The Mystery of Eden's Two Trees
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Join Rabbi Fohrman for a brand new 4-part lecture series that attempts to uncover the deep mystery of Eden's two trees: the tree of knowledge and the tree of life.
Rabbi Fohrman: Let me kind of introduce this series. I think we called it A Tale of Two Trees. It's a series which I'm going to be doing at this time for this week and the next consecutive four weeks. That's the plan, generally speaking.
It's some new material that I've been working on recently that kind of cascaded out of the Shema material I was working on. Over the summer, I was working on developing material related to the three paragraphs of Shema. This is something which developed out of that and kind of is its own piece and kind of mysterious. I've been finding it very fascinating and kind of wanted to share my findings with you. I always get a lot out of this because invariably, when I talk about this stuff, you guys have insights which I don't have. No one person can see everything, and to kind of groupthink this is helpful for me, too.
So let me jump in and give you a little introduction to what it is we're doing. Then we'll get started. This is called A Tale of Two Trees. The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is one that has endlessly fascinated me throughout my journeys through Tanach over the last couple decades. It was the subject of my first book, The Beast That Crouches at the Door. It's something which I periodically come back to.
For those of you who have been around the block at Aleph Beta and you know the material on Aleph Beta, you'll know that in Aleph Beta itself, I've come back to the story of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden multiple times in the videos, in Genesis Unveiled, which is a long series of videos that we've done in Aleph Beta in the kind of advanced section. You can find those there. To everything, to Purim videos, I talked about the story of Haman and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
So I've talked about it a lot. It's funny, because you'd think there'd be nothing more to say and nothing more to see. At least for me, it's never really been that way. It's kind of a constantly evolving, moving target.
So I wanted to come back again to the story from a certain point of view. The point of view that has begun to fascinate me is, instead of looking at the story from the perspective of the protagonists of the story, which is to say God, the snake, Eve, Adam. Instead of looking at those four protagonists in the story, what if we looked at the setting of the story, and looked at the story through the lens of the setting? The setting being the Garden of Eden, the Garden itself, and specifically the trees in the Garden, the two special trees in the Garden: the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life.
If we looked at it from the perspective of the setting, that's the setting of the story. The story takes place in the Garden of Eden. What would happen if we really focused on that setting and sought to understand it? To me, that's been quite a journey. What I'm going to try to do is sort of recreate a little bit of that journey for me, where that journey has taken me, thinking about the setting.
So let me begin with sort of an overall question on the setting which is, I think, a puzzling one. We hear in the very beginning of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we hear that God has created this garden and that there are all these wonderful trees in the garden. Then we hear about two special trees. We, the reader, are told about two special trees. I guess what I'd like to do is -- maybe what I'll do is, it's really just one verse. Let's just actually look at that verse that gives the setting, the verse that tells us about the Garden, about the trees, and about these special trees. Let's just look at that verse carefully for a moment.
I'll just begin, before we even look at the verse, by just saying this. The verse introduces us to two special trees, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. It strikes me that one of the really important questions that we can ask about this story is, what in the world does a Tree of Life have to do with a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Let me explain what I mean by that question. Let's say the Bible didn't exist, and I was making up my own religion. And I said, okay guys, here's how the religion goes. Once upon a time, I, the deity, made a garden for myself. In the garden, I put two magical trees. One was the pink polka-dotted and speckled cotton candy tree, and the other was the Cadillac tree with buttons.
You'd immediately begin to lose interest in my story. Why would you begin to lose interest in my story? What's wrong with my story from the start? What's wrong with my story from the start is, you already get the sense that there's this element of randomness in my story, that the story is not really going to make sense. Because what in the world does a pink polka-dotted cotton candy tree have to do with a Cadillac tree with buttons? These are entirely different trees that have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. Therefore, there's something unsatisfying about the setting of my story.
Let me elaborate on what I mean by this a little bit. Ask anybody who's a Harry Potter fan, what's compelling about Harry Potter, a sort of fantasy story. In a way, the Garden of Eden, to the extent that we don't have a garden anymore with any mysterious trees, is a kind of Biblical fantasy story. I'm not saying it didn't happen; I'm just saying it has fantasaical sort of seeming elements in it.
So if you ask anybody, what makes Lord of the Rings a satisfying saga, what makes the Harry Potter saga a satisfying saga. So if you ask any fan of the series, one of the things they'll tell you is that there's a coherent world in the saga. Everything makes sense within the world. So even though there's magic in Harry Potter, but there's rules. Everything kind of relates to everything else. There's a coherent world that it all fits in. Same thing with Lord of the Rings. To such an extent that J.R.R. Tolkien began with the language and actually constructed a working language of Elvish and the worlds are built around this language. So there's something coherent about it.
So if you start off by telling me that there's these two magical trees, but the trees have absolutely nothing to do with each other, it seems strange that there would just randomly be these two magical trees. Just out of nowhere there's a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and also out of nowhere there's a Tree of Life. What I'm suggesting is that it's not necessarily true, but it would seem to be satisfying if we could identify some sort of relationship between the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If these two trees would have something to do with each other, right. But it's not obvious that they would have anything to do with each other.
So is there something we're missing? Is there some sort of nexus around which the Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge revolve, such that I can understand, oh, it makes sense there would be these two trees in the Garden. Sure, of course there's those two trees in the Garden. Sure, I understand how the Tree of Life relates to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; I get it. Instead of it just being a blind fact that there just happen to be these two trees. Do you understand the question? Are you with me, guys? Okay. So that's question number one.
Yeah, Noam. What do you have to say about that?
Noam: I don't want to sort of spoiler, because the answer is someone provided later on by God Himself when he warns Adam not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, because He provides the opposite of life as the consequence of eating from that tree. So they almost stand them up as if one is almost the tree of death, it'll kill you if you eat it, and one is the Tree of Life.
Rabbi Fohrman: I hear you. So Noam is suggesting, maybe the relationship between them has to do with life and death, that if you eat from the Tree of Knowledge, you'll die, and if you eat from the Tree of Life, presumably you'll live forever. Maybe it has to do with life and death. So I would say, okay, maybe, Noam, that it has to do with life and death. I'm just going to push the question a little but farther and say, okay, but why should it have to do with life and death? In other words, what is there -- if that were the case, wouldn't it be more satisfying to say, okay, boys and girls, there are two trees in the Garden. There's a Tree of Life and a Tree of Death, right? That's what makes sense.
