The Torah in Parashat Bereishit tells the famous story of the snake in Gan Eden which persuaded Chava to partake of the fruit of the tree which God proclaimed forbidden. The snake falsely claimed that God forbade eating that tree’s fruit for “selfish” reasons, because partaking of the fruit would endow a person with God-like intelligence. The Torah then tells that Chava saw “that the tree was good for eating and that it was desirable to the eyes,” and so she took some fruit and ate it (3:6).
What exactly did Chava see that made her violate God’s explicit command and partake of the forbidden fruit? Was it the snake’s argument that led her to eat the fruit, or the fruit’s tempting appearance?
Rashi explains that Chava “saw” the correctness of the snake’s claim. When the verse speaks of Chava’s seeing the fruit’s appeal, according to Rashi, it means that she accepted what the snake said – that God forbade eating the fruit only because the fruit would be beneficial to her. This is also the approach taken by the Radak.
In a slightly different vein, the Ramban writes that Chava had initially presumed that God prohibited eating the fruit because it was toxic or otherwise harmful. But after hearing what the snake said, she carefully examined the fruit, and realized that it was, in fact, tasty, and so she decided to eat it.
A much different approach is suggested by Chizkuni, who proposes that the description of Chava’s positive impression of the fruit is presented as the reason why she proceeded after eating it to share it with Adam. According to this explanation, Chava ate the fruit because she was persuaded by the snake, and then, after seeing how flavorful the fruit was, she decided to bring some to her husband.
Yet another explanation is offered by Rav Shlomo Kluger, in his Imrei Shefer, where he writes that Chava examined the forbidden fruit in response to the snake’s claims, and found, to her surprise, that it was of a higher quality than the other fruit in the garden. What ultimately led Chava to her mistake was her conclusion that the prohibited fruit was better than the other fruit. It was simply inconceivable in her mind that specifically the choicest fruit in the garden would be off-limits to her and Adam. She therefore reached the conclusion that the snake must be correct, that there was in truth nothing wrong with the forbidden tree, and it could be eaten.
This insight into the sin of the forbidden tree points to one of the mistakes that commonly lead to wrongdoing. Oftentimes, conduct which the Torah forbids seems preferable and more appealing than the conduct it allows or requires. The “forbidden fruit” strikes us as simply too good or beneficial to have been declared “off-limits.” Chava’s mistake reminds us that we must trust God’s commands and firmly believe that whatever He proscribed cannot ever to our benefit, even when it appears more appealing than that which He permitted. Although at times it might outwardly seem we would be better off ignoring the Torah’s obligations and restrictions, we must remember that there is never anything more beneficial than strictly complying with God’s laws.