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History's First Question: Where Are You?  Serpents of Desire, Final Chapter

History's First Question: Where Are You? Serpents of Desire, Final Chapter

Even as God banished us from Eden, He bequeathed to us the tools we would need to make it in the new world of our own making.


"Where are you?" God calls out to Adam, after he has eaten the Forbidden Fruit. We asked earlier why the Almighty would ask a question whose answer He already knows. It's time to revisit that issue.

As it turns out, there are two words for "where" in Biblical Hebrew. The more common one is "eiphoh" -- but that's not the word the Almighty uses when querying after Adam. He instead invokes the less common word for "where" -- "ayeh".

Is there a difference in meaning between these two words -- and if so, how would one figure out what that difference is? The way to solve such a mystery is not to look at a dictionary -- after all, how did the writers of the dictionary figure it out? -- but to look at a concordance. A concordance is a nifty little book (actually, it's a nifty big book) that lists every occurrence of every word used in the Bible. The point is: If you can trace when and in what contexts the Bible uses the words ayeh and eiphoh, then it becomes possible to connect the dots. The composite picture should point to the unique meaning of each word.

Since I'm in an especially benevolent mood just now, I'll spare you the work of hauling out your concordance. Instead, I'll give you a couple of examples of where each word appears in Biblical literature, and let you draw your conclusions.

Here are a few representative samples of eiphoh and ayeh:

1. Some examples of "eiphoh":

  1. Hagidah na li eiphoh hem ro'im? -- Tell me please, where are they shepherding? (Joseph, regarding his brothers whereabouts, in Genesis 37:16).
  2. Eiphoh likatit hayom? -- "Where did you gather grain today?" (Naomi to Ruth, in Ruth 19:2).
  3. Eiphoh Shmuel V'David? -- "Where are Samuel and David?" (King Saul, searching for his nemesis, David, in I Samuel 19:22).


2. Some examples of "ayeh":

  1. Vayigva adam y'ayamot, v'ayeh? -- "A man dies and then where is he?" (Job 14:10).
  2. Hineh ha'esh...v'ayeh haseh l'olah? -- "Here's the fire, but where is the lamb for the offering?" (Isaac to Abraham, ascending the mountain on the way to the Binding of Isaac; Genesis 22:7).
  3. Ayeh na Eloheihem -- "Where are their gods?" (With reference to idols, Psalms 115:2).
  4. L'Imotam yomru ayeh dagan veyayim -- To their mothers, [starving children] will say: where is the grain and wine? (Lamentations, 2:12).


Well, what do you make of it? I'd encourage you to take a minute or two to see if you can isolate a common denominator in each series of quotes.

Okay, time's up. Did you find one? Ready or not, here's my take on it:

I would submit that eiphoh is a more generic kind of "where." That is, eiphoh is generally a straightforward request for location. Joseph, for example, simply wants to know where to find his brothers. Naomi wants to know where Ruth has been that day, and Saul is looking to figure out where in the world David is.

Now let's look at "ayeh." For the most part, when this word is used, I think you'll find that the questioner is not really interested in finding the location of the thing he is asking about. By way of example: "Where is the grain," the starving children wonder. The children know there isn't any grain -- if there was, their mothers would have given it to them long ago. Instead, they are exclaiming in agony: what happened to the grain and wine [we used to have]? The children are not asking where, in fact, the grain is located; rather, they are crying out in anguish over the bald reality that it is not here.

The Almighty was not asking "where are you", a simple request for location. Instead he was asking "where have you gone?" -- why are you not here?

Similarly: Where is the lamb for the offering, Isaac asks his father on the way up the mountain. Isaac's point is not that he can't find the lamb. His point is that there is no lamb to be found when by rights, there should have been. This apparently innocuous remark by Isaac packs emotional punch because in it, Isaac begins to realize the terrifying truth -- that there is no ram here after all, and that maybe, therefore, he is the ram. In sum, when one asks ayeh, his point is not to find out where something is, but to express wonder that the thing it is not here, where one would have expected it to be...

