Moses was sanctified in a cloud, and received Torah from Sinai. As it says (Exodus 24:16), "And the glory of the Eternal dwelt on Mount Sinai"; that was for Moses, in order to purify him. This was after the giving of the Ten Commandments, according to Rabbi Yosei HaGalili. But Rabbi Akiva says (as the verse continues), "and the cloud covered it for six days" – [that was] for Moses; and only then, "On the seventh day He called to Moses from within the cloud," in order give honor to Moses. Rabbi Natan said: And why was Moses held back for those six days, without God's speech resting upon him? So that he could be emptied of all the food and drink that was in his stomach, so that when he was sanctified, he would be like the angels who serve God. Rabbi Matya ben Heresh said to him: Master, they told him this only to terrify him, so that he would receive the words of Torah with terror and awe, trembling and sweating, as it says (Psalms 2:11), "Serve the Eternal with awe, and rejoice with trembling."
Once it happened that Rabbi Yoshiah and Rabbi Matya ben Heresh were both sitting and engaging in words of Torah. Rabbi Yoshiah began to leave, to go to work (lit., to the “way of the world”). Rabbi Matya ben Heresh said to him: How can you abandon the words of the living God and immerse yourself in the way of the world? (Even though you are my master and I am your student, I still must say that it is not good to abandon the words of the living God and immerse in the way of the world!) So it was said about them: Whenever they would sit and engage in Torah they would zealously argue with one another, but when they parted, they did so as if they were young lovers.
The Torah was given at Sinai through Moses' hands, as it says (Deuteronomy 5:19), "He wrote them on two stone tablets, and He gave them to me." And then later it says (Leviticus 26:46), "These are the decrees and the laws and the teachings that the Eternal gave, through Moses on Mount Sinai, between Him and the children of Israel." The Torah that the Holy Blessed One gave to Israel was given only through Moses, as it says (Exodus 31:17), "Between Me and the children of Israel"; Moses merited to be a messenger between the children of Israel and the Omnipresent God. Moses prepared the inaugural ram and the anointing oil, and anointed Aaron and his sons with it all seven days of inauguration, and from it, all the high priests and kings are anointed. And Elazar burned the [red] heifer as a sin offering, with which impurities would be purified for generations. Rabbi Eliezer said: Great is this ritual, for it is practiced throughout the generations, just as Aaron and his sons were sanctified with this anointing oil, as it says (Exodus 30:30), "Anoint Aaron and his sons, and sanctify them to serve as priests.”
Joshua received from Moses – as it says (Numbers 27:20), "Give him some of your majesty, so that the whole congregation of the children of Israel will heed him." The Elders received from Joshua – as it says (Judges 2:7), "The people served the Eternal all the days of Joshua and all the days of the Elders who lived on after Joshua and who had seen all the great works that the Eternal had performed for Israel." The Judges received from Joshua – as it says (Ruth 1:1), "And it was in the days that the Judges judged." The [early] Prophets received it from the Judges – as it says (Jeremiah 7:25), "And I sent you all My servants, the prophets, daily and persistently." Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi received from the Prophets. The Men of the Great Assembly received from Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. And they said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, and raise up many students, and make a fence around the Torah.
Be deliberate in judgment. How so? This teaches that a person should carefully deliberate in judgment, for all who are careful in judgment will feel settled about their judgment, as it says (Proverbs 25:1), "These, too, are the proverbs of Solomon, which the men of King Hezekiah of Judah copied." This does not mean they merely copied them, but that they deliberated over them. Abba Shaul says: They did not merely deliberate carefully over them, but explained them. Originally, they would say: Proverbs, and Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes had to be hidden, for people would recite proverbs that were at odds with Scripture. So they decided to hide them, until the Men of the Great Assembly came along and explained them, as it says (Proverbs 7:7–20), “I saw among the simple, and noticed among the children, a youth with no sense…and behold a woman came up to him, dressed like a prostitute, with a guarded heart. She is restless and rebellious. Her legs are never at home. Sometimes she is outside, sometimes in the streets; she lurks on every corner. She grabs him, and kisses him, and boldly says to him: I made well-being sacrifices; today I fulfilled my vows. That is why I came up to you, seeking you, and have found you. I have draped my couch with covers of dyed Egyptian cloth. I have scented my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Let us go and fill ourselves with love until the morning. Let us indulge in loving. For the man of the house is out, he has gone on the road, far away. He took a bundle of money with him, and will not come back home until the full moon." And in Song of Songs (7:12–13) it is written, "Let us go, my beloved, out into field. Let us spend the night in the villages. We will wake up in the vineyards, and see if the vines have flowered, if its blossoms have opened, and if the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give my love to you." And in Ecclesiastes (11:9) it is written, "Young man, enjoy your childhood! Let your heart feel good while you are still young! Follow the ways of your heart and the visions of your eyes. But know that for all these things, God will bring you to judgment." And it is written in Song of Songs (7:11), "I am my beloved's, and his desire is upon me." They did not merely deliberate over them, but explained them!