I get it that a Tree of Life has to do with a tree of death. Those are obvious opposites. So now my story makes sense. I'm willing to go into your world. Ah, a garden with a Tree of Life and a Tree of Death? I wonder what happens in this garden. I get this garden, right? But it's not that. It's a Tree of Life and the tree of death is a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Knowledge of good and evil doesn't sound like it's the opposite of life. That sounds like -- I want a knowledge of good and evil. I'll sign up for knowledge of good and evil.
So it's true that death gets associated with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but it doesn't feel like that's enough to explain the relationship between the names of these trees. So it still seems to be a bit of a question. Yeah, Janet, what were you going to say?
Janet: I also always wondered because one is the tree of wisdom, of da'at of the other. It's not the wisdom of life; it's the wisdom of good and evil instead of the wisdom of life. Like, one's almost the tree is more direct, and the other tree is more indirect.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, that's another way -- if you say that the relationship is death and life, one of them is about life but the other isn't about death. What it fundamentally is, is about knowledge of good and evil. In other words, if you would understand the trees -- if you take the trees at their face value, it would seem like there's some sort of relationship between wisdom and knowledge of good and evil, and that's going to relate to life in some kind of way. But what kind of way? How do we understand that? So that's kind of what I'm getting at. I think it's a reasonable question.
I will say, just background, full disclosure, this is not a question that ever bothered me until recently, I will say. In other words, I've gone through many years of life without being bothered by this question. That being said, I think it's a good question. I will say the following about questions like this. It's a strange kind of thing that I noticed that some of the most obvious questions that you can ask about a story, you'll never, ever think to ask until there's a little part of your brain that thinks like you might have an answer to them. All of a sudden, the moment you think you might have an answer to the question, the question itself pops into your brain. Does that ever happen to you? It happens to me.
The way I got to this question is I began to see an answer to it. Once I began to see an answer to it, my brain allowed me to see the question. It's almost like your brain suppresses uncomfortable basic questions to which you don't have answers, because your brain doesn't like making you feel uncomfortable. No one likes to feel uncomfortable. Having very basic questions that we don't have answers to makes us feel uncomfortable. This is a very basic question. It strikes at the root of the whole story. The whole story doesn't seem to make sense if there's no relationship between the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But rather than be bothered by it, we just say, well, I guess that's the way it is. You just sort of accept it, unless some sort of explanation presents itself. It's like, you know what, that was a really good question. So this is kind of one of those questions for me, and I'll get to what I think a possible answer might be, but I'm just going to, for the meantime, put the question out there.
Let me advance to a second question for you. Question number two is the following. You have to understand that there's a difference between what you, the reader, know about the Garden of Eden, and what Adam and Eve know about the Garden of Eden. You, the reader of the Torah, know about these two special trees, a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and a Tree of Life, because God tells us about them, tells the reader about them in the beginning of Chapter 2 in Genesis.
However, Adam and Eve don't know as much as you do. They only know about one of the trees. The tree they know about is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. How do you know? I'll show you how you know. Let's just take a look at this screen over here. Here we've got Al HaTorah's version of these two trees. So if you go back to Chapter 2, you'll find in Chapter 2 we, the reader, are told in this verse about these special trees, in Verse 9. What we hear about these special trees are that God caused to grow out of the ground all these trees that were beautiful to look at and good to eat, and there was a Tree of Life in the middle of the Garden and there was a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. So we, the reader, know about both of these trees.
If you look at what Adam and Eve know about, when Adam and Eve are introduced to these trees, so God makes Adam. Actually, Eve isn't even created yet. Then God issues a command. "Vayetzav Hashem Elokim al ha'adam," God commanded Adam saying, "mikol etz hagan achol tocheil," from all the trees of the Garden you may surely eat. "U'mei'etz hada'at tov vara," but from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, do not eat from it because on the day that you eat from it, you shall surely die. Notice no mention of the Tree of Life. No mention of the Tree of Life, just the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
So another interesting question is, why were they not told about the Tree of Life? Was in unimportant that there was a Tree of Life there? Why not tell them about this Tree of Life? Why only tell them that you shouldn't eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Doesn't that sort of leave open the question of whether they should eat from the Tree of Life? So God says, you should eat from all the trees of the Garden. So I guess they could eat from the Tree of Life.
Then strangely, you have this situation where at the end, Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden. If you would interview God and say, well God, why did You banish them from the Garden? So God actually tells us that He banishes from the Garden, lest they eat from the Tree of Life. Here you've got this at the end of Chapter 3. "Atah pen yishlach yado v'lakach gam mei'etz hachayim v'achal vachai l'olam," I'm worried that man will eat from the Tree of Life and eat it and live forever. Well, if you were worried about that, why didn't you tell them not to eat from it? So that's a strange thing.
Now, this is a question that I addressed in my first book, The Beast That Crouches at the Door. The answer that I gave in The Beast That Crouches at the Door is that evidently, God had no issue with them eating from the Tree of Life, as long as they didn't eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Once they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God didn't want them eating from the Tree of Life for some reason. Okay. That's possible, but it's still interesting that God didn't tell them about the Tree of Life. It only tells us about the Tree of Life.
Yeah, Janet, what were you going to say?
Janet: It's almost like God is setting them up. So if you tell your children -- if you put out all this candy and you tell your children, you can eat all the candy except for the red licorice. What's the first thing the kids are going to go for? The red licorice. So it's almost like He's bringing it to the forefront to set up the stage for them to actually eat from it. I mean, it's human nature to --
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. And also, I guess the question is -- yeah, that's true. It sounds like it's human nature. It sounds like a strange, sort of capricious temptation, so how do we make sense of that? Yeah, Noam, what were you going to say?
Noam: I think, you know, it's almost even more so because God tells them -- or He doesn't tell them, but there exists the antidote, right. It's almost as if the order matters because God tells them, the punishment for eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is that you'll die. But there's this tree that would prevent that. If they had eaten from the Tree of Life first and then from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, like, what would have happened in that instance? I think it's almost like, God couldn't -- even if He banished them from the Garden, it would have been too late. It's almost like they had this -- there was a flowchart for them to get to an endpoint that it couldn't be that God didn't want that endpoint to be achieved. It's almost that the order matters.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, I hear you. Let me just throw out another related question to that, which is if we just do the algebra, was God's original plan that people should live forever? In other words, think about it. If you put people in a garden and there's a Tree of Life and a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and you don't tell them about the Tree of Life, but the Tree of Life is in the middle of the Garden, as the text tells us it is. But you don't tell anybody about it, and you just tell them about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and say, don't eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because the day that you eat from it you'll die.
