In memory of our beloved grandmother, Dora Levine דבורה בת יעקב ע"ה, whose Yartzheit we commemorate this week.
We read in Parashat Bereishit that after Adam ate from the forbidden tree, and was then confronted by God, he cast the blame on his wife: “Adam said: The woman that you placed alongside me gave me from the tree, and I ate” (3:12).
The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 19:22) offers a startling interpretation of Adam’s response, explaining the word “va-okheil” (“and I ate”) as though it were written in future tense (“ve-okheil”). According to the Midrash, Adam’s response to God was “I ate and I will continue eating.” He audaciously expressed his intention to continue disobeying God’s command and to eat again from the forbidden tree.
This Midrashic reading of the verse effectively reverses its meaning. According to the simple reading, Adam excused himself by blaming Chava for what happened. He explained to God that ordinarily he would never violate His command, but he was lured by his wife. According to the Midrashic reading, however, Adam felt no remorse for his misdeed and openly planned to commit the sin yet again in the future. How are we to understand the Midrash’s interpretation?
Rav Meir Aryeh Segal, in his Imrei Da’at, explains that the Midrash does not truly intend to say that Adam planned on repeating his offense. Rather, the Midrash is teaching us the failing to own up to our mistakes and to accept accountability for them is, to some extent, equivalent to planning to repeat them. If we blame our failures on other people, or on any external factors, then we are not truly committing to change. After all, we will always have to deal with pressures and overcome obstacles if we wish to follow the divine will. There will always be factors and circumstances that make observance difficult and challenging. And thus if we dismiss our failure with an excuse, rather than accept responsibility and acknowledge guilt, we are all but guaranteed to repeat the failure in the future when we confront a different challenge. Hence, by blaming Chava for his mistake, Adam was, effectively, announcing his intent to repeat it.
The Midrash instructs us to avoid the natural tendency to find excuses for our mistakes and to clast the blame on others. When we err, we must acknowledge our guilt, recognize that we failed, and resolve to try harder in the future.