A Tale of Two Names: From The Garden To The Flood - Week 1
A Tale of Two Names: From The Garden To The Flood
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
In this webinar, Rabbi Fohrman looks back at his past theories on the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. He shares the evolution of his thought process since he initially came up with those theories, and brings new questions and ideas to light. Why did God put the tree in the Garden in the first place? What was so bad about Adam and Eve wanting to gain knowledge of Good and Evil?
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Folks, where we're going to pick up today is with a new installment in our ongoing look, these days, at A Tale of Two Names, Elokim and YHVH. Over the last three weeks, we took a look at the story of creation itself and we were looking at the two names of God as they shed light on the meaning of the days of creation. Today, I want to continue and take these ideas further into the story of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Last year, we looked at the creation story of Genesis, 1 and 2. Today, we're looking at Genesis, 3, the next chapter, the story of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Again, the role that the two names of God play, Elokim and YHVH.
The story of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is one of those stories which I've written a lot and I've spoken about a lot over the years. If you hung out with me over here, in this group, you've probably heard me talk about it before, in one way, shape, or form. You might have read a book that I wrote on this subject, The Beast that Crouches at the Door, about the story of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. I wrote that book in 2007. It's now 2019.
Here's what I'm going to do in this presentation. I think what I'm going to do is chart for you a little bit of the evolution of my thinking on this story, and then, kind of, show how it's led up to where I am now, in terms of the names Elokim and YHVH playing an important role in all of this.
The story behind this mode of presentation is that I was asked this past fall to speak at the OU Citi Field event, and the organizers of that event thought it would be a good thing, since it was around Genesis time, for me to speak about my book The Beast that Crouches at the Door.
The problem was that I wrote the book 12 years ago. The problem with that is that you end up changing your mind over the course of 12 years. So the problem with books is that they are static documents and there's not much you can do to change them once they're printed, unless you pull them from the shelves and write them all over again. But that's life. You've got to write books.
Audience Member: It's time for the sequel.
Rabbi Fohrman: It's time for the sequel. There's something, sort of, inherently unnatural about any time you put your thinking into semi-permanent form. Here, at Aleph Beta, basically, that's all we do. We create videos, animated videos. We spend a lot of time on those. We create books, we spend a lot of times on those. But all those products basically take a snapshot of thinking at a particular moment of time and, kind of, say this is it.
There's something inherently false about that, because you're always thinking about stuff. Anything you're thinking about is always a motion, it's always dynamic. It's never static. So, you know, over time, things change more and more and you see things more and more differently.
So what I want to do with you, actually, is chart for you a little bit of my journey over the last 12 years, with reference to this story. Where was I at 12 years ago, and how has that shifted and led up to the view of the story that I want to present to you now? So, for better or for worse, let me take care of a little bit of this travel log, and I think it might be enlightening within the story itself.
I'm not going to fully review what I said in The Beast that Crouches at the Door. That was a whole book and you can read it if you like. But, let me address -- well, I'll put it this way. One of the things I say in the book is that you can't look at the tree in a simple kind of way, as a true tree. Here's basically the problem.
The simplest way of looking at the story, the most basic way of looking at the story, is once upon a time, Adam and Eve, these first humans, were in Paradise and God comes to them and says here are all these trees. There's just one tree that I don't want you to eat from. That tree just happens to be called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
You look at that story and you think there are some problems here. The most basic problem is, why would God not want you to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? That sounds like a very good tree to eat from. Presumably, if you eat from the tree, what does it do for you? It gives you knowledge of good and evil. Presumably, that means you understand the difference between right and wrong.
But, the problem with this is that it sounds like a good thing, to understand the difference between right and wrong. Imagine that we didn't understand the difference between right and wrong. Imagine that your neighbor next door did not understand the difference between right and wrong. Perfectly normal person in all other ways. Ivy League education, two cars in the driveway, soccer mom, banker. The only thing about this guy is that he has absolutely no concept of good and evil. How excited are you to live next to this person? Not so excited.
Why are you not so excited? What do we call people who have absolutely no conception of good and evil? They are pretty close to psychopaths. I mean, these are the kinds of people who can just mow you down with a machine gun and not think too badly of it. Because the whole concept of right and wrong is just not in their vocabulary. That's a pretty dangerous way to think. Did God want a race of humans who were these angelic psychopaths, people who just knew nothing of right and wrong? It sounds like a strange kind of thing.
Presumably, God wants us to have the knowledge of good and evil. Moreover, it sounds like we have some kind of knowledge of good and evil, because we were punished for eating from the tree, so he must have known it was wrong. Otherwise, we wouldn't be responsible for that act, if we didn't know it was wrong. If you didn't know it was wrong, because you didn't know the difference between right and wrong, then you wouldn't be responsible. So you must have had some understanding of right and wrong.
Does that mean you had an understanding of what the tree was going to give you before you ate from the tree? So, then what does the tree give you? If it's true that there was no wrong, then me eating from the tree is not a reprehensible thing to have done, so why was God so mad? Doesn't that mean that we had an understanding of right and wrong? So how do we deal with this?
Now, you could make the argument, it strikes me now, in talking about it with you, that knowledge of good and evil comes in two stages, perhaps. You could say the very first stage of knowledge of good and evil is a stage which perhaps preexists eating from the tree. The stage which we all knew going in. Which is that, listening to God is good and not listening to God is bad. Maybe. But it wasn't more developed than that. In other words, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was a more developed understanding of it.
But still, you have to struggle with, why did God not want us to have a more developed understanding of good and evil? It sounds like a strange kind of thing, of all things.
Audience Member: Is there a difference between emes (truth) and sheker (falsehood) and good and bad?
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. So I talk about this in the book. You can read the book for a long answer. This is Maimonides theory given in the Guide for the Perplexed. Very interesting theory. You can read the book for the details. But one of the things that emerges from the book, from my understanding, one of the things I said in trying to explain Maimonides, was a distinction which I'll reintroduce to you now.
It was a distinction between, what you might call, two types of good and two types of bad. It turns out that the words good and evil are slippery words. They mean, principally, two different things. One meaning of good and evil is that which is morally praiseworthy and that which is morally reprehensible. Morally praiseworthy things we call good, and morally reprehensible things we call bad.
