What is the moral lesson of an Adam ‘destined’ for failure. Midrash on Bereishis

There’s a theological paradox found in the Midrash on Parshat Noach concerning Adam. The Midrash implies that Adam’s eating from the forbidden fruit was destined to happen: 

 הָאָדָם הָיָה, מְתֻקָּן לְמִיתָה “Adam was predestined for death” – meaning – to lose his mortality as a consequence of violating God’s commandment against partaking of the Tree of Knowledge. (Midrash Rabbah, Parshat Noach 30:8). 

The Midrash derives this from the Torah’s use of a seemingly innocuous word –  “הָיָה֙ – was” which was used to describe Adam in the following verse:

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ׀ הֹ’ אֱלֹקים הֵ֤ן הָֽאָדָם֙ הָיָה֙ כְּאַחַ֣ד מִמֶּ֔נּוּ לָדַ֖עַת ט֣וֹב וָרָ֑ע  

“And God said, “Now that humankind was like any of us, knowing good and bad…” (Bereishis 3:52)

The Midrash saw in the word הָיָה֙ “was,” a predictability, almost inevitability, to Adam’s eating from the forbidden fruit.  That, of course, leaves us with a  theological challenge: If it was meant to happen why was he punished? The answer  has to be that Adam had free choice. He could  have passed the test.  The Midrash is telling it like it is: Adam did not muster up enough moral fortitude and strength of faith to resist his wife’s entreaties and the cunning snake.

This unsettling notion is stated even more dramatically in Midrash Tanchuma:

וְאָדָם נִבְרָא בַשִּׁשִּׁי וַעֲלִילָה נִתְלָה בוֹ שֶׁהוּא הֵבִיא אֶת הַמִּיתָה לָעוֹלָם

וּכְתִיב בָּהּ, זֹאת הַתּוֹרָה אָדָם כִּי יָמוּת בְּאֹהֶל (במדבר יט, יד). אִלּוּלֵי שֶׁהִתְקַנְתָּ מָוֶת לַבְּרִיּוֹת, הָיִיתָ כּוֹתֵב בָּהּ כָּךְ.

 אֶלָּא בָּאתָ לִתְלוֹת בִּי אֶת הָעֲלִילָה. הֱוֵי, נוֹרָא עֲלִילָה עַל בְּנֵי אָדָם  

“Adam, who was created on Friday, was falsely accused of bringing mortality to the world….[because it was already] written [in the Torah] ‘This is  the law of man who dies in a tent’ (Bamidbar, 19:14). Had God not planned death for his creations would God have written this in the Torah?”’ (Midrash Tanchuma Vayeishev 4:2). 

In other words, like we saw in the previous Midrash, this was meant to be. Therefore it is somewhat unfair for Adam to be assigned the heavy burden of guilt for every single human being’s death, until the end of time.

We discussed in the past just how crafty and what a great salesman the snake was. Also, the fact that once Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge she was no longer on the same playing field as Adam. She could manipulate him, while he was restricted to a world of total truth. Dare we ask why didn’t God create a better contender for the difficult tests in the Garden of Eden? If you think that this question is pure speculation, it’s not.

What if the world had started with Avraham instead of Adam?

Midrash Rabbah says in no uncertain terms that Avraham would have done a better job than Adam:

אָמַר רַבִּי לֵוִי (יהושע יד, טו): הָאָדָם הַגָּדוֹל בָּעֲנָקִים, זֶה אַבְרָהָם. לָמָּה קוֹרֵא אוֹתוֹ גָּדוֹל, שֶׁהָיָה רָאוּי לְהִבָּרְאוֹת קֹדֶם לְאָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן, אֶלָּא אָמַר הַקָּבָּ”ה, שֶׁמָּא יְקַלְקֵל וְאֵין מִי שֶׁיָּבוֹא לְתַקֵּן תַּחְתָּיו, אֶלָּא הֲרֵי אֲנִי בּוֹרֵא אֶת הָאָדָם תְּחִלָּה, שֶׁאִם יְקַלְקֵל יָבוֹא אַבְרָהָם וִיתַקֵּן תַּחְתָּיו. אָמַר רַבִּי אַבָּא בַּר כַּהֲנָא בְּנֹהַג שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם אָדָם יֵשׁ לוֹ קוֹרָה שׁוֹפַעַת, הֵיכָן הוּא נוֹתְנָהּ לֹא בְּאֶמְצַע טְרַקְלִין כְּדֵי שֶׁתִּסְבֹּל קוֹרוֹת שֶׁלְּפָנֶיהָ וְקוֹרוֹת שֶׁלְּאַחֲרֶיהָ,

 כָּךְ לָמָּה בָּרָא הַקָּבָּ”ה אֶת אַבְרָהָם בְּאֶמְצַע הַדּוֹרוֹת, כְּדֵי שֶׁיִּסְבֹּל דּוֹרוֹת שֶׁלְּפָנָיו וְהַדּוֹרוֹת שֶׁלְּאַחֲרָיו.

“Rabbi Levi said “the man who is great among the giants (Yehoshua 14:15) refers to Avraham. Why is he (Avraham) called “great?” because he was worthy to be born before Adam. However, God considered the fact that when things go awry, there must be someone to restore it. Therefore I will create Adam first. If he ruins everything, Avraham can come and repair it, Rabbi Abba the son of Kahana said “it is common practice that if one has a thick beam, wouldn’t you place it in the middle (of the roof) so it can  support (weaker) beams before and after it.” (Midrash Rabbah Bereishis 14:6)  

]This is why God created Avraham in the middle of generations, so that he can bolster the generations before and after him. It seems that it was God’s intention to “save” Avraham for a time when humanity would need him most. Interestingly enough, this Midrash mirrors the history of the world. Obviously, Avraham was the forefather of a whole nation which embraced the radical idea of one God. However, Avraham was also 

(אב המון גויים) the ’father of many nations.’ Let us adjust that phrase a bit to subsume the fact that the other two major world religions,  Islam and Christianity,  had some roots in Judaism. Now we can understand the Midrash’s imagery of Avraham as a massive, global, support beam.   

Admitting failure and growing from adversity

Back to our original question, why did God choose to start the world with someone likely to fail?  What is the moral lesson in that? There is a critical theme that we have come across before in Midrash. I would venture to say that it is one of the major themes of the Midrash. Namely, God wants us to learn and grow from our experiences in life and there is no growth when everything goes right. For Adam it wasn’t just his relationship with God that needed repair. Soon as Adam slipped up with the forbidden fruit, he slipped up again. He blamed everything on his wife. Then he slipped up again in that, according to many commentators, Adam never asked God for forgiveness. A request that would likely have been granted with unknown but potentially major implications for mankind. 

Of course, it’s not just Adam, the individual, who needs to learn from his mistakes. The Torah, by way of the Midrash, is providing  lessons for בני אדם (the children of Adam) – all of mankind must learn to admit failure and grow from adversity.

About the Author
After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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