The third Perek of Sefer BeReishit begins with its description of the snake: “VeHaNachash Hayah Arum MiKol Chayat HaSadeh,” “The snake was cunning, more than all the beasts of the field.” The snake tricked Chavah into eating from the Eitz HaDa’at by arguing that Hashem did not want her and Adam to eat from the tree because eating from it would cause them to be like Hashem (BeReishit 3:5). As a result of this trickery, Chavah caved and ate from the tree (3:7).
There are two famous stories that represent the snake and its attributes. The first story goes as follows: There was once a woman who found a snake in her house, and therefore told her family to go outside. While outside, her husband saw a snake catcher and asked him to get the snake out of the house, to which the snake catcher replied that he needed silence to get the snake. After the snake was caught, the snake catcher charged the family for his service.
The family went back inside the house and saw that the furniture was moved out of place. The family assumed that the snake catcher had to move the furniture to catch the snake. A few days later, a neighbor came home from vacation and stopped by to ask for his diamond that the family was guarding while he was on vacation. The father searched his house for the diamond but was unable find it. Then, he remembered the snake incident and realized that the man who claimed to be a snake catcher was a con artist who threw the snake in through the window.
The neighbor believed the story to be true, but he still wanted money to buy another diamond. Because the father was paid to watch over the diamond, the neighbor argued that he was obligated to pay for it. However, the father argued that he should not pay for the stolen diamond because a watchman is exempt from paying for something that was unavoidable.
An extreme example of an object being stolen from a paid watchman is the case when a person buries an object 100 Amot deep in the ground. Even in this case, the Shulchan Aruch writes that the watchman has to pay for the stolen object (Choshen Mishpat 303:2). The Shach, however, writes that this extreme example is not an ordinary theft, and therefore, the watchman does not have to pay for the stolen object.
Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein explains in his book Veha’arev Na that the example of the stolen diamond is not a normal case, because the Torah obligates a watchman to leave his house to save his life. Therefore, according to Rabbi Zilberstein, the family would not need to pay for the diamond.
The second story involving a person with snake-like behavior is that of a women who went into a Menorah store with a baby and asked to see the biggest and nicest Menorah in the store. The saleswomen showed her the most magnificent Menorah, and the women asked if she could take it to her husband to see what he thought about it. In order to make sure that the women wouldn’t steal the Menorah, the saleswomen took the baby as a collateral. The women went out with the menorah. After several minutes went by and the woman did not come back, another woman from the next shop over came in crying because someone stole her baby. The saleswomen put the two pieces of information together. After returning the baby to its actual mother, the saleswoman frantically tried to recover the Menorah. However, she was unsuccessful. When the owner heard what happened to the Menorah, he demanded the saleswoman to pay for the stolen Menorah.
In this case, Rav Zilberstein ruled that the saleswomen did not need to pay for the stolen Menorah because the theft was unavoidable. These two con artists are very sneaky and could be considered “the snakes of our time.” Just as the family and the saleswomen were tricked by sly behavior, so too, the Nachash tricked Chavah with his deception. These two stories can help us understand the confusing encounter between the Nachash and Chavah.