Another interpretation: Be deliberate in judgment. How so? This teaches that a person should carefully consider his words, and not be severe with his words, for one who is severe with his words forgets his words. For so we find with Moses our teacher, that when he was severe with his words he forgot his words. Where do we find that Moses our teacher forgot his words? For it says (Numbers 31:21), "Elazar the priest said to the troops who had come in from the war: This is the decree of the Torah that God has commanded Moses." He commanded Moses, and did not command me? (He commanded Moses, my father's brother, and did not command me?) And where do we find that Moses was severe with his words? For it says with regard to the commanders of the army that (Numbers 31:14), "Moses became angry with the commanders of the army…and he said to them: You have let all the women live!" If so, then what do we learn from the phrase, "all the women"? Rather, this is a reference to the advice that Bil’am the wicked gave regarding Israel, as it is written (Numbers 24:14), “And now, as I go back to my people, and I will advise you as to what this people will do to your people at the end of days.” He said to [King Balak]: This people that you hate, they are hungry for food and thirsty for drink, but they have nothing to eat or drink but manna alone. Go and set up tents, and put food and drink in them, and then place beautiful women inside – the daughters of kings – so that this people will be seduced into worshiping Ba’al Peor, and will fall into the hand of God. Immediately, Balak went and did everything Bil’am the wicked told him. And see what Bil’am the wicked caused to happen to Israel, for twenty-four thousand of them fell, as it says (Numbers 25:9), “And those that died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.” And if Moses our teacher, the greatest of all sages and the father of the prophets, forgot his own words when he became severe with his words, would it not be all the more so with us? This teaches that a person should always consider his words carefully, and not be severe with his words. Ben Azzai said: Be careful with your words, and do not use them wastefully.
And make a fence around the Torah. And make a fence around your words, the way the Holy Blessed One made a fence around His words and Adam made a fence around his words. The Torah made [a fence] around its words. Moses made a fence around his words. Even Job, and even the Prophets and the sages – they all made a fence around their words.
What is the fence that the Holy Blessed One made around His words? It says (Deuteronomy 29:23), “All the nations will say: Why has the Eternal done such a thing to this land?” This teaches you that it was well known to the One who spoke and brought the world into being, that future generations would say this. Therefore, the Holy Blessed One said to Moses: Moses! Write this and place it in [the Torah] for future generations (Deuteronomy 29:24–25): “Then they will be told, because they forsook the covenant of the Eternal…and they went and served other gods and bowed down before them, gods that they did not know, and were not meant for them.” From here we learn that the Holy Blessed One made a fence around His words, and wrote after this what they would one day say. Because of this, He is able to take reward away from His creatures with no argument.
What is the fence that Adam made around his words? It says (Genesis 2:16–17), “The Eternal God commanded [Adam]: From every tree of the garden you may absolutely eat. But from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, do not eat. For on the day you eat from it, you will surely die.” Adam the first person did not want to tell Eve in same the way that the Holy Blessed One had told him. Instead, he said this to her (thus making a fence around his words, saying more than what the Holy Blessed One had said to him): God said not to eat from the tree that is in the midst of the garden, nor to touch it, lest you die. He wanted to keep himself and Eve from even touching the tree.