What do you have to assume is going to happen? Eventually, they're probably going to stumble on the Tree of Life. They'll eat it, and if they eat from it, do they live forever? I mean, it sounds like it because that's the way the story ends, that I have to banish them lest they live forever. So does that mean that God really wanted everyone to live forever? That would be an interesting state of affairs, that that was God's original plan. Wouldn't the world get a little crowded? Would there be no kids? It would be just Adam and Eve for all time? So how do we wrap our minds around that? Were we really meant to live forever?
Yeah, Janet, go ahead.
Janet: Isn't it an assumption that they didn't eat from the Tree of Life? Does it actually say in the text that they didn't eat from it?
Rabbi Fohrman: Well, it says that God says, they've now eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they have knowledge of good and evil, and now lest they stretch forth their hand and eat from the Tree of Life, and eat it and live forever.
Janet: We can assume, yeah. Okay.
Rabbi Fohrman: So it sounds like they haven't eaten from it yet, because if they ate it from yet, they would have already been living forever, seemingly.
Let me actually mention one other strange thing about this verse. If you look -- I'm going to share the screen with you again so you can see my screen down here. I'm highlighting the verse in which they're banished from Eden, lest they eat from the Tree of Life. The word includes an interesting phrase. "V'atah pen yishlach yado v'lakach gam mei'etz hachayim v'achal vachai l'olam." Now, for those of you who have been around the block a little bit, if you're a ba'al korei, Moshe Mayefsky over there in ba'al korei land, maybe you can attest to this. Moshe, if you have a phrase like pen yishlach yado, what sort of overtone does a phrase like that have? Is that like, oh sure, they might just eat, or is there any sort of tone or connotation to the phrase of pen yishlach yado?
Moshe: That it would be a sin.
Rabbi Fohrman: It would be a sin, right. Shlichut yad is a sin. Lishlo'ach yad is a phrase that the Tanach uses to talk about doing something that's contraband, doing something that's against the rules. Like for example, when Ahasuerus would be assassinated, so that's the language, lishlo'ach yad, to assassinate or to kill. Similarly, when Abraham is going to kill Isaac, he's sholei'ach yad.
Later on, in Rabbinic terminology, you have it even in Mishpatim if you have it with a shomer, with a watchman who -- oh, that's actually very interesting.
Moshe: "Im lo shalach yado bi'melechet rei'eihu."
Rabbi Fohrman: "Im lo shalach yado bi'melechet rei'eihu." Right, you have a watchman who would illegally take possession of the thing that he is watching over, is shlichut yad. It's the other time in the Torah you have ki sholei'ach yad.
So it sounds like you're doing something illegal. And yet, is it illegal to eat from the Tree of Life? God never told them not to eat from it. So if God never told them not to eat from it, what's illegal about it? Why is this phrase coming which sounds like it's such a transgression to eat from the Tree of Life? What do you want from the people? You never told them not to eat from the Tree of Life. So this is strange. Yeah, remind me if you can to come back to that Parsha Mishpatim of shlichut yad because it may be connected to what we have here.
Anyway, let me get to my main question. So what we have so far is, just to review, how come there are these two strange trees in the Garden? What do these two strange trees have to do with each other? Question number 2, how come God has this Tree of Life here but doesn't tell anyone about it? It sounds like it's okay to eat from the Tree of Life because He didn't say not to, but if it's okay to eat from the Tree of Life, then how come He wants to banish them lest they eat from the Tree of Life? It must be He doesn't like them eating from the Tree of Life after they eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but He still never said you're not allowed to eat from the Tree of Life. So why is it like this illegal thing, that he would illegally stretch forth his hand and doing something which he's not allowed to do? I thought he is allowed to eat from the Tree of Life. He's allowed to eat from all the trees.
So something is not adding up when it comes to how we're supposed to relate to the Tree of Life. No matter how you try to make the square peg fit in the round hole, something doesn't seem to be fitting.
There's another thing that doesn't seem to fit, and it has to do with the location of the trees. Let's go back to Chapter 2 and you'll see there's a verse that gives us a relative map of the trees in the Garden. I want you to tell me, according to the map, where the Tree of Life is. The map is in Verse 9. I'll highlight Verse 9, and then I'll share the screen with you. "Vayatzmach Hashem Elokim min ha'adamah kol etz nechmad l'mar'eh v'tov l'ma'achal v'etz hachayim b'toch hagan."
So tell me, according to that verse, where was the Tree of Life? God caused to grow out of the ground all these beautiful trees, trees that are good to look at, good to eat. "V'etz hachayim b'toch hagan." So where is the Tree of Life, everybody? Middle of the Garden. It's b'toch hagan, whatever b'toch hagan means. The simplest way to translate it would be the middle of the Garden. It could mean in the midst of the Garden, but this translation translates it as the middle of the Garden. Let's go with the middle of the Garden. The Tree of Life is right smack in the middle of the Garden.
Now, where is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Now, that's a trick question. Look at the verse carefully. It's actually unclear where the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is. Because it says, there was a Tree of Life in the middle of the Garden, and there was a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Now, if you meant that there was a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the middle of the Garden, then you should have said there was a Tree of Life in the middle of the Garden, and a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the middle of the Garden. You should have said there's a Tree of Life and a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the middle of the Garden.
If you tell me there's a Tree of Life in the middle of the Garden and there was a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, what you seem to mean is, and there was a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil somewhere else. I'm not telling you where the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is. I only want you to know where the Tree of Life is. So the only data that we can know for sure in this map is where the Tree of Life is. So if I say, where is the Tree of Life? You say, it's in the middle of the Garden. We all agreed? Excellent.
So now let's go to Chapter 3 when Eve is in discussion with the serpent about which tree she ought not eat from. Verse 2, "Vatomer ha'ishah el hanachash, mipri etz hagan nocheil," we can eat from the trees of the Garden. "Mipri ha'etz asher b'toch hagan amar Elokim lo tochlu mimenu v'lo tig'u bo pen temutun," it's just the tree that's in the middle of the Garden that God said we shouldn't eat from it and we shouldn't touch it, lest we die.
