When our children were little, one of the most fascinating stories we would read together was Why the Snake Crawls on its Belly by Eric Kimmel. It tells of a ladder that extended from earth all the way up to heaven, which Adam and Eve used at their leisure. Angels would serenade them as they climbed, and the first humans had unfettered access to God. The snake, Nachash, who had legs and walked upright, was pretty much their equal, but one day, jealousy got the best of him, and he sinned by getting Eve and Adam to sin. That caused rungs in the ladder to break, so they could no longer climb all the way to God.
What’s more, the snake’s physiology changed. Because he ran to do evil, God took away his legs, and he is doomed to crawl on his belly. Because he used his tongue to speak misleading words, the snake’s tongue will henceforth be forked. And because his eyes gazed upon rewards to which he wasn’t entitled, the snake lost his eyelids. But Nachash accepts all these punishments as just; he accepts responsibility for his grave errors. For that reason, the story asserts, the snake regularly sheds his skin, proving to humans that it is possible to change, to remake ourselves, after our inevitable errors. In fact, Kimmel concludes, if humans and the snake can get over their past animosities and learn to coexist, maybe the rungs of the ladder to heaven will be repaired, and we will again have access to the Divine.
It’s a cute story. So what’s it really about? Is it a lesson in snake evolutionary theory? Is it any more about how snakes came to be than the Torah’s actually Garden of Eden story about how we came to be? In other words, what is the purpose of all of the myths that we find in the Torah, especially its beginning, Parshat Bereshit? We’ll explore these questions together on Shabbat morning.