This dramatically changes the meaning of God's question to Adam. The Almighty was not asking "where are you", a simple request for location. Instead he was asking "where have you gone?" -- why are you not here? As the sages of the Midrash put it:


Where are you? (Genesis, 3:9)


Yesterday, you were with [Me and] my da'at. And now, you are with the da'at of the snake... (Midrash Rabbah, Genesis 19:9)


Ayeh is the kind of question you can ask even when you know where something really is. It's a sadder and more mournful word than eifoh. In a strange coincidence, ayekah is spelled with precisely the same Hebrew letters [aleph, yud, kaf, hei] as eichah, the cardinal Hebrew word for "lament". "Eichah... Look how she sits in solitude..." (Lamentations, 1:1), Jeremiah cries, looking upon a destroyed Jerusalem, pining for the bustling crowds who are no longer here, who have been exiled to Babylonia. Adam and Eve, too, have been exiled. And perhaps, like Jeremiah's eichah, God's outcry ayekah, is less a question than a lament -- a lament at the gulf that now exists between man and his Creator:


I brought Adam into the Garden of Eden and commanded him.
He transgressed My commands.
I decreed exile upon him.
And [upon his departure], I lamented "eichah / ayekah" ["where have you gone..."].


And so it was with his children.
I brought them into the Land of Israel and commanded them.
They transgressed My commands.
I decreed exile upon them.

And [upon their departure], I [once again] lamented "eichah / ayekah" ["where have you gone..."]

(Midrash Bereishis Rabbah 19:9).



The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden ends with two final acts.


  • The Almighty fashions clothes from animal skins for Adam and Eve, to replace the more primitive coverings they had made out of leaves.
  • After sending Adam and Eve out of the Garden "lest they eat from the Tree of Life", God stations angels -- cherubs -- with flaming swords at the entrance to Eden to guard the way back to the Tree of Life.

In a strange but poignant way, these two events, I think, are closely tied to one another.

We noticed earlier that cherubs make an appearance just twice in the entire Five Books of Moses. The only other time these angels appear is when their likeness adorns the top of the Holy Ark in the Tabernacle, where they guard the Tablets of the Law. Aptly, the Book of Proverbs describes these tablets, or the Torah they represent, as another Tree of Life -- a tree of life to all who grab hold of it (see Proverbs 3:18). Evidently, the same cherubs who keep us away from one Tree of Life grant us access to another one. Weeks ago, we asked why. And we wondered in what sense the Torah can be seen as a "replacement" Tree of Life.

The answer to these questions should by now be evident. After attaining the knowledge of good and evil, mankind became more godly -- more passionate, more desirous, more insistently creative. But we were only half-gods. To truly be godly means not just to be passionate, possessed of will, as God is. It means not just to create, as God creates -- but to wisely wield the fearsome power of creation. It means to fully control this power; not to be controlled by it. It means keeping passion in balance; realizing that there is a time to create, and a time to desist from creating.

The Torah is a guide to God's Will, a tool that can help man distinguish the impulses of his own creativity from the deeply held convictions of his Maker.

After eating from the Tree of Knowledge, after boosting the role of passion in our lives, living eternally was no longer what the doctor ordered for humankind. A new and different Tree of Life was called for -- one that could help restore balance, harmony, in the psyche of man. The new Tree of Life was designed to help man cope with a new world -- a world in which passion can cloud the mind's eye, obscuring that which is genuinely right and that which is genuinely wrong. The angels that bar man access from one tree of life do indeed grant him access to another one. The Torah is a guide to God's Will, a tool that can help man distinguish the impulses of his own creativity from the deeply held convictions of his Maker. In consuming the fruit of this replacement Tree of Life, in assimilating the viewpoint of the Torah, man would attain a steering wheel to match his engine, making himself into a fully godly being.

Stand back, for a moment, and contemplate what happened here. Even as God banished us from Eden, He bequeathed to us the tools we would need to make it in the new world of our own making....

And now let's talk about God's second act: The making of clothes for Adam and Eve. In the world that God envisioned for man, there would have been no need for clothes; they would have been a superfluity. It was not God's choice that man live in a world where nakedness was something to be feared or avoided. Nevertheless, in this moment of profound disappointment, the Almighty provides Adam and Eve with clothes, giving them the wherewithal to "make it" in this journey of their own choosing.


The Sages of the Midrash tell us that the Torah begins with an act of kindness, and it ends with an act of kindness. The kindness it begins with is God's providing clothing for Adam and Eve. The kindness it ends with, the rabbis write, is God's act of burying Moses just after he died atop Mt. Nebo, having gazed at the Promised Land but never having set foot there.

The stark reality is that beings who possess free will don't always hew to the hopes and expectations of their creators.