Okay, folks. What's wrong with that verse? Anybody? What's wrong with that verse? Eve just told the snake --
Participant: It's not in the middle of the Garden.
Rabbi Fohrman: It's not in the middle of the Garden. She said, the tree that I'm not allowed to eat from is the tree that's in the middle of the Garden. But what tree is that?
Participant: Tree of Life.
Rabbi Fohrman: Tree of Life. Was she ever told she shouldn't eat from that? No. So Eve just misidentified the tree that she's not supposed to eat from. What's the deal with that? So if I was the snake, I would be like, I'm trying to tempt Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and she just pointed at the Tree of Life and says, we're not supposed to eat from the Tree of Life. My whole temptation's going wrong. I should immediately interject and I should say, excuse me ma'am, you're a little confused about the tree. The tree that we're talking about is actually that tree over there towards the side. Forget that tree in the middle of the Garden. Otherwise, how am I tempting her? We're talking about the wrong tree. Then she goes and she takes a bite from what, the tree in the middle of the Garden? That's the Tree of Life. So why are we accusing her of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? What in the world is going on here? Yes, Robyn.
Robyn: You've talked about this in other things, where it was in the middle of the Garden because she was obsessed with that tree that she was told she couldn't eat from.
Rabbi Fohrman: I hear you.
Robyn: So that was, like, the center of her attention.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. So fair warning, I have discussed this question before. In my book, The Beast That Crouches at the Door, published in 2007, this is a question I brought up. Eve seems to misidentify the tree. Which tree is it that's in the middle of the Garden? The answer I gave there is a possible answer. The answer I gave there is the answer that Robyn is referencing. The answer I gave there is, well, what tree is in the middle of a forest, anyway? I mean, it's very hard to identify any tree that's in the middle of a forest. The tree that's in the middle of the forest is the tree you're looking at, or the tree that you're focused on.
So if God says the Tree of Life is in the middle of the forest, it means for God -- it's less a point about location, than a point about what the important tree is. So God is looking at that tree and saying, that's a really important tree. That's the center. Everything revolves around that. But if Eve has a different perspective, if Eve thinks -- if she's obsessed with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and isn't really interested in the Tree of Life, then for her, that is the tree that is in the middle of the Garden.
That's the answer that I gave there. It is a possible answer to this problem. However, it's not the only possible answer to the problem. I want to just point out that it's a problem. The solution I gave is a possible solution, but the problem exists that she seems, at face value, to misidentify the tree, if she's really talking about the tree that's in the middle of the Garden.
Let me give you one last problem about these trees. Problem number one, what do the trees have to do with each other? Problem number two, why is it illegal for them to stretch out their hand and take from the Tree of Life? They were never told not to take from the Tree of Life. Problem number three, why does Eve misidentify the tree that she's not supposed to eat from? Why does she talk about the tree in the middle of the Garden as the tree she's not supposed to eat from?
Here's problem number four. Problem number four goes back to the problem having to do with the location of the trees. Let's go back to that verse one more time, and I'll share my screen with you so you can see it. This, again, is Verse 9 in Chapter 2. This is a very slippery verse. I just want to point out to you just how slippery this verse is. There are loads of problems with this verse. Let's read the verse and you tell me what your problems with the verse are.
"Vayatzmach Hashem Elokim min ha'adamah kol etz nechmad l'mar'eh v'tov l'ma'achal." Okay. Let's talk about just that clause. There are three clauses in the verse; that's the first clause. I'm going to translate the clause and I want to ask you, what's the point of the clause? If this was the only clause in the verse, what would you tell me the point is? "Vayatzmach Hashem Elokim min ha'adamah kol etz nechmad l'mar'eh v'tov l'ma'achal," and God caused to grow from the ground all trees that were beautiful to look at and delicious to eat.
If that was the only thing that the verse said, and God caused to grow from the ground all these trees that were beautiful to look at and delicious to eat, what would you say the point of the verse is? Anybody?
Participant: God created temptation.
Rabbi Fohrman: Well, it's not temptation because you're allowed to eat from the trees. You are allowed to eat from these trees. So instead of God created temptation, you might just say God created a lot of trees that we could enjoy. Because we are allowed to eat from the trees. In fact, we're told we can eat from all the trees, just one tree we're not supposed to eat from. So God created a lot of trees we can enjoy.
Let me just ask you this. If the point of the clause were just to say that God created a lot of trees that we could enjoy, so why doesn't it say, vayivra Hashem Elokim kol etz nechmad l'mar'eh v'tov l'ma'achal, and God created lots of wonderful trees in the Garden? Notice that it doesn't say that. It says, God caused to sprout in the Garden all the trees. And it doesn't just say God caused to sprout in the Garden all the trees. It also includes two apparently superfluous words, words that you could almost for sure take for granted, which is that God caused them to sprout from the ground.
So I would say that as strange as it sounds, one of the points of the verse is not just that God made all these wonderful trees, but how they grew. God caused to sprout from the ground all these wonderful trees. So you'd say the point of the clause is, where did all the trees come from? They came from the ground. God caused them to grow from the ground. That is clause number one.
Now, I just want to show you how slippery this is, because look at clause number two in the verse. When we read clause number two, the next thing we hear is, "v'etz hachaim b'toch hagan." Now, what's slippery about that? And a Tree of Life in the middle of the Garden. Anybody? What's missing here?
Participant: The growth.
Rabbi Fohrman: The growth. Where did it grow from? In general, we're missing a verb. Where did the verb go? Where's the verb? "And a Tree of Life in the middle of the Garden." Now, the most conservative verb that you could possibly put in there would be what? Insert verb, please. Give me the most nondescript, simple verb that you could put into, "and a Tree of Life in the middle of the Garden."
Participant: Hayah, was.
Rabbi Fohrman: And a tree of life was in the middle of the Garden. But notice that if you put that verb in, something weird is going on because clause two isn't telling you about where the trees came from anymore. It's telling you about the location of the trees. What do you mean, and there was a Tree of Life in the middle of the Garden? But God caused all these trees to grow from the ground. I thought the point was that they grew from the ground. There was a Tree of Life in the middle of the Garden?