That's one meaning of the term. But good and bad don't just mean that. What else does good and bad mean aside from morally reprehensible and morally praiseworthy? There's also a subjective kind of good and bad. So, for example, when I say the broccoli is bad and macaroni and cheese is good, I'm not talking about the nutritional value of these things. I'm talking about what I like. I like the macaroni and cheese, and I don't like the broccoli.
So you could have understandings of good and bad which are very different than moral understandings of the term. The other thing it means is, you might call it the ascetic way of understanding good and bad, or this is more of a subjective way of understanding good and bad. It's something that appeals to me or doesn't appeal to me.
Now, the interesting thing about these two different ways of thinking about good and bad is that the first of them is more genuine, in the sense that if good and bad means morally reprehensible and morally praiseworthy, then what I'm talking about, something being good or bad, I'm actually talking about the thing itself. I'm talking about a quality of the thing. The thing is either good and bad.
Whereas, when I'm talking about the broccoli and the macaroni and cheese and I say the macaroni and cheese is good and the broccoli is bad, in a deep kind of way, I'm really not telling you anything about the thing itself. What I'm telling you about is me. I'm telling you about what I like and what I don't like. So there's something slippery about these words, good and bad.
One of the things I argued in the book is that somehow, as a result of eating from the tree, it's possible that we began to confuse these two meanings. Which is that, we began to confuse the moral meaning of good and bad with the I like it or I don't like it, meaning the good and bad.
So that's something I talk about in the book. But the question I want to raise with you now is, if that's true, why would that be true? What is it exactly about eating from this tree that, all of a sudden, it would cause us to become confused between these two things and think that something might truly be good when, in fact, it's just something that I want? Because I'm mixing up those two things.
So my first question for you is, if we think a little bit deeper about this distinction, what is it about eating from the tree that would confuse mankind, as it were?
Audience Member: When they eat from the tree, and let's say there was macaroni and cheese and broccoli, did they have these feelings or they thought everything was delicious before?
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. So I'm going to argue that there was such a thing, but that brings us to another question. Which is, like, so how do we really understand the transformation of this tree? Like, a lot of times you grow up, you learn this story, it all seems very magical. There are these magical trees in the garden, there are these magical snakes that talk, there are these magical apples. It's like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs all over again. It's, like, you eat from the tree and magically you're transformed. It's like there's this puff of orange smoke like in The Wizard of Oz. All of a sudden, life is different and it will never be the same.
One way of thinking about that, also, is in terms of humanity. Human nature fundamentally changed. It's almost as if, if you could go back and have a conversation with Adam and Eve before eating from the tree, would you be able to recognize them? Would they have struck you as human, or has the nature of humanity somehow fundamentally changed that you wouldn't even recognize them as being like you at all?
The next question I want you to consider is, what's the nature of the transformation here? What exactly is this? What is it about the tree that changes everything? Is it magical? If it's not magical, then it's rational. Let's try and take the rational approach. Is it possible that there's a rational way of understanding this transformation? That there's no orange smoke, there's no magic. But somehow, we can understand the nature of this transformation in regular, cognitive terms, that would make sense to us. That's another thing I want to talk about.
Audience Member: Maybe the tree makes mankind go from the objective to the subjective.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. So that's an argument that I, kind of, made in The Beast that Crouches at the Door.
Audience Member: I read it twice.
Rabbi Fohrman: You read it twice, so there you go. You did a good job assimilating the argument there. Lynn says, is it possible that the tree makes mankind go from the objective to the subjective? The point of this, really, was my argument in The Beast that Crouches at the Door. Was there something about this tree that changes our perspective, that makes us more subjective?
But my question is, how does it go about doing that? This is really where I'm, sort of, changing my mind, I'll say. Back in 2007, there was still something magical about the approach which I gave in the book. Without getting into it in too much detail, I argued that it had to do with the role of desire in mankind's life, and that it was a decision to bring desire more into the sense of self, and that changed us fundamentally.
I'm less inclined to see it that way, now. I'm more inclined to see it in a more -- that there was less of a fundamental transformation, in terms of -- less of a magical transformation in our psychology. There was a logic to what happened. A logic to why it is that we began to see things in this subjective way.
I want to give you my updated thinking on that. It's a more reasonable, less sophisticated, argument. I think it's simpler. Let me try to lay it out for you.
I want to reprise for you two or three questions that I asked in The Beast that Crouches at the Door. I'm going to deal with them again with you, but answer them somewhat differently than I answered in the book.
One question is, if you look here on the screen, you'll find that this word over here is an important word in the story. The word for nakedness, arum, "shneihem arumim," they were both naked, the man and his wife, and they weren't embarrassed. Immediately after that, the next thing we hear about the snake is the same word, but it means something else. The snake was "arum," but now it doesn't mean naked, it means crafty.
One question, which I dealt with in the book but I want to raise again here and I have a little bit of a different way of seeing it, is, what's the relationship between those ideas? The Torah uses the word arum to mean naked and to mean crafty. How are those two things related to one another? How are those ideas related to one another?
Another more basic question, which I talked about in the book, which I also want to talk to you again about now, is, why is it that, as a result of eating from the tree, our relationship to nakedness, of all things, should change? It seems like a strange consequence of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
You might think that if you eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, that your mind would be filled with all sorts of cognitive questions and moral dilemmas. 10 people on a lifeboat and it's sinking and it's in shark-infested waters and unless you throw somebody off, everyone will die. What should you do? What's the right thing to do?
That should have been what Adam and Eve were preoccupied with, after eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and evil. They should not have been able to concentrate on anything, because their mind is full of all these moral dilemmas. Right to life versus right to choice? All these questions that they're thinking about.
Yet, that's not what preoccupies them. What preoccupies them is the simple fact that they're naked. The reason why they're hiding from God, they say, is because they're naked. This is a strange thing to say to God, because you were naked five minutes ago and you weren't hiding. What is about eating from the tree that should change their relationship to nakedness in this kind of way?
Now, to draw a little bit of a finer point than that, you say well, how did their relationship to nakedness change according to the text? What would you say? After they ate from the tree, what emotions became associated with nakedness? You might say shame.
