Shaya Cohen -


How Does Eve’s Punishment Address the Crime?

The Torah can be seen as a series of feedback loops between man and G-d, trying to find the most productive way forward. We see action and reaction in both directions: Man acts, G-d responds. G-d acts, man responds. And every loop creates ripples that are found later in the text, enshrined in the Law. The result, the text of the Torah, contains its own connections showing “how we got here.”

This great guidebook on how to build holy relationships with each other and with G-d thus comes with its own answer key. Although the “How?” of commandments are found in the Oral Tradition, the “Why?” of every commandment is invariably found earlier in the written text. The commandments can all be explained by events that are described in the Torah.

Once we understand that commandments have a causal source, it follows that each time G-d reacts to what man does, His decisions are to try to increase the chances that we will make good/holy choices. For example, when early men treat women like chattel to be possessed at will, G-d shortens human lifespan so that the value of women (as a path to a form of immortality) is increased. Men thus need women to achieve their own long-term goals. The result is that women are treated by men more as valued partners and less as weaker (and thus inferior) animals.

The text shows us that G-d is not interested in punishment for the sake of punishment. G-d’s actions are neither arbitrary nor punitive; they are directed toward the goals of the Torah itself: pathways to holy relationships.

The goal seems to always be toward moving forward, toward growing in holy and productive directions. So, for example, when Cain kills Abel in a fit of rage, G-d does not engage in “measure for measure” punishment and kill Cain in turn. Instead, He undercuts Cain’s self-assurance, the agricultural prowess that enabled Cain’s pride and innate sense of superiority over other people. G-d tries to fix Cain by removing the source of pride. Hence, “If you till the soil, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. You shall become a ceaseless wanderer on earth.” The logic is that G-d’s reaction to Cain giving into his anger is to remove the underlying foundation that enabled his selfish rage: G-d severs Cain from his rooted and self-satisfied existence.

Chava (Eve) is even more interesting. She takes the first risk in the Torah, by taking and eating the fruit in direct violation of the injunction. Her actions, born perhaps of curiosity and boredom, lead to a whole host of outcomes. But the specific punishment/consequence Chava receives is also very much in line with the nature of her transgression:

The classic translation reads:

And to the woman [God] said, “I will greatly expand Your hard labor—and your pregnancies; In hardship shall you bear children.”

Chava acted without consideration for the long-term consequences of her short-term decision (both with the fruit and of claiming victimhood status instead of personal responsibility). The consequence of her action is that she can no longer act in this way, because her short-term decisions (i.e., seeking pleasure) or denying responsibility for her own decisions will lead (at least until the age of abortion), to the greatest consequences and obligations of all: pregnancy, labor, and raising children. G-d closes the loop between action and consequence, because he wants women to become more risk-averse, more concerned about long-term consequences.

Described in standard evolutionary language: women are generally weaker than men, especially when pregnant or trying to raise a baby. So in order to successfully procreate, women need, unlike men, to plan for the future, to worry about what might go wrong. Risky behavior in a woman makes her less likely to raise children to the age where they, in turn, will perpetuate her genes. The Torah is giving us an explanation for how and why this came to be.

It is clear that, in broad strokes, men and women have very different ways of seeing the world, assessing risks and rewards, and planning for the future. We see it in voting patterns (single women are far more likely to vote for a Big Government), we see it the relative rates of entrepreneurship, in patent applications (women are only 10-20% of listed inventors). All in all, there is a strong difference between the sexes when it comes to taking risks and going in new directions.

And I think this all is a result of Chava taking that first risk!

There is a deeper level to Chava’s consequence, and it is found in a play on words in the text. “I will greatly expand Your hardship and your pregnancies; In hardship shall you bear children.” The word for “your pregnancies” seems to be redundant – after all, “in hardship shall you bear children” certainly seems to include pregnancy! So why is the word included?

The word in this verse for “pregnancy” is not found in its exact form anywhere else in the Torah. In this verse, the root word is H-R-N, a noun (elsewhere in the Torah the verb “to become pregnant” shares two of the letters and is T-H-R). Though H-R-N is not found elsewhere in the Torah referring to pregnancy, it is found referring to a cautionary tale: Terach’s son, named Haran. Haran dies while his father still lives. Which means that the name Haran (­H-R-N) is linked to a specific meaning: the fear that your children will die before you do.

I think the text is giving us a specific and terrible clue: Womenkind are given the fear of “your Haran,” the fear of the kind of loss a mother can never recover from. (Terach also never seems to recover.) Which in turn gives us a biblical explanation of why women are much more focused than are men when it comes to at worrying about the future. Women are aware of and fear the terrible consequences from short-term errors or oversights.

When Chava took the fruit, she was fearless and carefree, insensitive to the long-term risks of making bold decisions. The consequence of her reckless abandonment is that G-d gave womankind fear and anxiety, with a constant eye toward the painful and potentially catastrophic outcomes that can come from short-term choices.

[an @iwe and @susanquinn work]

P.S. An unintended consequence of making women fearful is that women are in general more interested in anything that reduces fear: not only productive religion, but also unproductive superstitions and false religions. All of these are ways of calming our fears through pathways that helps us to deal with them.

Comments are welcome!

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