Then finally, "v'etz hada'at tov vara," and a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Now, notice also no verb. So the most you could say is, and there was a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But if you say it that way, then you say, well what's the point of the last clause? The point of the second clause was to tell me the location of the tree, of one tree. The point of the first clause was to tell me where all the other trees grew from. What's the point of the third clause? Is it to tell me where the Tree of Knowledge grew from? It doesn't say it grew from the ground, so that can't be the reason. Is it to tell me the location of the tree? Well, it didn't tell me anything about the location of the tree. So what's the point of the third clause?
Do you understand? In other words, if your point was to tell me the location of the tree, then it should have said, and there was a Tree of Life and a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the middle of the Garden. Then you would be telling me about the location of the Tree of Knowledge. If the point was to tell me the Tree of Knowledge grew from the ground, so you should have said, and God caused all the trees to grow from the ground, all these wonderful trees to grow from the ground, like a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and a Tree of Life. Then you could say, and the Tree of Life was in the middle of the Garden. But by cutting off the third phrase from the first two, it just sounds like this non sequitur that's added to the verse at the end.
So the whole verse is strange. The beginning of the verse seems like it's talking about one thing, where the trees are growing from. The second part of the verse sounds like it's talking about the location of one of the trees. Then the third part of the verse doesn't sound like it's talking about either of those. I don't even know what it's talking about.
A bunch of you guys have your hands up.
Michelle: Rabbi Fohrman, hi. It sounds to me like those trees, the Life and the Knowledge, were already there. Because the first part says vayatzmach Hashem, so God planted all those other trees. And by the way, the other trees happen to be there. So it sounds like those trees predated the trees that God planted.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, good. I think Michelle is right about this. This is the beginning of a very psychedelic journey that I want to take you on. So you do not need any drugs to go along with this journey. All you need is to follow the text, and we'll take you to places that are unimaginable.
If you follow the simple meaning of the text, Michelle is exactly right. The simple meaning of the text is this. This is the way the verse makes sense. God caused all these wonderful trees to grow from the ground, trees that were beautiful to look at and trees that were good to eat. And there was a Tree of Life in the middle of the Garden, i.e. it just was. Which means, where did it not come from? All the other trees --
Rabbi Fohrman: All the other trees, "Vayatzmach Hashem Elokim min ha'adamah," came from the ground, grew from the ground. The Tree of Life doesn't grow from the ground. It's just there. That's interesting. What does that even mean? A tree that doesn't grow from the ground? Well, was it in the ground? It was in the ground, but it didn't grow from the ground. So it looks like a tree, it feels like a tree, it smells like a tree, but it doesn't grow from the ground like a tree.
So then the question is, well what do you mean it was just there? So that is really intriguing. If I was to say it was just there, then I would say, what's the first tree in the Garden? The first tree in the Garden was the Tree of Life. But even the Tree of Life wasn't created. It wasn't made. It was just there. Well, how did it get there? How did it get there, that there was a Tree of Life? Where did it come from? It's just there? That's such a strange thing to say. Likewise, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was also just there.
We can begin to possibly understand now what it means that it's in the middle of the Garden. We'll get back to that question that Robyn was talking about before, that I raised in The Beast That Crouches at the Door, the idea that in a forest, who knows what tree is in the middle of the Garden? Well, if the tree was always there, that begins to help us understand in what sense it was the tree in the middle of the Garden. In other words, it's the central tree. It's the tree around which all other trees grow. Not necessarily because it's physically in the center, in the sense that the Garden is exactly 1,000 meters in one end and 1,000 meters in the other, and this is right in the center. But it's in the center in the sense that it's the central tree. All other trees grow up around this tree because it's the one preexisting tree that's just there.
So you'd say, well Fohrman, that's really crazy that it's a preexisting tree that's just there. I don't even know what you mean by that. What is a preexisting tree? So let's follow that thread a little bit further and see where we go with that. It turns out that this preexisting tree has a name. It's a Tree of Life. Now, do we have any clues about the meaning of that name?
Participant: Yeah, it's the Torah.
Rabbi Fohrman: Well, that's true. Later on, we hear about a Tree of Life associated with the Torah. Before we even get to Proverbs that talks about that, let's just stay in Genesis for a moment. Do we have any clues in Genesis, just from the fact that it's a Tree of Life, as to where this tree might be growing from or what it's doing? Or let me ask you, if I'm a skeptic -- I'm going to play a skeptic for a moment. I'm going to be a super skeptic for a second. My super-skeptical question is going to be, one second, Fohrman. If you're telling me that this tree looks like a tree, smells like a tree, feels like a tree, but it doesn't grow from the ground, I'm going to argue it's not a tree. I'm going to argue you can't call it a tree. It's not a fake tree.
In other words, define tree for me. Under any definition of trees, trees grow from the ground. What are you even saying, that there's such a thing as a tree that doesn't grow from the ground? If I'm right about this, if we're right that the Tree of Life didn't grow from the ground, then we also have to ask why it's even a tree and not a fake tree. It actually means that the story of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is forcing us, for the purposes of Genesis, to redefine the word tree. What is a tree? Such that you can have something that grows in the ground not be a mushroom, but a tree. What exactly is this thing called a tree?
So the beginning of an answer comes from the name of the tree, the Tree of Life. It turns out that that name, life, is not a word that we're unfamiliar with. Tell me, where have we heard this word before? "V'etz hachayim b'toch hagan," and a Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden. When's the last time we heard about life?
Moshe: Two verses back.
Rabbi Fohrman: Two verses back, right over here. Verse 7, "Vayitzer Hashem Elokim et ha'adam afar min ha'adamah vayipach b'apav nishmat chayim." God blew in man's nostrils a breath of life. Could it be that the breath of life that God blew in man's nostrils is connected with the life that appears two verses later in a Tree of Life? That's kind of interesting.
Here's what's more interesting. Look what else reappears in Verse 7 that we have in Verse 9. Verse 9 tells us about a Tree of Life, but it also tells us that all the other trees came min ha'adamah, from the ground. Look back at Verse 7. Can you find min ha'adamah in Verse 7?
Participant: Yeah, right there.
Rabbi Fohrman: There it is. It turns out that both these phrases that describe all the other phrases around the Tree of Life, both these phrases appear within the verse that describes the creation of man. "Vayitzer Hashem Elokim et ha'adam," God created man, formed the body of man, "afar min ha'adamah," dust min ha'adamah, from the ground. He blew in his nostrils the breath of life. Isn't it fascinating that two verses later, we meet these two things again. We meet all these trees that grow from the ground, and a Tree of Life.