The problem with that is, you would think that's true from this verse over here, the verse that introduces you to the story, "vayiyu shneihem arumim ha'adam v'ishto v'lo yitboshashu," man and his wife were naked and they were not ashamed. So the obvious converse of that is that after they ate from the tree, they were naked and they were ashamed.
The only thing is, is that once they actually ate from the tree, the word shame doesn't come back. Instead, there's a different emotion. When Adam is queried by God as to why it is that he's hiding, he does say that he's naked but he doesn't say he's ashamed. What does he say? He actually names a different emotion. Anyone remembers what it is? It is fear. He says I'm afraid. He says "va'ira ki eirom anochi va'eichavei," I'm afraid because I was naked.
The question is okay, so what's that about? You'd expect shame, but instead of shame you're getting fear. What's the deal with that? What's the relationship between shame and fear? How do those things work and why should you feel one, or both, emotions, with reference to nakedness? That's another question I want to come back to.
Basically, we've got three or four questions here. Just to summarize. Number one, what's the fundamental transformation that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil wreaks upon mankind? Is it magical or is it rational? What is the nature of that change that we get? How does that fit with a subjective or objective way of looking at good and evil, in terms of the broccoli being good or bad, and morally reprehensible? How does all that work? How does arum and arum, in terms of being tricky and meaning naked, relate to each other? Why do fear and shame come with nakedness? What's the relationship between fear and shame? How do we understand all of these things?
In order to get to that new understanding of this, I want to actually bring up a question that I did not talk about in the book. It's a question that's probably the most fundamental question you can ask about the story, but it's not a question I dealt with in the book.
The reason why I didn't deal with it, I can't tell you without interviewing myself in 2007, which is no longer possible for me to do. But if I had to guess why I didn't ask this question in the book, the answer would probably be as simple as I didn't have an answer to it, so I didn't bother asking it. But it is a very fundamental question, so let's just put it on the table.
The question is this. It's probably the most often asked question, that I never asked about the story. What would you say the most often asked question in the story of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is? If God really didn't want you to eat from the tree, why did He put it there? Why did He make it? Why put a tree in the garden that you aren't supposed to eat from? It sounds like just a nasty thing to do. It sounds like entrapment. There's a legal defense for this. You can argue entrapment.
In other words, you can come back and say, well, it was a test. God was testing him, lest there's a possibility for evil. Now, this is of course the answer that I always got when I was in yeshivah and everyone asked this question. Probably this is the answer that you got when you were in Beis Yaakov or wherever you were educated. People say well, it was a test. There has to be a test. There's no good and evil without a test.
But that's not an entirely satisfying answer. The reason why it's not an entirely satisfying answer is because of what we're saying. Which is that, it still seems like entrapment. You can't make a test like that. What would you think of Mummy and Daddy who take Junior and say okay, Junior, we're going to be going overnight to a hotel. You can just eat whatever you like in the fridge. Just don't touch the chocolate-chip cookies on the counter. There's this nice glass enclosure with these wonderful, warm chocolate-chip cookies.
Meanwhile, there are these hidden cameras trained on the chocolate-chip cookies and Junior is being tested. Well, of course he's going to have the chocolate-chip cookie. And then Mummy and Daddy are going to come home, they're going to be so sorely disappointed in Junior, that he's eaten the chocolate-chip cookies.
If you really didn't want Junior to eat the chocolate-chip cookies, you probably shouldn't have left them straight out on the counter, and said whatever you do, don't eat the chocolate-chip cookies. So why do such a thing? You wouldn't praise the parenting skills of the parent that did that. You wouldn't say ah, that's amazing, can you please teach me how to parent? It just seems overly punitive. It just seems like a strange thing.
Group therapy over here. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm crazy. Maybe that's a perfectly fine thing to do. But it just doesn't seem so nice.
Audience Member: If a parent were to say, you can go to every room in the house, but you can't go into my bedroom, because that's my bedroom.
Rabbi Fohrman: I hear you. We'll get there. Go on.
Audience Member: The other question is, if man did not eat from the tree, what would life have been like? Meaning, there would be nothing to live for. We would live forever, but we wouldn't want to. We would have nothing to strive for.
Rabbi Fohrman: So this is, sort of, part of the question we're asking. Which is, what's the nature of the transformation of this tree? What was life beforehand? Would we have recognized mankind beforehand? Did he have any desires? Did he have any choices to be made before?
Again, sometimes, one of the views that we have on the story, is that man before had no choice, no understanding of good and evil. But, as Lynn points out, that doesn't seem like such a good life. Man to be simply a robotic servant of God, with no understanding of good and evil, that doesn't seem like a thing. And immortal. What's the deal with that? That seems problematic. I want to suggest to you an alternative to seeing things that way.
The suggestion was, maybe there has to be a certain level of control that God wants out of man? God seems to want something out of man. What does God want out of man that can actually be the good things instead of just a silly test?
That led me to a theory that I arrived at about four or five years ago, which you can find in one of our videos at Aleph Beta. It was about Esther and the Tree of Knowledge. Haman and the Tree of Knowledge. One of the theories I put forth there, it basically goes like this. There's a story you can tell to illustrate it. The story I often tell, I have probably told the story here so this is familiar to you. Just count this as a review. I call them my Bobby, Grandpa, and the Battleship story. Basically, the way the story goes is like this.
Imagine that you are the proud grandfather or grandmother of a beautiful starry-eyed child. Your little grandchild lives in Wyoming, and you don't get there that often. But you're planning a great trip to Wyoming. You're going to be there for a whole month. You figure, you're going to get little Bobby a present.
Bobby is five years old, six years old. You figure, what does he like better than big Lego battleships? You figure you're going to haul this big Lego battleship with you on the plane. You get there and you see little Bobby, and you present your gift to little Bobby.
If we just stop the camera right now and say okay, you as grandmother or as grandfather, when you're doing this, why are you doing this? What would you like to see happen when little Bobby accepts the gift?
So, what you're actually seeing happening in the room is two different things. Some of you are saying that you would like Bobby to say thank you and express appreciation for the gift. Others of you are saying that you would like Bobby to be happy and you'd like to see him play with the gift and be excited and enjoy it.
I want to point out that, for most of you here in this room, you probably want both of those things and not just one of them. Either one of them, in a vacuum, probably actually wouldn't be enough for you. Let me show you why.
