Touching and Eating
Parshat Bereishit recounts the famous story of Adam & Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. This incident is truly shocking, considering that Adam heard directly from God the instruction not to eat. What went wrong?
Indeed, God told Adam, "Don't eat from the tree." But Adam wanted to take an extra precaution, so when he told Eve of the prohibition, he said not to touch the tree.
The snake then used this as leverage for his own devious plot. The snake asked Eve: "What's the deal with that tree?" To which Eve replied: "We're not allowed to touch it."
At which point, the Midrash says, the snake pushed Eve into the tree and said: "See that – you touched it and nothing happened!" Eve was now confused, and the snake went in for the kill, saying: "God only told you to stay away from that tree in order to protect His own position. Because do you know where God got the power to create this world? By eating from that tree! So of course God wants everyone else to stay away from it!"
"But," the snake continued, "you touched it ... and nothing happened! So go ahead and eat from it, too!"
Eve ate, and we're still feeling the consequences today.
Now let's analyze this sequence of events. The fact that Adam prohibited touching the tree was a good precautionary measure against the danger the tree represented. The city erects barriers around dangerous manholes, so why not erect a barrier against violating God's word? But Adam's mistake was in failing to communicate to Eve the clear distinction between what was God's command, and what was man's added level of safeguard.
That's why throughout Jewish history, our Sages have always gone to great lengths to distinguish between what is Torah law and what is Rabbinic law. Adam's fatal mistake was in not communicating that distinction.