That's kind of remarkable. Let's just stop and meditate just on that. If you walked away from this class and you knew nothing more than that, if I just stopped right now and I said, you guys can all go home, see you later, come back next week. Your kids talked to you and said, I was listening to this class by Rabbi Fohrman and we were talking about this thing. Then he left off at this crazy cliffhanger. He said, Verse 7 talks about man being created from the ground and then blowing into his nostrils the breath of life, and it just so happens that there are these two kinds of trees, there are these trees that come from the ground and then there's this Tree of Life.
Like, but what does that even mean, that these ideas that appear in Verse 7 appear in Verse 9? I don't know, the Zoom thing just went dark and I don't know, I'm lost. I have no idea what that means. And then you talked about it with your kid, or you talked about it with your spouse. So what would that mean to you? What would that mean to you?
This is starting, by the way, I think, to get to our question of what a tree is. Why do the trees work that way? In other words, it seems like, if you want to understand why it was so important for us to know not just that God created all the trees, but that they grew from the ground, you would have to go back to Verse 7 and understand that man came from the ground. So what, then, is the point of the trees?
Participant: To make a distinction?
Rabbi Fohrman: Well, let me put it to you this way. If I am mankind and I look at the trees, what's the benefit of these trees? What do these trees give me?
Participant: It's food. They're giving us food.
Rabbi Fohrman: Food. They give me food. I've got all these trees because God's going to come and tell me, "mikol etz hagan achol tocheil," you can surely eat from all these trees. So these trees are my food source. I'm really happy about all these trees. All these great trees, they look good, they're delicious, I'm thrilled about all these trees. But why do you think God said that God caused them to grow from the ground? What would that have to do with man coming from the ground? If man's body comes from the ground, and the trees grow from the ground, what are you making of that? Why was it important for God that the trees come from the ground?
The answer is, who's the ground vis-à-vis man? The ground is one of man's creators. We come from the ground. Well, if we come from the ground, so where are we going to get our sustenance from? The ground has got everything we need. Think about it. The ground really does have everything we need. When you eat fruit, what are you really eating? You're eating all these vitamins and minerals. You know where a lot of those vitamins and minerals come from? They come from the ground. Like carbon, it's like all these things, vitamin K, they actually come from the ground.
As a matter of fact, vitamin B12 that's so important to us, that comes from meat, doesn't really come from meat. It comes from the grass, which comes from the ground. It's just that we can't eat ground and grass, so we have to eat animals that eat ground and grass, in order to get our vitamin B12.
In other words, the point is, ground you can't eat. You can't eat ground. Where would man look to for his food? Well, a child looks to his mother for food. A human being would look to his source for food. The rule of the world is that a creator can't get away with just creating something and saying goodbye. A creator has to look after its creation. You've got to feed your creation after you create it. So if earth is going to create man, earth has got to feed man. Earth does feed man, but man can't eat earth.
So what has to happen? You need something to modulate between earth and man. What is going to modulate? Enter trees. Trees are that which grow, start in the source from which man comes, and then they're able to provide nutrition from that source and modulate it into a form that man can eat from. Enter fruit. So the fruit has all the nutrition that comes from the ground, and it's the way that the ground provides for man. Man wants to connect to the ground, get his nutrients from the ground. He can get it through these trees that come from the ground.
Ah. But man doesn't just come from the ground, does he? Where else does man come from? Go back to Verse 7. He comes from God. His body might come from the ground, but man comes from two places. He also has a soul, and his soul comes from God. "Vayipach b'apav nishmat chayim," God blew into his nostrils the breath of life. Ah, the breath of life. It turns out there's another tree in the Garden, a tree that looks like a tree, feels like a tree, smells like a tree, but it just was there. It didn't come from the ground. Where did it come from?
Rabbi Fohrman: It came from the source of life. It's a nishmat chayim. It's a tree that comes from God. God as the source of life. What does it offer you?
Isn't it interesting that trees actually offer us more than food? They offer us something else that's much more subtle, but actually even more important. You can go for a long time without food, but you can't go for very long without breathing. Where does all the oxygen in the atmosphere come from? It comes from trees. If it weren't for the trees, we would have run out of oxygen a long time ago. God blew into our nostrils a breath of life, and then immediately creates all these trees, almost as surrogates. It's like, okay, I'll give man the first breath, and then you trees take over from there.
The trees, through their leaves, provide us with oxygen. Through their fruits, they provide us with food. The food comes from the ground, but the oxygen comes from the air. The leaves synthesize carbon dioxide and make out of that oxygen that we're able to breathe.
Well, there's something called terrestrial oxygen. Terrestrial oxygen gives us life. Now, we don't live forever when we have terrestrial oxygen. But it turns out that there's another form of breath, and it's not terrestrial. Where did we get our first breath from? From God. A spiritual breath that gave us a soul. Our soul is nourished through breath. Not just our bodies are nourished through oxygen; our soul is nourished through breath, the kind of breath that came from God.
So God says, I'm your creator, too. I've got to take care of you, too. The same way the earth has to take care of your body, and so we're going to have trees take care of your body, I've got to take care of your soul. How am I going to take care of your soul? Well, there's a Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is going to provide another kind of oxygen, so to speak. It's going to provide something of the breath that got you started in the first place. It's a connection to your source of life. Maybe that is what the Tree of Life is, this preexisting tree which seemingly comes out of nowhere.
The only problem is that there's this other strange tree in the Garden, too. It's a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. That also doesn't seem to come from the ground. So what's that? Again, how does the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil relate to the Tree of Life? It doesn't seem to make that much sense. It sounds like that tree should also come from God. What is that tree?
Okay, so I want to end our session today with one last piece that's going to help us tie all these ends together. A bit of a cliffhanger for you, but let me show you the piece. This is the insight that actually led me to really start this journey, this thing that I happened to stumble upon. What I stumbled upon was this verse that seems to come out of nowhere, at the very end of the Torah, in Deuteronomy Chapter 30.
In Deuteronomy Chapter 30 there's this verse at the end of the Torah that seems to come back to these verses at the beginning of the Torah, and tie the end of the Torah back to the beginning of the Torah. Let me show you the verse in Deuteronomy 30 that I was talking about. It is Verse 15. Moses to the people, at the end of his life. "Re'eh natati lefanecha hayom," see I have given you today. I have given you today "et hachayim v'et hatov, et hamavet v'et hara," see I have placed before you today life and the good, death and the bad, death and the evil.