Imagine Bobby is very excited to play with the battleship, but he never says thank you. Imagine, let's take that to an extreme. Not only is Bobby excited to play with the battleship, Bobby is so excited to play with the battleship that he never even acknowledges your presence for the rest of the month that you're there. He's never there for dinner, he's never there for breakfast, he never greets you at the bottom of the stairs and says, oh, good morning, Grandfather. Instead, all he does is obsessively play with his battleship.
You wouldn't consider this a success. This is not what you envisioned. But now, let's consider the extreme converse of that.
Let's imagine that Bobby dutifully says, oh, Grandpa, thank you so much for the battleship. It's wonderful. And he immediately sets the battleship up on a very high shelf in his room and goes out and skateboards with his friend. And for the rest of the month, he completely forgets about the battleship. He never even opens it, just leaves it up there. Meanwhile, he'll say good morning to you and be there for dinner and all of that. Just hangs out with his friends. Never really evens opens the battleship. You feel, kind of, bad, right? That's not the point. I wanted to see you enjoy the battleship. So you kind of want both.
Now let's take the scenario a little bit further. What if I was your friend and I made you feel guilty one day? I was going on a walk with you and I said, why did we really need little Bobby to say thank you anyway? Is it really so important for you that little Bobby says thank you for the battleship? You have such a big ego. To come all the way from New York, and you need little Bobby to say thank you? You should be happy he's playing with it. What do you need him to say thank you for? This is just about you? It's not about you.
How would you defend yourself? So you might say, I'm teaching him good manners. But you might say that I want a relationship with him. It's not really about him saying thank you. That's not the point. The point is, what I really want is that when he plays with the battleship and enjoys it, he should understand that the battleship was a gift from me. That's all I want.
I don't want to ignore that. Because the whole point was, I'm trying to connect with Bobby through this gift. Theoretically, if Bobby would never say thank you, but he was always aware that the battleship came from you when he played with the battleship, that would also be fine. That would create the connection. That's really what I want.
Now, can you imagine a scenario in which that would be the case? In which, Bobby would play with the battleship, would really understand that it came from you, but wouldn't technically say the words thank you. Could you engineer such a situation?
The truth is, that's exactly what God did in the story of the Garden of Eden. This is the way the theory goes. The theory goes like this. God didn't just put one tree off limits. What He also did was, He gave us access to all these other trees. If you go back in the garden, that's the whole point. God says, "vayetzav Hashem Elokim al ha'adam leimor," God commands man.
Remember, this is a command. The command begins with an imperative. Something that you're supposed to do, not with something you're not supposed to do. The thing that begins with a command is, "mikol eitz haGan achol tochel," from all the trees of the Garden, you shall surely eat. Then it goes to the negative. "U'mei'Eitz HaDa'as Tov V'Ra lo tochal mimenu," but from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat from it. Because the day that you eat from it, you'll die.
Notice that, before we even get to the negative part of the command, is a positive part of the command. The positive part of the command is, kind of, like here's this battleship. I'd like you to enjoy it. Here are all these wonderful trees, I'd like you to enjoy them.
That's why, when the trees are created, right before this, if you look at how the trees are described, they're described as really nice trees. "Vayatzmach Hashem Elokim min ha'adamah kol eitz nechmad l'mareh v'tov l'ma'achal v'Eitz HaChaim betoch haGan v'Eitz HaDa'at Tov V'ra." There are these wonderful trees that are a delight to look at, they're delicious to eat. There are these great trees. God gives you all these trees as gifts. That's Grandpa giving little Bobby this wonderful gift.
God didn't say that you have to say thank you, but He engineered something which is tantamount to thank you, which would ensure that little Bobby doesn't take Grandpa for granted.
Because let's understand the problem. There is a possibility that little Bobby could take Grandpa for granted. Or that Adam and Eve could take God for granted. Why? Because, let's say, they eat from all these trees, and really God just wants to give them all these trees, but they never gave God a second thought and they just began to succumb to this illusion. And it's a very easy illusion to succumb to because, remember, you can't touch God and you can't feel Him.
So after a while, you can feel all the trees and you can touch all the trees. So you can imagine, after a week or two or three or four or five or a year, something like that, eventually Adam and Eve start to think the Garden just comes with all these trees, and lose consciousness of the fact that the trees were actually a gift from the Master of the Garden. You lose an appreciation that there is a Master of the Garden.
God doesn't want that, because He wants that connection with Adam and Eve. So, how is He going to ensure that Adam and Eve stay cognizant of the fact that they're guests in the Garden, that there's a Master of the Garden, and that which they can eat from all these trees is because of His benevolence and His gift for them?
He says, look, there's one tree I want you to not eat from. That's My tree. So stay away from My tree. That's the Master's tree. By staying away from that tree, you're acknowledging that there's a Master of the Garden.
And it works quite well. As long as we do that, then we have the relationship and everything works fine. This is the Bobby and Grandpa battleship theory of the Garden.
This brings me to about five years ago, when I came up with that theory. And that was all fine. But the truth is that over time I developed some minor reservations about that view. It seemed more or less correct, but there were a couple things that sort of gnawed at me. Let me just share that with you.
Let me actually finish the theory with you. The last part of the theory is, so why then is this tree called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Under the theory that I just gave you, it didn't really have to do with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, did it? It just has to be any old tree. This is any old tree that God tells you to stay away from.
So the elements of this theory is, maybe it was any old tree? In other words, maybe there was nothing special about this tree. But in effect, the tree became the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, by virtue of it being off limits.
In other words, what do the words good and evil mean? These are the words we had a hard time putting our finger on. But in the interest of simplicity, if we want a simple explanation of what the words good and evil might mean, the simplest explanation might be, how are the words good and evil used in the Torah before this point?
It turns out that the words are used. Like, the word good appears before this. Whenever God creates something, what does He say? He sees that it's good. Presumably, that means He could have seen it as bad, He just didn't.
Now, had God theoretically saw something He created as bad, what would He have done? He would have gotten rid of it. When God says it's good, what does He do? He keeps it.
