Regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Hashem commanded Adam Harishon “…not to eat of it; for on the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.”
To me, this seems to indicate that this would be an immediate punishment—Adam would take a bite and would drop dead right then and there.
The question is obvious: While the pasuk seems to indicate an immediate death, we find that HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave Adam Harishon a list of curses on that day, yet he only died close to 1000 years after this incident!
The Vilna Gaon answers this question by explaining that there are two kinds of punishments: Sometimes the punishment is an outgrowth of the act itself, and sometimes the punishment is external to the act that was perpetrated.
For example, a mother tells her child “Avramele, don’t stick your finger in the electrical socket, because you will get a severe shock!” If Avramele doesn’t listen, the “punishment” of being shocked is a direct and immediate outcome of his action. Similarly, if a mother tells her child “Avramele, put on your coat before you go outside, otherwise you’ll catch for yourself a cold!” While not as direct, if Avramele doesn’t listen and gets a cold in the next few days, it is also a direct result of his action.
The other kind of punishment is for not listening to the commandment. For example, if a mother tells her child “Avramale, if you listen to Mummy and clean your room like the good little boy that you are, then I will allow you to go on your class trip tomorrow. However, if you ignore your Mummy and leave your room a mess, I will not permit you to go.” This punishment, though inspired by the failure to clean his room, is directly related to not following the mother’s instructions.
When Adam Harishon ate from the etz hadas, he disobeyed a commandment from Hashem, and he also caused his body to have a need for dying. The pasuk says “Mos Yamus,” but this does not mean necessarily mean “You will die as a punishment.” Instead, it means that you have introduced “death” to your body, and your body will eventually die because of your action.
Many of us have made certain resolutions to travel on a particular path during the year 5777. It is now, at the beginning of our travels, that we need to be most vigilant in preventing even one small infraction, as that could set the stage for our entire resolution to collapse, which would necessitate finding a new path towards teshuva —if not immediately, then certainly by the end of the year.
I once heard someone say “Do you see this box of identical chocolate cream cookies? Which cookie in this box is the most fattening?” He answered in jest “The first one, because once you eat it and break your diet, the rest of the cookies will soon be gone!
Shabbos Bereishis is the first week in 5777 of our “normal non-Yom Tov existence.” May we be successful that our resolve stays with us to complete this year as we yearned and as we pictured it would be, during the recently completed Yomim Nora’im.