One second. That's really fascinating, isn't it. Think about that. "Re'eh natati lefanecha hayom," see I have given you today, life and good, and then its converse, death and evil. What is he talking about? He's actually talking about one thing. If you go back, you'll see Moses is talking about the mitzvot, God's commands. He says, I've given you my commands. What are my commands? Then he goes on to describe the commands in terms of these two special trees. In terms of tov (good) on the one hand, and chayim (life) on the other hand. The good, and the living. I have given you today these two things.
But I've given you these two things in one thing, in my commands. Wow. Could we just have an answer right here to the very first question I asked you? The very first question I asked you is, what in the world would tie together these two trees? There has to be something underneath the surface that these two trees are both an expression of. They're not two random trees, a polka-dotted tree and a Cadillac button tree. A Tree of Life and a Tree of Knowledge seem unconnected to each other, but they must be related to each other.
Did Moses just tip his hand, at the end of the Torah, as to what the meaning of the trees were? He's referencing those two trees and saying, those trees are two aspects of one thing. The one thing is God's commands.
So first of all you'd say, well one second, the two trees that have to do with God's commands. So before you even think about why God's commands would be life or why there would be knowledge of good and evil, you might say, well why would a garden, of all things, include two trees that are related to God's commands? That sounds random. Until it occurs to you that when's the first time God issued any commands? It was in the Garden.
The very first commands had to do with what trees you would eat from. That's, by the way, the language of the text. "Vayetzav Hashem Elokim al ha'adam laymor," God commanded man, saying eat from all these trees, don't eat from this one tree. Here's all these wonderful trees that are gifts to enjoy, but there's this one tree I don't want you to eat from. These are God's commands. The very first time mankind was introduced to God's commands was back in the Garden. At the very end of the Torah, when we have a whole mess of commands, Moses tells us how to relate to them. He says it just so happens to be that those commands reflect the two special trees in the Garden. They're tov and ra on the one hand, and they're chayim and its opposite on the other hand.
So you'd say, well one second. What would it mean to relate to God's commands in these two ways? What would it mean, you're saying the trees reflect those commands. So first of all, there's something kind of interesting about that, isn't it, because we talked before about the Tree of Life being an expression of the breath of God. Now, if God were a human being, which He's not, where would breath come from? Your mouth. Well, where would a command come from? Your mouth. In other words, it's kind of interesting.
I wonder, could it be that there's -- in other words, even if you think about a command. If I issue a command, if I'm a human being and I issue a command, what do I even have to do physiologically to declare that command, to speak, to say these words? I have to start by breathing. I breath, and then I exhale in breath, activate my voice box, and create this command. But the very beginning of that is breath. Breath is actually the undercurrent behind all commands.
Could it be that in all commands, that there's breath? But in all commands, there's more than breath. There's tov and ra, there's good and evil. What is a command? A command is when I tell you what's good and what's wrong. Do this because it's good, and stay away from that because it's bad. That's the point of a command. A command gives you direction. A command is cognitive. Words are cognitive. There's my voice, my breath. My breath isn't cognitive; it's just my breath. There's my voice. That's one aspect of what happens when I speak.
The other aspect is, I actually create this structure around my voice. That structure becomes words, and those words have ideas which are conceptual structures. Those structures distinguish between that which you should stay away from and that which you shouldn't stay away from. Hence, good and evil is an aspect of commands, but only an aspect of commands. Another aspect of commands is voice. Another aspect of commands is breath.
What if the two trees relate to these two aspects of every command? Breath, the most fundamental, vital, underlying source of a command, and then what gets layered on top of that, the structure, the words, the ideas, ultimately good and evil.
To put that another way, let me be very practical about it with you for a moment. Let's take our Joe on the plane example. Let's say you were being interviewed by Joe on the plane. You sit down next to somebody and they say to you, so, you look like a nice Orthodox Jew, or you look like somebody who's a student of the Bible. Tell me, why is God's word so important to you? Why do you care so much about it? Why do God's commands excite you so much? You're so interested in them. So help me understand.
By the way, let's actually play this out. Let's do this as an actual drama. I'll play Joe, and you play you. So I go and I'd say to you, so tell me about these commands. You know, you're so interested in them. I see you've enrolled in a Master's in divinity school, or you're in yeshiva and you spend all your time learning these things. What do you get out of all this? What's the big deal with God's commands? Who cares about God's commands? You actually could give me two possible answers, more or less. Help me understand. Anybody want to parry me? Why would God's commands be important to you? Why would they be important to the world?
Robyn: You could say it's a playbook of life.
Rabbi Fohrman: You could say it's a playbook of life. So if you took Robyn's view, you would say, well, without God's commands, I'm kind of lost. I don't know what good and evil is. I don't know what the right thing to do is.
Now, if I, Joe, say well, I'm sure, Robyn, you have intuitions about the right thing to do. You could follow your intuitions. Robyn would say to me, yeah, a lot of people have intuitions, and that's good a little bit. But there's contradictory intuitions, and the whole history of moral philosophy is basically 3,000 years of people struggling with their different moral intuitions. Moral philosophy is one of the branches of philosophy that has made the least progress in 3,000 years because no one knows whose intuitions to trust.
If I'm a Kantian, so I say there's this categorical imperative and I create this whole system of philosophy and what I'm supposed to do out of Kantian ethics. But if I'm David Hume, I don't think Kantian ethics amounts to a hill of beans and I challenge that. I say there's no basis for that. If I'm Jeremy Bentham, I say utilitarian ethics is really important. It doesn't have to do with categorical imperatives; it has to do with what's going to do the most good for the most amount of people. If you have any doubt as to how that gets you flummoxed with questions, just listen to Michael Sandel's course on justice from Harvard, where he gives you trolley examples. These trolley examples are full of all of these terrible moral dilemmas. Where if you're utilitarian you'll say, pull the break on the trolley and try to save the most amount of people. But if you're a Kantian with categorical imperative you'd say, I can't do that, I'm going to kill people. I don't even know what to do.
So Robyn comes and says, you know what would solve everything? I mean, if God would help us out a little bit, if God would actually say, look guys, your intuitions, you have intuitions about good and evil because good and evil comes from Me and you're created in My image and you have intuitions because you're reflecting Me. But let me help you out a little bit with some commands. I'm going to give you an insight into how I see good and evil. Here you are, it's called the Torah.