So then the snake said to himself: Since I cannot make Adam stumble, I will make Eve stumble. He went and sat beside her, and began chatting with her, and said to her: If you say the Holy Blessed One commanded us not to touch it, look, I will touch it and I will not die. And even you, if you touch it, you will not die. What did the wicked snake do then? He went up and touched the tree with his hands and feet, and shook it until its fruits fell to the ground. Some say that he did not touch it at all, for when the tree saw him, it screamed and said to him, Wicked one! Wicked one! Don’t touch me! as it says (Psalms 36:12), “Do not bring the foot of the arrogant upon me, nor let the hand of the wicked push me away.”
Another interpretation of “Do not bring the foot of the arrogant upon me”: This is Titus the wicked, whose bones would grind [in the grave] because he would raise his hands and then strike the altar with them, and say: Locus! Locus! [Latin for “the Place,” i.e., “the Omnipresent God.”] You are a King, and I am a king! Come and make war with me! How many bulls have been slaughtered for You? How many birds’ necks have been snapped for You? How much wine has been poured out for You? How much incense has been burnt for You? And yet, You are the one who destroys the whole world! As it says (Isaiah 291–2), “Oh Ariel, Ariel, the city where David camped! Through year after year, and the cycle of festivals [I will assault Ariel, and there will be groaning and sighing].”
Again [the snake] spoke to her and said: If you say the Holy Blessed One commanded us not to eat from the tree, look, I will eat from it and I will not die. And even you, if you eat from it you will not die. What did Eve think to herself? Since everything my master has told me so far has been lies – for in the beginning, Eve called Adam “my master,” so she took [the fruit] and ate it and gave it to Adam, and he ate, as it says (Genesis 3:6), “The woman saw that the tree was good for eating, for it was tempting to the eyes.”
At that moment, Eve was cursed with ten curses, as it says (Genesis 3:16), “He said to the woman: I will increase and increase your pangs in childbearing; you will give birth to children in pain. You will desire your husband, and he will rule over you.” This [“increase”] and that [“increase”] – one refers to the blood from the pain of menstruation and one refers to the blood from the pain of virginity. “Pangs” refers to the pain of raising children, and “childbearing” refers to the pain of pregnancy. “You will give birth to children in pain” is exactly what it says. “You will desire your husband” teaches that the woman desires her husband when he leaves for a trip. “And he will rule over you” means that a man declares his will aloud, while a woman keeps hers silent. She is wrapped up as if she were in mourning, held captive as if she were in prison, and kept apart from all men. And what was it that caused her to touch [the fruit]? The fence that Adam made around his words! Because of this, they say: If a person makes a fence around his words, he will not be able to live up to his words. And they also say: A person should not add upon the words that he hears. Rabbi Yosei says: Better [a fence] ten handbreadths high that stands, than one that is a hundred arm-lengths high that falls!
What was the wicked snake thinking during that episode? I will go and kill Adam and marry his wife, and then I will be king of the whole world! And I will walk tall and upright, and I will eat all the delicacies of the world! So the Holy Blessed One said to him: You said, I will kill Adam and marry Eve. Thus, “I will place hostility [between you and the woman]” (Genesis 3:14). You said, I will be king of the whole world. Thus, “you will be the most cursed of all the animals” (ibid.). You said, I will walk tall and upright. Thus, “you will crawl on your belly” (ibid.). You said, I will eat all the delicacies of the world. Thus, “you will eat dirt all the days of your life” (ibid.).
Rabbi Shimon ben Menasya said: It is a pity that a great helper was lost from the world. For if the snake had not been cursed, everyone in Israel [i.e., the Jewish people] would have two snakes in his house. One would be sent out to the west, and one would be sent out to the east, and they would bring back gems and precious stones and pearls and every precious thing in the world. And no creature could harm them. And not only that, but they could put them underneath a camel, or a donkey, or a mule, and they would gather the dung and bring it to gardens and orchards [for fertilizer].
Rabbi Yehudah ben Beteira says: Adam was sitting in the Garden of Eden, and the angels who serve God stood there in the Garden attending to him. They grilled meat for him, and chilled wine for him. The snake came and saw all this, and took it as an affront to his own honor, and he became jealous.
How was Adam created? In the first hour, his dirt was gathered together. In the second hour, his form was formed. In the third hour, a torso was made. In the fourth hour, his limbs were attached. In the fifth hour, his orifices were opened. In the sixth hour, he was given breath. In the seventh hour, he stood up on his legs. In the eighth hour, he was paired with Eve. In the ninth hour, he was brought into the Garden of Eden. In the tenth hour, he was commanded [not to eat from the tree]. In the eleventh hour, he disgraced himself. In the twelfth hour, he was driven out and left, which fulfills the words of the verse (Psalms 49:13), “Man does not spend even one night in honor.”
