Do Not Make the Fence Excessive Lest it Collapse and Severe the Saplings

by tillerofthesoil

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“The Men of the Great Assembly said three things: Be careful in judgment; raise up many disciples; and make a fence for the Torah” (M Avot 1:1).

“Rabbi Akiva said: Mocking and frivolity lead to immorality. The oral tradition is a fence for Torah; tithes are a fence for wealth; vows are a fence for abstinence. The fence for wisdom is silence” (M Avot 3:17).

“‘Make a fence for the Torah.’ And make a fence for your words, in the way that the blessed Holy One made a fence for His words, and the first human made a fence for his words. Torah made a fence for her words. Moses made a fence for his words. So too, Job as well as the Prophets, the Writings, and the sages—all of them made a fence for their words [on Job’s ‘fence,’ see Job 31:1]” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan A, 1).

He who breaches a fence, a snake will bite him (Ecclesiastes 10:8).

Now the serpent was most cunning (Genesis 3:1).

For in much wisdom is much worry, and he who adds wisdom adds pain (Ecclesiastes 1:18): Because man increases his wisdom he increases worry against himself, and because he increases his knowledge he adds to his pain. Solomon said: Because I increased my wisdom I increased my worry, and because I increased my knowledge I increased my pain. Did you ever hear anybody say: ‘This donkey went out and caught the sun, or caught a fever? And where is suffering prevalent? With human beings. Rabbi said: A תַּלְמִיד חָכָם (talmid ḥakham), disciple of the wise, does not require a warning [cf. BT Sanhedrin 8b]. Rabbi Yoḥanan said: It is like the fine linen garments which come from Bet Shean: if they are even slightly blackened they are ruined; but as for the [coarse] linen garments which come from Arbel, what is their value altogether?

Rabbi Yishma’el taught: According to the camel so is its load. It often happens that two people enter a tavern; one orders, ‘Bring me roast meat, white bread, and good wine,’ while the other orders, ‘Bring me bread and beets’: the former eats and suffers afterwards, while the latter eats and does not suffer. Thus human ills weigh heavily upon the one but not upon the other.

It was taught in Rabbi Me’ir’s name: According to the greatness of the serpent so was his downfall: because he was most cunning, he was [most] cursed of all (Genesis 3:14). Now the serpent was most cunning of all the beasts of the field. Rabbi Hoshaya the Elder said: He stood out distinguished like a reed, and he had feet. Rabbi Yirmeyah son of El’azar said: He was an אֶפִּיקוֹרֶס (epiqores), unbeliever. Rabbi Shim’on son of El’azar said: He was like a camel. He deprived the world of much good, for had this not happened, one could have sent goods through him, and he would have gone and returned [cf. BT Sanhedrin 59b]….

But from the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden God has said, “You shall not eat from it and you shall not touch it, lest you die” (Genesis 3:3). Thus it is written, Add nothing to His words, lest He rebuke you and you be given the lie (Proverbs 30:6) [cf. Deuteronomy 4:2: You shall not add… neither shall you take away from it]. Rabbi Ḥiyya taught: Do not make the fence excessive [lit., more than the main thing], lest it collapse and יִקְצֹץ הַנְּטִיעוֹת (yiqtsots ha-neti’ot), severe the saplings. Thus, the blessed Holy One had said, For on the day you eat from it, you are doomed to die (Genesis 2:17); whereas she did not say so, but rather, God has said, “You shall not eat from it and you shall not touch it, lest you die”; when he [the serpent] saw her lying so, he took and thrust her against it. ‘Have you then died?’ he said to her; ‘just as you were not stricken through touching it, so will you not die when you eat it, For God knows that on the day you eat of it [your eyes will be opened and you will become as gods knowing good and evil] (ibid., 5).