So you might say that the words good and bad, as they're used in the Torah, are actually the words that a creator uses to give grades to his creation and say, I'll keep this and I won't keep this. It turns out that the Creator is uniquely qualified to be the one to give these grades. Why? Because, first of all, He's responsible to do so. You might say that if I create, the act of creating comes with certain responsibilities. I don't want to bring something bad into the world. So, as a requirement, I need to evaluate what I've created, afterwards, to see whether it in fact is good and should stick around, or whether I should get rid of it.
So the Creator has an obligation to make these judgments. Moreover, not only does the Creator have the obligation to make these judgments, but the Creator could be trusted to make these judgments. Why? Because the Creator's only desire is to bring something worthwhile into the world and not bring something bad into the world. What the Creator doesn't have is any sort of skin in the game, any personal interests that might bias His judgment. Which is why the Creator gets to be the One to make the decisions and not, say, you.
Because you are a creation, and because you're a creation, you exist in the Creator's world. So you don't get to make these decisions about what should exist and what shouldn't exist in the world, because you have an interest. You have skin in the game. You can't be trusted.
Because if somebody else would come along, they would have a different vision of what should stay and what should go, that is in line with their interests and stuff. So when God says, this should stay and this should go, He's outside the system. He's the Creator. So you could trust Him, plus He has the responsibility to make those judgments. So the judgments of good and evil are the judgments that a creator makes upon creation.
So in reaching for the tree, one can argue, it's just any old tree, but it becomes the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, because what are Adam and Eve, sort of, saying, when they're told not to eat from the tree but they make a decision that they're going to do it anyway? What are they really saying? Who makes the rules around here? I make the rules around here. Which is basically they're way of saying, I am the arbiter of good and evil. Hence, it becomes a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, because the act to choose to eat from it would be tantamount to saying I'm the one who gets to occupy the creator role around here, not You. Again, it's God's tree. God says this is My one tree, stay away from it.
So it's a very nice theory, that Bobby, Grandpa, and the battleship theory. But there are some flaws with it, I think, which I want to point out to you.
Here's the flaw with the theory, to the extent that there is one. Again, maybe not. I suppose in the years after I articulated this theory, I always had these misgivings. But I was never really sure that my misgivings were correct. I lived with it. But, again, in the interest of group therapy, I'll just put it out there for you. So here were my misgivings.
One misgiving is, you still haven't really answered the question what the tree is doing there. Because the best you'd come up with is, what you might call a negative reason for the tree being there. Why does the tree have to be there? So that it doesn't get eaten from. That's basically the upshot of what's called the Bobby and the Grandpa theory.
Which is, God has to set up the situation where there's this tree. His whole purpose is to make this delicious fruit that just rots on the vine and just falls to the ground, and no one's going to ever eat from that tree, just so that Bobby should realize that he's not the boss.
You could say that. But it doesn't seem very elegant. Why would you have to go through the trouble of making this wonderful tree with all of this luscious fruit, whose whole purpose is not to get eaten from and to drop and to rot? There's only a negative purpose for this tree and not a positive purpose for the tree. Most of the times you create something, there's a positive purpose. There's something it's supposed to do. Not just something it's not supposed to do.
That is problem number one with this theory.
Audience Member: (Asks a question.)
Rabbi Fohrman: There's no question about it. Absolutely. No question. Bobby, you'd do a good job at assuaging the concerns of 2013 David Fohrman, and making him feel like his theory is good anyway. But, what 2019 David Fohrman would tell you is that of course God wants to parent us correctly. But God is God. He's a pretty imaginative Being. He's pretty creative, pretty clever. Shouldn't He be able to figure out some way of properly parenting us without causing all that wonderful fruit to just fall to the ground and die?
Isn't there a more elegant way to do this, than to create a tree that's not supposed to be eaten from, that only has a negative purpose? Generally speaking, things have positive purposes too. Couldn't God have figured out a way to achieve His ends in a less wasteful way? That's objection number one.
Bobby might be right. Maybe it's not an objection. But that is an objection. Here's my second objection, which I predict Bobby will even more strenuously object to. But here's my objection.
The objection is that the whole Bobby and Grandpa test smacks a little bit of problems. Again, maybe I'm wrong, but here are the problems. Like, really, Grandpa, you're so makpid (particular)? Bobby has to perfectly accept your gift? He has to really enjoy the battleship and he has to really be happy and totally understand that it's you.
Now, if you think in your own mind about grandparents that you admire, is that exactly how a grandparent that you admire would really act like? Imagine, here you are, you're coming to Wyoming. What were you thinking when you got this big bag of gifts and you're going to give them? You're thinking about this test that you're going to give? You're going to give it because you want this exact relationship with your kid?
No. What are you thinking? I just want to connect, I just want to be happy. I've got to look at my job. Bobby will figure out his job, but what's my job? My job is to love this kid to death. That's what grandparents do. I'm going to love you, I'm going to give you this gift. It sounds too calculated.
In other words, like, what? Grandpa is going to be so mad now and he's going to throw Bobby out of the garden, throw Bobby out of Wyoming, because he didn't accept the gift the right way. He's going to tell you that he's so disappointed in you and, the nature of humanity, he's going to change it.
I don't know. It's, like, the Christians come out with this Old Testament God idea. Maybe they have something going there? Maybe God really is stern and He's got His long beard and His lightning bolts, and He's really a little mean, but seems to be nice? But if you don't accept His gift the right way, boy, you don't want to get on Grandpa's bad side. Is that what's going on? Or can we understand it better than that?
This, again, could be entirely wrong. I knew Bobby was going to strenuously object. I'm just saying I don't know; it sounds a little mean. Let me put it to you this way. If you really channel your inner grandmother, do you see your fundamental job as grandmother? Now, it could be maybe God is not a grandmother. Maybe God is like a parent and not a grandmother, and parents' roles are a little bit different than grandparents'. But there's a difference between a parent and a grandparent.
As a grandparent, what are you there to primarily do with your grandchild? You're there to love them. That's what you're there to do. You're not the one who's going to go and educate them and all of that. At least, in my analogy with Grandpa, it sounds a little suspicious to want this connection with the kid. But the way you actually get a connection with a kid is by selflessly loving them and having the kid to respond to that. Hopefully, they respond in the right way. It's not by devising this strategy.
Audience Member: Maybe you're not a grandparent.