What is recited on the first day? “The earth is the Eternal’s, in all its fullness; the world and those who dwell upon it” (Psalms 24). For He became Master of the World and will judge it. What is recited on the second day? “The Eternal is great, and praised tremendously in the city of our God” (Psalms 48). For He sets up all His works and becomes everything over His world. What is recited on the third day? “God stands in the divine congregation; amidst the powers He judges” (Psalms 82). For He created the sea and the land, and the land was folded into its place, and a space was cleared for His congregation. What is recited on the fourth day? “God of Vengeance, Lord! God of Vengeance, appear!” (Psalms 94). For He created the sun and the moon and the stars and the constellations, and they illuminate the world, and will one day be paid for their work. What is recited on the fifth day? “Sing joyously to the Eternal, our strength, shout out to the God of Jacob!” (Psalms 81). For He created birds and fish, and sea creatures, who all sing joyously in the world. What is recited on the sixth day? “The Eternal is king, He is dressed in dignity; the Eternal has dressed, and wrapped Himself in strength. The world is set in place; it will not fall” (Psalms 93). He finished all of His works, and then rose above them and sat up in the heights of the world. What is recited on the seventh day? “A psalm; a song for the Sabbath day” (Psalms 92). For on it, there is no eating or drinking, no buying or selling. The righteous just sit, with crowns on their heads, and bask in the radiance of the Divine Presence, as it says (Exodus 24:11), “And they beheld God, and they ate and drank,” like the angels who serve God.
(And why [was he created] so close [to the Sabbath]? So that he could enter into the Sabbath meal immediately.)
Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says: I will give you a parable. What was Adam like? Like a man who married a convert, and would sit with her and give her orders. He said to her: Girl, do not eat bread while your hands are impure. And do not eat fruit that has not been tithed. And do not desecrate the Sabbath. And do not break your vows. And do not go around with other men. Now, if you break any one of these rules, you will die. (Then what did that man do?) He ate bread in front of her while his hands were impure, and he ate fruit that had not been tithed, and he desecrated the Sabbath, and he broke his vows. [And then he cast her out.] What did this convert say to herself? All the rules that my husband ordered me to follow are lies! She immediately went and broke them all.
Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says: I will give you a parable. What was the situation with Adam like? Like a man who had a woman in his house. What did he do? He went and brought a jar and put figs and nuts in it. Then he caught a scorpion, and put it near the mouth of the jar. And then he sealed the jar with a string and placed it in a corner. He said to her: Girl, everything I have in this house is for you to use, except for that jar, which you must not touch at all. What did the woman do? When her husband went out to the marketplace, she went and opened the jar, and stuck her hand inside, and the scorpion bit her. She went and fell on the bed. When her husband came back from the marketplace, he said to her: What happened? She said to him: I stuck my hand in the jar, and a scorpion bit me, and now I am dying! He said to her: Didn’t I tell you before? Everything I have in my house is for you to use, except for that jar, which you must not touch at all! He became very angry at her and cast her out. So it was with Adam. When the Holy Blessed One said to him (Genesis 2:16–17), “From every tree of the garden you may absolutely eat. But from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, do not eat. For on the day you eat from it, you will surely die.” Then when he ate from it, he was driven out, which fulfills the verse (Psalms 49:13), “Man does not spend even one night in honor. He is just like the beasts.”
(On that same day he was formed;) On that same day he was created; on that same day his form was formed; on that same day a torso was made; on that same day his limbs were attached and his orifices were opened; on that same day breath was given to him. On that same day he stood up on his legs; on that same day he was paired with Eve; on that same day he called [all the animals] names; on that same day he was brought into the Garden of Eden; on that same day he was commanded [not to eat from the tree]; on that same day he disgraced himself; on that same day he was driven out, which fulfills the words of the verse (Psalms 49:13), “Man does not spend even one night in honor.”