Rabbi Tanḥuma said: I was asked this question in Antioch. I answered: It is not written, יוֹדְעִים אֱלֹהִים (yod’im elohim), knowing gods, but rather, יֹדֵעַ אֱלֹהִים (yode’a Elohim), God knows. Rabbi Yehoshu’a of Sikhnin said in Rabbi Levi’s name: He [the serpent] began speaking לָשׁוֹן הָרַע (lashon ha-ra), slander, of his Creator, saying, ‘Of this tree did He eat and then create the world; hence He orders you, You shall not eat from it, so that you may not create other worlds, for every person hates his fellow craftsmen.’ Rabbi Yehudah son of Rabbi Simon said: He argued: ‘Whatever was created after its companion dominates it. Thus: the heavens were created on the first day and the firmament on the second: does it not bear its weight? The firmament was created on the second and herbs on the third: do they not interrupt its waters? Herbs were created on the third day and the luminaries on the fourth [and through the heat of the sun plant life matures and ripens]; the luminaries on the fourth and the birds on the fifth. Rabbi Yehudah son of Rabbi Simon said: The זִיז (ziz) is a clean bird, and when it flies it obscures the orb of the sun [thus it dominates the sun, as it were]. Now you were created after everything in order to rule over everything; make haste and eat before He creates other worlds which will rule over you. Hence it is written, And the woman saw that the tree was good [for eating and that it was lust to the eyes and the tree was lovely to look at, and she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave to her man, and he ate…] (Genesis 3:6): she saw [how plausible were] the words of the serpent” (Bereshit Rabbah 19:1, 3–4).

“Rabbi Shemu’el son of Naḥman said, ‘The serpent was asked, Why are you generally to be found among fences?’ He replied, ‘Because I made a breach in the fence of the world.’ Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai taught: The serpent was the first to make a breach in the world’s fence, and so he has become the executioner of all who make breaches in fences” (Vayiqra Rabbah 26:2).

“Rabbi Levitas the visionary opened, ‘Enmity I will set between you and the woman, between your seed and hers (Genesis 3:15)—abundant hatred from the day the world was created, on account of the incitement of the serpent. From the moment it was cursed, driven out from the gate of the King, it lies in ambush constantly amid fences in the world, amid those fences of the Torah, biting all who trample those fences underfoot [see BT Avodah Zarah 18a (in the name of Rabbi Shim’on son of Laqish); Tanḥuma, Eqev 1; Zohar 1:198a–b]. Woe to one who is caught! Woe to one who is bitten! Woe for the persistence of the vile enmity, for the snake’s wicked hatred for Her, the one called woman of valor (Proverbs 31:10). Malevolent animus it nursed for Her from the day the world was created until it ravaged Her, pulverizing Her until She lay in the dust (Zohar Ḥadash 91c [MhN]).

“Four died through the incitement of the serpent, namely: Benjamin the son of Jacob, Amram the father of Moses, Jesse the father of David, and Chileab the son of David” (BT Shabbat 55b).

“On the eve of the Passover Jesus the Nazarene was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and incited [or: enticed] Israel. Any one who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!—Ulla said: ‘Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defense could be made? Was he not an enticer concerning whom Scripture says, you shall not pity him and shall not shield him (Deuteronomy 13:9)? With Jesus however it was different, for he was connected with the government‘” (BT Sanhedrin 43a).

“What is different about an inciter [that the court does not seek to deem him innocent]? Rabbi Ḥama son of Ḥaninah says: I heard at the lecture of Rabbi Ḥiyya son of Abba: An inciter is different, as the Compassionate One says, [Should your brother, your mother’s son… incite you in secret, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’ that you did not know, neither you nor your fathers…] you shall not spare him and you shall not pity him and shall not shield him. [But you shall surely kill him] (Deuteronomy 13:7–10).

Rabbi Shemu’el son of Naḥman said in Rabbi Yonatan’s name: Whence do we know that we do not plead on behalf of a inciter? From the primordial serpent. For Rabbi Simlai said: The serpent had many pleas to put forward but did not do so. Then why did the blessed Holy One not plead on its behalf? Because it offered none itself. What could it have said? ‘The words of the master or those of the disciple, whose words should be listened to? Surely the master’s!’

Ḥizqiyyah said: How do we know that whoever increases, decreases? From, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it and you shall not touch it [lest you die’] (Genesis 3:3).

Rav Mesharshiyya said: From: אַמָּתַיִם (ammatayim), two, and a half cubits its length (Exodus 25:10) [if אַמָּתַיִם (ammatayim), two, were spelled without א (alef) it would read מָתַיִם (matayim), two hundred. Thus by adding א (alef) the number is reduced]. Rav Ashi said: From: עַשְׁתֵּי עֶשְׂרֵה (ashtei esreh), eleven, curtains (ibid. 26:7) [if עַשְׁתֵּי עֶשְׂרֵה (ashtei esreh), eleven, were spelled without ע (ayin) it would read שְׁתֵּי עֶשְׂרֵה (shetei esreh)twelve. Thus by adding ע (ayin) the number is reduced]” (BT Sanhedrin 29a, cf. Zohar 2:233b).