Rabbi Fohrman: Bobby says, maybe I'm not a grandparent, maybe I'm a parent. Could be. I hear you. Let's see. Let's try to unfurl this.
I want to suggest a theory. There's another reason, by the way, for this. There is one final problem with Bobby and the Grandpa theory. The final problem with the Bobby and the Grandpa theory is you haven't really come up with a reason, in your story, why Bobby would disobey.
In other words, if I put myself in Bobby's shoes, so imagine now, here's Grandpa coming and giving me this gift and I know that my job is to accept the job. All I need to do is just say thank you, all I need to do is just not eat from that one tree in the garden that's Grandpa's. But I can enjoy the battleship and it's going to be wonderful and everything's going to be great.
That's a pretty good deal. I could live with that deal. Why would Bobby not do that? In other words, how do we understand why it was that Adam and Eve actually, of all things, had to reach out and eat from that one tree? Why did they have to do such a thing? It doesn't seem logical. It's a very nice deal. Most sane children would be able to understand, your Grandpa's coming, he loves you, just say thank you, enjoy the battleship. It's all good. My kid would do that, your kids would do that. Why would you not do that? What's the yetzer hara (evil inclination) to not do that? That hasn't been articulated enough in this theory.
My question is, from man's standpoint, why would he ever disobey? And from God's standpoint, why would He engineer this test? This test that has no positive side to it, no actual reason for the tree. Only a negative side. This test that's so overly strategic instead of just loving.
Which leads me to my current 2019 perspective on the story. Maybe you're watching this in 2025 and everything has changed. Who knows? But in 2019, here's my current way of thinking about this.
I want to suggest that the Grandpa and Bobby theory is almost right, but it needs to be tweaked just a little bit. I want to suggest that there really was a positive reason for the tree, not just a negative reason for the tree. That changes everything. If there was a positive reason for the tree, it means that the purpose of the tree was not just to be avoided. It was not just not to be eaten. It wasn't that its wonderful fruits were supposed to go to the ground and be destroyed.
The tree did have a positive purpose, which meant that the tree was meant to be eaten from. Which means, seemingly, that we were supposed to eat from the tree. Now, the only thing is, if we were supposed to eat from the tree, then why did God say that we're not supposed to eat from the tree? The only logical solution is, the question is when. It's all a question of when.
Seemingly, the deal is this tree was created so that people can eat from it. But they weren't meant to eat from it immediately. There was supposed to be this period of time when they weren't supposed to eat from it.
I'll give you two ways to thinking about this, to help you wrap your minds around this. Number one is that one of the things that you have to do when you read the Torah is you have to be very careful not to read it with the end in mind. This is something which I preach about a lot, but just to again make the point.
One of the problems you have with reading the Torah is you know its stories too well. When you know its stories too well, you know how they end. When you know how they end, you can't imagine that they would have ended any other way, but this. It's hard for you to imagine what could have been, or it's hard for you to play what if with what might have been, because this has to be the case.
There's no better story for this illusion to take hold than this. Why are you looking at me all crinkly-faced when I say this, that oh no, really it was just a matter of time? It's because the Torah says you're not supposed to eat from this, so I think you're not supposed to eat from it. Yeah, but how do you know? In other words, you only know -- let's say God's plan was, yeah, now I'm going to tell them not to eat from that, and then three days later, a week later, whatever it is, I'm going to come to them and say, remember when I told you not to eat from that tree? That was good for then, now I want you to eat from it.
That could happen. You wouldn't think that's a crazy story, had it happened. Why do you not see that? The answer is because the story got short-circuited, because we ate from the tree too soon. So you never saw that other half of the story which was supposed to happen.
Now, as it turns out, there's good reason to believe that this is true, that God did intend us to eat from the tree at some point. I don't want to get into all of the implications of this. It's true. There are indications from Song of Songs and other places that this is true. I will give you one little piece that I've come across recently, that to me suggested it's true. You say it every morning.
In Shemoneh Esrei (18 Blessings), the first blessing that you make after the first three blessings is "Atah chonein l'adam da'at u'melameid le'enosh binah chaneinu mei'itcha dei'ah u'vinah v'haskel."
That story sounds a little bit tree-like. I mean, that sounds like -- what are we saying? We're saying that God is the giver of knowledge. What knowledge? Seemingly, moral knowledge, what's right and what's wrong. But look at what our blessing says. "Atah chonein l'adam da'at," You are the giver of knowledge. You're not the withholder of knowledge.
Why don't we come and say, how could we say that in 18 Blessings? God's the withholder of knowledge. He told us not to eat from the tree. The answer is no. He didn't mean we weren't supposed to eat from the tree. He just meant we weren't supposed to eat from the tree yet.
If you look at the blessing, the blessing actually gives you a sense of what was supposed to happen. What does that verb mean, "Atah chonein l'adam da'at?" What does the word "chonein" mean? It doesn't just mean give. First of all, it's also present tense. It also means it's a gift. "Atah chonein," You freely give. Chein (gift), You graciously give. "Atah chonein l'adam da'at."
The idea was, let's imagine that God had intended knowledge to be a gift. This creator-like thing called knowledge of good and evil. This thing where you get to judge the way things should be. That was actually a gift that God was meant to bestow on mankind. But, what did we do instead? We took it. We opened it early.
What happens if you sneak into Grandpa's suitcase and you unwrap the gift before he gets a chance to give it to you? Now, that's not very nice. You need to wait to be given the gift. This was a gift that was supposed to be given.
Now, what's interesting, think about the very next blessing that we make in 18 Blessings, after "Atah chonein l'adam da'at." What's the next blessing? "Hashiveinu Avinu l'Toratecha." Think about Torah. What was the Torah if not the gift, the sharing of God's understanding of good and evil? God basically says look, here's what I think it is. Here are my values, here's what I think you should do, here's what I think you shouldn't do. I'm sharing it with you. There's a giving of the gift.
Along with that, we have teshuvah (repentance). As if we're saying, look, we're really sorry about unwrapping the gift before it was given. Which is why "harotzeh bitshuvah" is part of the same blessing of "hashiveinu Avinu l'Toratecha." We're sorry. We should have waited for that gift. You really were Someone Who was willing to give us that gift.
