Harbah arbeh itzvonekha v’heroneikh b’etzem teil’di vanim v’eil isheikh t’shukateikh v’hu yimshal bakh -- I am doubling and redoubling your toil and your pregnancies; with anguish shall you bear children, yet your desire shall be for your man, and he shall rule over you.Is this a punishment? Or is this a natural consequence of mortality? I would suggest the latter.
In the Garden, the man and woman are permitted the Tree of Life which insures their immortality. They are forbidden the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that imparts moral discernment. If they do, their access to immortality will be revoked (Genesis 2:17). The Tree of Knowledge is off limits because immortality plus moral discernment would make the people too much like God.
The serpent certainly tempts Eve, but little encouragement is needed: Eve is determined to eat the fruit. She courageously chooses to trade immortality for moral discernment because without it, she can never be fully human. To be a higher level animal, but one that cannot distinguished good from evil, is not being human. Facing difficult decisions with moral capacity and free will is the essence of being human. The consequence of giving up immortality is the need to reproduce. The people can no longer live in the Garden because the Garden cannot sustain a growing human population. It is not the case that there was a time when giving birth was not painful for humans and then it changed because they were punished; it has always been painful because that’s simply the way it is.
If ever you’re tempted to think for a moment that Eve is cursed, read the Torah – it doesn’t say anything like that. If ever you’re tempted to condemn Eve for her “sinfulness,” consider this: if she hadn’t eaten the fruit, you would never have been born.
© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman