In the story of creation, the Serpent stands out because of his talent to deceive. He is talkative. And active. His role is unquestionably significant. If he were not there to fulfill his seductive mission, the human adventure would have stopped with the first couple. So why was he punished?
Let’s look at the tale. Adam and Eve are in Paradise, where God Himself is their guide. He shows them the rivers, the gardens: They have everything they need to be happy. Furthermore, he gives them a particular privilege that makes them human. They have freedom of choice when faced with the forbidden. The two trees—the one that gives life and the one that gives knowledge—are there to intrigue them. And to force them into making choices: They can obey His wishes and live forever—or disobey and die. Although quite aware of the inherent danger of knowledge, they nonetheless wish to know. Are they not then afraid of the punishment?
Yes. They are. This is where the Serpent comes in. He meddles in affairs that do not concern him. The matter of the two trees concerns only God and His first human creatures. The Serpent is not involved in it. So why does he approach Eve to tempt her and thereby propel the human species into sin? He is jealous. So affirms the midrasha: “Adam was indeed in paradise. The angels were roasting his meat and pouring his wine. Having observed this, the Serpent was jealous.”