Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Friday, October 9, 2015

He Who Adds, Detracts

Genesis 3:2-4  

And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; "but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, G-d has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.' "  Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. 

Rashi explains that Chavah (Eve) came to grief because she added to the words of Hashem.  While Hashem had certainly forbidden Adam and Chava to eat from the tree on pain of death, Chavah told the serpent that they were forbidden to touch the tree as well.   The serpent was quick to take advantage of Chavah's mistake, pushing her until she touched the tree.  Since she didn't die from touching the tree, surely she would not die if she ate from the tree as well.

The rabbis in the tractate Sanhedrin of the Talmud cite this episode as proof of the principle that Whoever adds, detracts.  For by adding to Hashem's restriction against eating from the tree by forbidding touching it as well,  Adam and Chavah created a situation that allowed the serpent to deceive Chavah into eating from the tree.

And yet, on the other hand, a difficulty remains.  The Sages in the tractate Pirkei Avot enjoin us to make a fence around the Torah.  Moreover, in Pirkei Avot, Adam is lauded for creating a fence around the Torah by issuing this very restriction to Chava against touching the forbidden tree.  How can this be reconciled?

The Chasam Sofer and others explain that while it may be admirable to create restrictions that will help distance one from sin, care must be taken to emphasize that these restrictions are not part of the Torah itself, but additional fences erected by man; adding fences without making clear what is Torah and what is not can lead to a detraction.  Adam should have made it clear to the woman that touching the tree was not part of G-d's injunction, but his (Adam's).  If so, Chavah would have understood that touching the tree did not carry the penalty of death.

R' Bunim said that fences around the Torah perform two functions: It prevents one from trampling that which it protects, and it also provides a clear demarcation between what is inside the fence and what is not.  This is the rule that must be followed whenever restrictions are issued; they must prevent transgression, and at the same time they must be clearly identified as man-made, and not part of the Torah.

(Yeshua does not castigate the Pharisees and Torah scholars for man-made traditions and injunctions, but more so for elevating those injunctions above what G-d required in His Word and using some of the oral tradition to get around what G-d clearly commanded in the Torah, while burdening people unnecessarily.)

Now, whether one believes Adam instructed his wife about touching the tree or not, it is clear from her response that she added to what G-d had commanded.  She added to His words and attributed words to Him which He did not say.   This created an opening for the adversary and contains a critical lesson for us.

The phrase He who adds, retracts, cited earlier, raises the question: Why is one who adds to the Torah equated with one who detracts?  Why is he at fault?

Our yetzer hara (evil inclination) is constantly and relentlessly trying to cause us to sin.  The main protection that we have is the Word of G-d.  David declares in Psalm 119:

Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You! (Psalm 119:11).

How did Yeshua Himself respond to the Adversary when He was tested in the wilderness for forty days?

But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of G-d.' "   . . . . . For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.' "   . . .  "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the L-RD your G-d.' "   . . .  "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the L-RD your G-d, and Him only you shall serve.' " Then the devil left Him . . .  (cf. Matthew 4).

It is written.  Period.  G-d said so.  No more, no less.  Simple.  But the yetzer hara will even tempt us by encouraging us to add to the Torah's commandments.  The issue then becomes that once a person can be convinced and persuaded that he is in charge of deciding what may be done and what may not be done, he is no longer conducting himself as a servant of Hashem nor walking in obedience.  Rather, he is doing what he deems is correct, in other words, he is doing what is right in his own eyes!  Such a person can eventually come to believe that there are commandments that do not apply to him or that he is above certain prohibitions.  So then, although his error began in adding to the Torah, it is certain to end in transgression.

It is therefore just as much of a sin to prohibit that which Hashem permits as it is to transgress His prohibitions, for both misdeeds originate form the same root: One's underlying belief that he may decide what is permitted and what is forbidden, as if he himself knew better than G-d.  (adapted from Sichos Mussar 5731:25 and 5732:34).

This idea is consistent from the beginning right up to the end of time:

"Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the L-RD G-d of your fathers is giving you.  "You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the L-RD your God which I command you (cf. Deuteronomy 4).


For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, G-d will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, G-d shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (cf. Revelation 22).


  1. Just read your comment over at Vox's blog regarding the Amalekites. Exhibit A could be what happened when Saul ignored God's command to destroy ALL the Amalekites. When your read this, then fast forward to the story of Esther, you see the consequences of what happens when you don't follow God's instructions EXACTLY.
    God knew what would happen when even ONE was allowed to survive. Hamman was that result when he tried to get the Persian king to let him destroy the Jews in Persia.
    I really liked how you tied the SJW's and apologizing to the Amaleks.

  2. Susan,

    You are absolutely correct.

    I believe we are still paying for it right down to today. Who knows what far-reaching consequences not doing things G-d's way, just as He instructed us, will have down the road? What if Abraham had trusted G-d more fully and not slept with Hagar? etc., etc.

    I am simply amazed how G-d can still accomplish His purposes, even when we can be so incompetent and stiff-necked. Though we may do our worst at times, He is gracious to give us a chance to get things right. The best Father anyone can ask for.

    Your comments are always appreciated, Susan. Thank you.

  3. We are indeed paying for it today. The results of Sarah's impatience when she had Abraham begat Ismael with Hagar, and God's prophesy of Ismael's descendants shall live like wildmen among their brothers is being witnessed on a daily, almost hourly basis right now.

    One more point regarding the Amaleks.
    I have also read that various theologians feel that the Amaleks were descendants of Esau. Esau did live an outdoors kind of life, one that was not so civilized and cultured as his brother did.

  4. "I have also read that various theologians feel that the Amaleks were descendants of Esau."

    Yes, I believe this is correct. The Rabbis teach that Esau was Amalek's grandfather iirc.