On that same day they went up into their bed as two and came down as four. Rabbi Yehudah ben Beteira says: On that same day they went up into their bed as two and came down as six.1This is according to the tradition that each son was born with a twin girl who would become his wife. On that same day Adam was given three new decrees, as it says (Genesis 3:17–18), “And to Adam [God] said: Because you heeded the voice of your wife…the ground will be cursed because of you. You will eat from it in distress…and it will sprout thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the grasses of the field.” When Adam heard that the Holy Blessed One said to him, “You will eat the grasses of the field,” immediately his limbs began to shake. He said before God: Master of the World! Will I and my animal eat from the same trough? The Holy Blessed One said: Since your limbs began to shake (nizdazu), therefore “by the sweat (zeiah) of your brow you will [be able to] eat bread” (Genesis 3:19). And just as Adam was given these three decrees, so, too, Eve was given three decrees, as it says (Genesis 3:16), “To the woman [God] said: I will increase and increase your pangs in childbearing; you will give birth to children in pain.” So when a woman has her menstrual bleeding, the beginning of her cycle is the most difficult for her. (“I will increase and increase”:) When a woman first has sexual relations, at the beginning intercourse is difficult for her. “Your pangs”: And when a woman becomes pregnant, her face becomes ugly and greenish for the first three months.
When evening began to descend, Adam looked toward the darkening horizon and said: Woe is me! Because I disgraced myself, the Holy Blessed one is bringing darkness upon my world. He did not know that this was simply the way of the world. In the morning, when he saw that the world began to brighten from the east, he felt an overwhelming sense of joy. So he went and built altars, and brought a bull whose horns had grown in before his hooves,2Unusual for a bull, but because the first bull grew up out of the ground, its top was formed before its legs. See Rashi, Hullin 60a. and he offered it up as a sacrifice, as it says (Tehillim 69:32), “It will be better to the Eternal than a bull with horns and hooves.”
The bull that Adam offered up on the altar, as well as the bull that Noah offered up, and the ram that Abraham our forefather offered up in place of his son, (all had horns that had grown in before their hooves), as it says (Genesis 22:13), “Abraham raised his eyes, and behold, a ram was caught [in the brambles by its horns].”
At that same hour, three groups of angels who serve God came down, and in their hands were lyres and harps and all kinds of instruments, and they sang with him, as it says (Psalms 92:1–2), “A psalm. A song for the Sabbath day. It is good to thank the Eternal…and to speak of Your kindness in the morning, and Your faith through the night.” “To speak of your kindness in the morning” – that is the World to Come, which is compared to morning, as it says (Lamentations 3:23), “They are renewed in the morning; great is Your faith.” “And Your faith through the night” – that is this world, which is compared to night, as it says (Isaiah 21:11), “The burden of Dumah. Someone calls to me from Seir: Watchman, what will happen in the night? Watchman, what will happen in the night?”
At that same hour, the Holy Blessed One said: If I do not punish the snake, I will be found to have caused the destruction of the whole world! They will say, that one, whom I have crowned, and made king over the whole world, how can it be that he has ruined himself and eaten the fruits of that tree? Immediately, He turned to the snake and cursed it, as it says (Genesis 3:14), “Then the Eternal God said to the snake….” Thus, Rabbi Yosei said: If this verse had not (not) concluded with its curse, the whole world would have been destroyed.
When the Holy Blessed One created the first human being, He formed it facing both frontward and backward, as it says (Psalms 139:5), “You formed me after and before, and You placed Your hand upon me.” And the angels who serve God came down (to serve Him) [in order to destroy the first human being]. So the Holy Blessed One took it and placed it under His wings, as it says (Psalms 139:5), “You hedge me before and behind, and You placed Your hands upon me.”
Another interpretation of “And You placed Your hands upon me”: (When [Adam] disgraced himself, the Holy Blessed One took one of [His hands] away). From here we see that both the human being and the Sanctuary, when they were created, were created by God’s two hands. From where do we learn that the human being was created with God’s two hands? As it says (Psalms 119:73), “Your hands made me and fashioned me.” From where do we learn that the Sanctuary was created with God’s two hands? As it says (Exodus 15:17), “In the Sanctuary, God, which Your hands have established.” (And it says [Psalms 78:54]), “He brought them to the border of His Sanctuary, the mountain which His right hand had acquired.”
And it says (Exodus 15:19), “The Eternal will reign forever and ever.”