Now the question is, so why did Grandpa suggest -- it does sound like there is this test going on. There is something to be in. Or another way to phrase your question is, okay, so if man -- it sounds like there was this moment in history, in which we weren't supposed to yet get a gift. But we were supposed to know that the gift would eventually be available. We knew about this thing called good and evil. But, at this point, we consider that good and evil off limits and just for God and not for us. And that's the way it needs to be for a certain amount of time, until Grandpa says I'm ready to give you the gift.
The great $64,000 question, I'm dating myself with that a little bit, is when would be enough time? In other words, what was Grandpa waiting for? What had to happen in order for Grandpa to be ready to give that gift?
Let's think about that. Here's the refinement of the theory. I want to suggest that there were actually two stages in God's relationship with man that were supposed to happen, stage one and stage two, and they got short-circuited somehow. And this is the nature of the sin.
Let's talk about the way it was supposed to happen. The way it was supposed to happen was stage one. Let's talk about stage one. What was the purpose of stage one? Stage one is hey, boys and girls, there's this thing called knowledge of good and evil. I don't want you to have that right now. Here's this tree, don't eat from the tree. Here are all these other trees. These other trees are very delicious, I want you to eat from all of these other trees.
Let's say we did that. What would we have achieved by doing that? This is the key. There has to be something that would be achieved by going through stage one properly, that if you went through stage one properly, you would now be in a position for stage two, for God to share with you knowledge of good and evil. But you can't have that knowledge of good and evil before going through the experiences of stage one.
Let's think about what it would mean to go through those experiences in stage one. Let's reimagine the Garden as if we hadn't sinned, as if we actually let it happen. What would have happened?
Here you are, you're Adam and Eve. You wake up and it's the morning after God has given you this decree. He said, there's that tree in the garden I don't want you to eat from. That's Mine, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. There are all these other trees. Eat from them.
First, He says there are all these other trees, and then there's one tree I don't want you to eat from. The emphasis is clearly on all the trees you can eat from. It's Monday morning. Let's talk about your life in the Garden. Adam and Eve, what are they going to do? You're going to get up. The sun is shining. What are you going to do? God said eat from the trees.
So there's an apple tree there. McIntosh apples. You're going to pick a McIntosh apple and you're going to take a bite into the very first McIntosh apple you've ever tasted. What's it going to be like? It's wonderful.
If you think about it, all of the flavors of candy, notice what they're all patterned after. They're all patterned after fruit. All these artificial fruits. Because all we're trying to do is mimic this incredible taste that we have in actual fruits.
So, imagine the first time you bit into an apple, the most amazing thing in the world. You'd say, Eve, could you imagine? There's this thing called apples here. There's this whole orchard of apples over there. So you eat apples for breakfast.
Then, you think you're going to eat apples for lunch, because they're so delicious, but Eve says there's another tree over there. It looks like a peach. So you have peaches. All of a sudden, I can't even believe that there are peaches too. And there are a lot of these trees. There are plenty of these trees. You go to sleep full, having eaten from peaches and mangos and avocados and apples on day one.
Then, on day two, you discover these other fruits. It is plentiful and bountiful, with all these different tastes. On day three, there's more fruit that's there. On day four, there's more fruit. It's always there for you.
Now, what is going to happen over time? What is being inculcated?
Audience Member: You are going to realize the greatness of God.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes. Not just the greatness of God, but what do I begin to understand? I begin to trust God. What do I trust in Him? I trust that He's always going to provide for me. That He actually loves me. Because, there's this gift and it's not just a one-time gift. The problem with the battleship theory is, it was a one-time gift. It's not a one-time gift. It's an always gift. There are all these trees and they're always delicious and they're always wonderful. And there's enough, and there's plentiful.
So what do I begin to understand? I begin to understand that there's a God Who loves me and that there's a God Who is going to care for me. I can trust His care. It's there day in and day out. And He loves me.
What I want to suggest is that the development of Adam and Eve, in a way, mirrors the development of a child, of a single child. If you think about, what is it that a child needs to learn first in the world? What is the job of a child?
Here we sometimes make mistakes. We think that children don't really have jobs. That education really begins when a kid gets to grade school, and then they begin to learn two plus two is four, and they begin to learn all of these cognitive tasks, they begin to learn about science, and this, and all of that. That's not true. There's a ton of education that exists way before grade school.
When a kid stays home, what does a kid learn by staying home? What are the very first lessons that, hopefully, a kid learns? Trust in his parents. What do I trust? What do I come to believe about my parents? That my parents will keep me safe, my parents will take care of my needs, and my parents will always love me. That I have unconditional love. Just because I am me, that's going to be good enough and I'm going to be loved by my parents. That's what I learn.
How does a child first begin to understand this, the very first education that a child gets in this? Being fed. A child nurses from his mother and understands that my mother is always going to be there for me. Over time, I come to trust and love parent because I understand that parent loves me.
Even, by the way, if you think about the great gift that God gave Adam, which was Eve. In a way, all that was, was a reinforcing of this. God sees that nebach (unfortunate), you're lonely, so I'll give you someone who will be there for you. Again, trust that God is there for my needs. But not only that. What does it mean that Eve was eizer kenegdo (a helpmate opposite him)? Like, how was she going to help him? What help could she possibly give? Were there dishes that needed to be washed and eaten? What was the help?
That wasn't the help. She wasn't going to wash the dishes. The help that she was going to give -- what is the one thing that she gives to Adam? Love. That's it. It was a loving relationship. So there's a human being who loves you also.
Therefore, I learn something fundamental, te most fundamental thing that I can learn about the world, which is, it's a good place. The world is a good place. The world is full of beings who love me. My wife loves me, there's God Who loves me. I'm taken care of. The world is a good place.
Now, at some point, love has to built up. The reason why it wasn't a one-time gift is because of something they teach you about parenting. What's the one thing they teach you about parenting, besides love? Consistency. I always used to wonder about consistency. Do you really have to be so consistent? Why is consistency so important?
The reason why consistency is important is it is how trust is developed. Because, if I know that you can be relied on to be there for me today and tomorrow and the next day, and the trees are always there, and I'm always taken care of, and the food is always there, then I know I can trust you and I know that my needs are going to be taken care of and I know the world is a good place.