“נִשְׁמַת נְקֵבָה (Nishmat neqevah), female inspiration, is from the Female, and נִשְׁמַת זָכָר (nishmat zakhar), male inspiration, is from the Male. This is the reason the serpent followed Eve [cf. Bereshit Rabbah 20:11]. He said, ‘Her inspiration is drawn from the north, and so I will soon seduce her.’ And how did he seduce her? By mounting her.

The wicked Samael conspired with the entire army on high against his Master. This was because the blessed Holy One said, To hold sway over the fish of the sea and the winged creature of the heavens (Genesis 1:26) [cf. Deuteronomy 14:20]. He said, ‘How can we cause him to offend and be driven from before His presence?’ He descended with all his army, and sought a suitable mate on earth. At last he found the serpent, which looked like a camel, and he rode on it [cf. Bereshit Rabbah 19:1; Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 13; Zohar 1:228a]. He then went to the woman and said to her, ‘Though God said, you shall not eat from any tree of the garden…(Genesis 3:1)—I, however, will seek more, I will add in order that she detract [see BT Sanhedrin 29a: ‘Whoever increases, decreases’].’ She replied, ‘From the fruit of the garden’s trees we may eat. He did not prevent us, other than: the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden God has said, You shall not eat from it and you shall not touch it, lest you die‘ (Genesis 3:2).

She added two things: the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden—He only said, From the tree (Genesis 2:17); and you shall not touch it, lest you die [while He only spoke of eating]. What did Samael do? He went and touched the tree. The tree cried out and said, ‘Wicked one, do not touch me!’ Therefore it is written: Let no haughty foot overtake me, nor the hand of the wicked repel me. There did the doers of mischief fall. They were toppled and could not rise (Psalms 36:12–13).’

He then said to the woman, ‘See, I touched the tree and did not die. You too can touch and not die.’ The woman went and touched the tree. She saw the Angel of Death approaching her and said, ‘Woe! Now I will die and the blessed Holy One will make another woman and give her to Adam. I will therefore cause him to eat with me. If we die, we will both die, and if we live, we will both live.’ She took the fruit of the tree and ate it, and she also gave to her husband. Their eyes opened and their teeth were set on edge. He said, ‘What is this that you have given me to eat? Just as my teeth were set on edge, so will the teeth of all generations be set on edge’ [cf. Jeremiah 31:29: The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge].

He sat in true judgement, as is written, For You upheld my justice, my right, You sat on the throne of the righteous judge (Psalm 9:5). He called to Adam, and said ‘Why do you hide from Me?’ He replied, ‘I heard Your sound in the garden (Genesis 3:10). I heard Your sound in the garden—and my bones trembled. And I was afraid, for I was naked, and I hid—I was naked of works, I was naked of mitsvot, and I was naked of actions.’ Therefore it is written: and I was afraid, for I was naked, and I hid.

What was Adam’s clothing? A skin of nail [cf. Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 14]. However, when he ate of the fruits of the tree, his skin of nail was stripped from him, and he saw himself naked, as is written, Who told you that you were naked? (Genesis 3:11). Adam said before the blessed Holy One, ‘Master of the World: When I was alone did I offend You? But the woman that You gave me, she drove me from your words,’ as is written, The woman whom you gave me, [she gave me from the tree, and I ate] (Genesis 3:12). The blessed Holy One said to her, ‘Was it not enough for you to offend, but you also caused Adam to offend?’ She said before Him, ‘Master of the World: The serpent [beguiled me so] that I offend You.’ He summoned all three and sentenced upon them nine curses and death and cast down the wicked Samael and his band from their holy place in the heavens. He cut off the feet of the serpent and cursed it more than any living creature and more than any beast, decreeing that it be stripped of its skin every seven years in great pain [see BT Bekhorot 8a].

Let me hear gladness and joy, [let the bones that You crushed exult] (Psalms 51:10″ (Bahir §§199–200).