator fashioning the world, and man in it, bringing forth first chaos, then order, then complexity.

One thing that stands out about this chapter, as has been noted often, is the role of Divine speech in the act of creation. The Word of G-d is the instrument that fashions order out of primal chaos. Dennis Prager (Genesis: God, Creation, and Destruction, pp. 1-3) lists a number of ways in which Genesis differs from all pre-Biblical creation stories: for example, the Creator is separate from nature, is not “born”, and is completely de-sexualized.

Zvi Grumet (Genesis: From Creation to Covenant, pp.4 – 5) shows that the six days of Creation “are actually two cycles of three days each, with the second paralleling the first”, and explains that “this sense of structure, pattern, order, and planning is intentional, and stands in stark contrast to many ancient Mesopotamian creation stories.”

The order of Creation is logical, not chronological. Steinsaltz (The Steinsaltz Humash, p.10, note on v. 20) points out that the creatures created after the fourth day “would not grow and develop blindly, like vegetation, but would move and have some measure of will.” I’ll add that all of the creatures created after the fourth day (when the heavenly bodies were created as distinct light sources) have eyes – unlike plants, which can “see” only light and darkness.

Another thing I’d like to point out here is the role of number. Already, in just the fifth verse of the Bible, we’ve started counting: “… and it was evening, and it was morning, one day.” And each following day is numbered in succession. People sometimes say that “the Bible is not a book of science” – well, maybe not, but there sure are a lot of numbers in it.

Here, in this very first occurrence of numbers in the Bible, what is being measured is time, and that with a specific purpose: to involve man in the process of the Creation. Although the commandment to observe the Sabbath is not made explicit until later, it is first mentioned at the end of the Creation story (at the beginning of Chapter 2).

In fact, even before the Sabbath, we’re told that the luminaries were created “for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years.” That is, man is expected to observe the regular processes of nature and study their patterns. He is to create a calendar. (And in fact, Jewish tradition understands this commandment to mean that the calendar must incorporate three elements: the solar cycle, the lunar cycle, and the week – that is, a purely numerical element which is not dependent on natural phenomena but is reckoned by the mind of man alone.)

The Creation story of Genesis is profoundly spiritual, affirming our place in the order of Creation. It is deeply moral, calling on us to act in accord with the will of the Supreme Being. And, too, it is supremely scientific in its worldview, inviting us to engage cognitively with the processes of the world around us.

Genesis comes to teach us, not a mere collection of disconnected “facts”, but rather how to think about the universe: as a theatre of unfolding, orderly events, proceeding from a single First Cause, that can be known and understood – at least in part – by the mind of man.