So love plus consistency equals trust. And these were the first developmental things that needed to happen in the world.
In a way, in a deep kind of a way, I want to argue, God was doing something sneaky during this whole time. He was beginning the process of education of good and evil. He was telling them something about His deepest moral values. What was the number one value that God has, that He's showing by example to you, over and over again? Love.
He was showing that love is the most important thing. He was showing it by example. And if you would be the recipient of that and you would take that in by osmosis, what do you slowly come to believe is the number one value? You, too, believe that love is the number one value of the world. There was an educational process going on about God's values.
All of this was preparing you to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Let's talk about how the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil actually happens. God shares with us the Torah. Here are these laws, here are all these values. But here's the cool thing about the Torah.
The Torah has Torah SheBichtav (The Written Law), and it has Torah SheB'Al Peh (The Oral Law). What is The Oral Law? The Oral Law is man trying to figure it all out, trying to work it out, and trying to apply all of these laws and understand how it's working. It is actually man becoming a partner with God in knowledge of good and evil.
God's basically saying, I'm going to share this with you. Here are my values, you work out how it applies. Here are the general rules, here's how you play with this. At some point, you become able to do that. At some point. But something had to happen first, before you could share that tree.
You had to absorb the love of your Creator long enough to have a sense of consistency that God would always be there. To understand that the world is a good place and I'll be cared for and I'll be loved.
Because, what God basically said is, here's what I need you to do. I need you to do one thing, to accept My love with an understanding that I'm the Creator, with an understanding that I am the arbiter as what counts as good and evil in the world. That's all you need to understand now. The rest of good and evil you're going to get through osmosis. You're going to learn something about My values through how I care for you.
Over time, a development takes place in which I can share more about good and evil with you and engage your cognitive mind in the process of figuring out good and evil. But you had to start with understanding something about my values and understanding that I'm the Creator.
If you could do that, and you could be filled with My love, then you could put your brain, this incredibly powerful tool, you could put it into gear in the service of figuring out the details of what it is that I want from you. And I can share the knowledge of good and evil with you.
But, what I can't have you do, is using your brain, engaging your cognitive mind, to start thinking about good and evil cognitively, before you learn to trust Me, before you understand that I love you, before I understand that the world is a good place and that you will always be cared for.
Because, if you begin to start cognitively thinking about good and evil before you understand that the world is a good place, before you learn to trust, before you believe that love is for real, what will happen? You won't be sure that you're going to be taken care of. So if you aren't sure that you're going to take care of, who's the only one you can count on to take care of you? Yourself.
And if yourself is the only one you can count on to take care of you, and now, all of a sudden, you begin to think about good and evil, and use your mind to decide the way things should be and the way things shouldn't be -- now let's come back to the distinction between the two kinds of good and evil. Moral good and evil and what I want and what serves me good and evil.
We asked before, what is it that would cause man to confuse the two? Why would man ever confuse the moral kind of good and evil with the I-like-this kind of good and evil? The answer is, what if he didn't believe the world was a good place? What if he didn't trust love? What if the only one he could trust is himself? That unless I looked out for me, no one else would. Then, how would I begin to look at right and wrong? Every decision of good and evil, what would I be tempted to see it as? What's good for me?
Because I can't afford anything else. I have to see it that way, because, who is going to look out for me unless it's me? It is only trust that love is real in the world, that allows me to see good and evil for what it is, to let good and evil be what it is, and for me not to convert it into a tool that I can use and say, oh yeah, I think things should be like this, because it enriches me, and things should be like that, because that way I make sure that I have all the advantages, because I need the trust that I'll be taken care of.
The challenge was a challenge of trust. Will you trust me? Something went wrong. We ate from the tree too early, before we could learn to trust. We got suckered. We got suckered by the snake. There was something the snake did that changed everything. A whole different way of looking at life, that upended the way I just described. In the real world, the number one divine value is love, and we needed to understand that. The one thing the snake attacked was that premise, the premise that love could be counted on.
The snake was "arum," the snake was crafty. If you think about what being crafty means, being crafty means to con somebody, to be a con artist. All con artists work the same way. What does a con artist do? How do they perpetrate the crime? They start by trying to convince you that I am your friend. You can trust me, but you can't trust anyone else. Everybody else, it's all deceptive, it's all conspiracies. But me? We're all on the same team. You can trust me.
Along comes the snake and says, let me tell you the way things really are. Let me give you a hot tip for living in this world. You can trust me. I'm your friend. And the snake begins to undermine trust in God. He does it in a couple of different ways, but it begins with God's names.
What I'll leave you thinking about for next week is, in the Garden, there are two names that are always used for God. Those are Hashem and Elokim. Hashem is God, as the God of love. Elokim is God, as the God of justice.
Ultimately, both are true. The God of love says I want to give you all these gifts, but there's still justice and there's still this one tree that you can't eat from. And the one tree that you can't eat from, which is an aspect of justice, is there to serve love, because by not eating from it, I just understand that there's this Creator Who is above all. But I can learn to love Him, and I can learn to connect with Him, and all the things we talked about before.
But there's that delicate balance there, between Hashem and Elokim. But along comes the snake, and the deepest lie the snake says is, "af ki amar Elokim lo tochlu mikol eitz haGan." The word God appears 19 times in the story, and each of those 19 times He's always Hashem Elokim. Except for one time. The single time that He's only Elokim, and it's in the snake's telling of the story. Didn't Elokim tell you that you should eat from that tree?
And the vision of God that he's representing is a God that doesn't believe in love. A God that love is not His value. His only value is justice. His only value is judgment. He is the King sitting up there with a long beard and the javelins.
So, once you look at it that way, why do you think He's keeping that one tree? It's His own tree with all of that power, the power to discern good and evil, all to His lonesome self. Because that's His power center. Wouldn't you like some of that power too?
The only value that God stands for, love, love is for kids, love isn't for real. Love is just a lie. It looks like He loves you, but He's just distracting you with all the other trees. There's this one tree and it's the Tree of Knowledge. And He knows that on the day that you eat from it, you'll be just like Him. So He's trying to keep it from you. It's the undermining of trust. And the challenge that we had to face is, would we trust in love or not? That was our first fundamental challenge.
Come back next week. We'll continue the story. I'll see you then.