In both cases, things had not turned out the way the Master of the Universe might have "wished". Adam and Eve disappointed God by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and as a result were kept out of Eden, consigned to die on "foreign soil". Moses disappointed God by striking the rock, and as a result was kept out of the Promised Land, consigned to die in the barren desert. In both instances, men had chosen their own path rather than that of their Creator. And in the wake of both events, men would leave behind the world God had set aside for them for other, unknown shores.

God's reaction in both cases is the same. In burying Moses in the earth when no one else was present to do so, He personally provided Moses the means of transition from this world to another one -- a transition which, had God had His way, would not have happened yet. And in providing appropriate clothes for Adam and Eve, He provided them with a means of transition from God's world, from Eden, to a world in which man had chosen on his own. Had God had His way, this transition would not have happened yet either.

The stark reality is that beings who possess free will don't always hew to the hopes and expectations of their creators. If this is so with us in respect to God, it is no less so with our own children in respect to us. If we walk away with anything from this study of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, perhaps we can take this with us: When our children disappoint us, when they make choices we don't approve of; when they exchange the world we have carefully crafted for them for a dubious world of their own making -- perhaps we too, after all the consequences have been meted out, after all the words have been said, after all the anguish has been absorbed -- perhaps we too, can provide them with clothes for the journey.



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October 28, 2007

Article 12 of 12 in the series Serpents of Desire

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Visitor Comments: 14

(14) Carlos, July 24, 2012 1:58 AM

This was simply amazing and revealing, all of it, but the part about the spices really blew my mind, for many personal reasons, and because all these things tie together with my own revelations. I have read this article twice already. Ribbi Daivd Fohman, you are very wise and very intelligent man. God bless you.

(13) popo, July 18, 2012 3:26 AM

Thanks so much

Thank you so much as we never can hear this excellent intrepretation from churches. Great job!

(12) S. L., July 14, 2011 12:57 AM


I thoroughly enjoyed this detailed analysis of Adam and Chava in Gan Eden. I'm curious as to which mekoros R' Fohrman bases this series on, especially as regards the approach of the nachash to Chava. Thank you and tizku l'mitzvos.

(11) Anonymous, May 25, 2008 1:26 PM

Brilliant and inspiring. Leads me to a new insight on why our Creation starts from Eden.

Rabbi Fohrman''s words offer a brilliant insight into this story. I thank him for this and for inspiring further thoughts on the topic. Specifically, the question that arises to me is "Why did G-d place Adam and Eve in this paradise in the first place?" I''ve been taught that He is all-kowing and that He does everything with a purpose. This would mean, I think, that he knew Adam and Eve would defy his prohibition against eating the Forbidden Fruit. That he even intended for them to do so and be faced with the consequences. So why, then, not start them with mortality, pain in childbirth, struggles to feed themselves and why not start the snake as a creature with no speech who crawls on its belly and is feared by women?

If I may be so bold - I am not a Torah Scholar, just an admirer of these people - I''d like to voice my opinion in the spirit of Rabbi Fohrman''s writings. In place of the original Tree of Life, says the Rabbi, G-d has given us His Torah as our guide. But as a guide to what? From Rabbi Fohrman''s lectures, I would say it is a guide back to the balance that originally existed for us in Eden. If we didn''t have that experience we would not know what it was we were striving for. Creation in the Garden of Eden and banishment from that Paradise is what gives us a clear purpose in our efforts to Walk in G-d''s ways. It is the sum and substance of the blessings offered in this past weeks Parsha, Bechukotai and it is the necessary contrast to the curses that accrue from failure to follow G-d''s Law.

And as for the snake... The walking, talking and reasoning creature of the Biblical story is the embodiment of what the snake could be. That snake is, perhaps, the highest form of non-human in the animal kingdom, lacking only the ability to hear the Voice of G-d that comes from without and, thus, being only one step short of humanity. His advocacy of ignoring the external voice of G-d is what reduced him to a speechless, legless and hated predator, lower than the noble lion, eagle, wolf, et al. That contrast is yet another reminder to Man of the importance of the word of G-d.

Lastly, I am reminded of the Hebrew name of the fifth book of Moses - Devarim, words. As a popular Beegee''s song by that title expresses it [I know. this song is not a theological work. I just happen to like the sentiment it expresses.] - "It''s only words ... and words are all I have ... to steal your heart away."

(10) Iris Markham, July 21, 2007 10:11 AM

Thank you

Thank you for this wonderful exploration of Adam and Eve in Eden . . . very rich and enlightening.

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