The reason why the Torah is so important, the reason why the Bible is so important is because it gives me direction about good and evil. I understand what's good and what's evil, and the Master of the Universe said it, so that pretty much settles it. Because the post-modern critique on all these systems of philosophy is that even if Kant sounds convincing, who's going to say, go for Kant? How do I know Kant is right? Maybe the utilitarians are right. Maybe David Hume is right. If I go with the utilitarians, maybe Kant is right. You can't come up with a whole system. Where does the authority of your system come from? Maybe somebody else is right.
Well, God is the Creator. I mean, His authority is taken for granted. So if God's really going to weigh in on good and evil, I really want to listen. So good and evil is really important, Robyn would say. The reason why the Torah is important is because it helps me live my life. It helps me make practical decisions. It helps me understand what to do in the lifeboat when the lifeboat is sinking and I want to know whether I throw somebody overboard, or whether we all sink. It helps me understand how to take competing values and to be able to struggle between them.
Okay, great. Can anyone give me any other reason besides that. Robyn's right, but is there any other possible answer you could give to Joe on the plane as to why you're in yeshiva, as to why you're in divinity school, as to why you're in any shiur, as to why you bother learning the Torah with your kids. What else is it, besides this great gift to the world, this manual for understanding what the right thing to do is and the wrong thing to do. Is there anything else that's compelling about Torah?
Noam: Interesting. It gives flavor. Like, the actual study can give, itself -- the pursuit of knowledge itself is a goal unto itself. There is so much knowledge subsumed within it that it provides a well of purpose.
Rabbi Fohrman: Good. So Noam is saying, you know, it's not just good and evil that makes me interested in the Torah. I'm just interested in it.
Participant: It gives you to live morally.
Rabbi Fohrman: Live morally is good and evil. We got that. What else, besides living morally? Is there anything else that would compel you, that would make you want to study it, other than there's this cognitive manual to help you make these decisions in life?
Participant: S'char (reward).
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, reward. I hear you. I'm going to ask you another question. What if there was no reward.
Shirley Anne: For me, it's attachment to my Creator.
Rabbi Fohrman: Good. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot says, you should be like those who don't learn for a reward. Learn without any thought of a reward. What Shirley said is attachment to your Creator. Yes. That's the Torah.
Shirley Anne: I wouldn't give it up for anything.
Rabbi Fohrman: (Inaudible 01:07:48) and I said -- if I said to you -- let me put it to you this way. What is a book? What's a book? So a book I often quote is Mortimer Adler. He talks about what a book is. One of the things he says in a book, is a book is like having a conversation with a dead person. A book is an amazing thing. People can no longer be alive, and you can have a conversation with them because your mind can meet their mind. If you really understand a book, if you invest in a book, really understanding what someone is saying and then responding to it, that's what a conversation is.
You can actually have a conversation with Benjamin Franklin by reading his book. You can have a conversation with Emily Dickinson by reading her poetry. You can connect with Emily Dickinson. It doesn't matter that she's not here anymore. That's an amazing thing.
Now, what if I told you, you could connect with God. You could connect with the Master of the Universe. You could connect with the soul of life, with all eternal life. You could have a conversation with God. Your mind could have a conversation with God. There's something really strange about the human mind. The human mind is capable of so much. One of the deepest mysteries of the universe is that we can understand the universe. We can come to understand the laws that bind together the Andromeda Galaxy. We can define the inverse square law of gravity. We can connect to the universe at that level.
But what if you're not just connecting to the universe? What if you're connecting to the Master of the Universe? That's an amazing thing. I mean, if I told you now, how much would you pay to have a seat at revelation? Right, revelation is going to happen tomorrow. You could be at Sinai. You could see the whole thing, you could be there. Why even is Sinai important? So Sinai, on the one hand is important because sure, we know the rules of good and evil, great. But that wasn't just it. It was revelation. God was coming down to earth. We were connecting with God. God was talking, we were listening. There was actual connection.
Isn't it fascinating that at the moment of revelation, Moses wrote down the Ten Commandments on stone and brought it down in a book. So there's a book that memorializes it. The book means the conversation continues. The conversation continues. It means that any time you pick up that book, you can connect to the source of all life. That's the other reason to learn.
It's not just for the intellectual interest. Intellectual interest is wonderful. It's who wrote the book. I'm connecting with the mind of God. That's amazing, to connect with the mind of God. That's a spiritual gift, that's connection. If I loved God, I would want to hug Him, but I don't know how to hug Him. But I could connect. Like, I could spend time with God. I could talk with Him. The same way that if you loved your wife, or if you fell in love with someone marvelous, you just want to have a conversation with them because that's how you would connect with them. You can have a conversation with God. That's an amazing thing.
That's the other reason to learn Torah. Not because it gives you something, not because now I have a gift, I have the ability to live my life because I can choose between good and evil. Very good, excellent. But I also have something else. Just in the process of talking, I get something. I get connection. That is nurturing, because a life that's connected to the source of all life, is a different life altogether.
There are two reasons to connect to God's commands. One is because those commands are knowledge of good and evil. The other is because those commands are life itself. Those are the two reasons. There are two trees. The two trees are the two ways to think about God's commands. The two trees are physical embodiments in the Garden of commands. They come from His words. Words come from breath. What is words? It's breath and it's cognition around breath, all together.
If you take the breath part of the words -- if I'm a Tree of Life kind of guy, so I'd say, you know what really interests me in God's words? The breath. My soul comes from God. He breathed life into me. In all of those words, there's the breath of God. I feel like I'm connecting to His essence in those words. It's amazing.
If I'm a Tree of Knowledge kind of guy, it's like wow, these ideas, these distinctions, a way of understanding how to live that comes from God. Now I know how to live. That's an amazing thing. The Torah is both of those. Our first introduction to it was back in the Garden.
Okay. I'm just about out of time with you. In general, these sessions will be between an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. I'm five minutes over that now. So let me leave you with one final question to think about. The last question to think about is a question that will solve all of our other questions. So far, we've solved one question. If this is true, we understand the answer to the question of what in the world the two trees have to do with each other. The two trees are both reflections of one thing, of God's commands. They're two ways of looking at one thing, God's commands.
We have a bunch of other questions. How come Eve misidentifies the tree? What does it even mean that there was a Tree of Life in the middle of the Garden, and a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? A Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil where? What was that non sequitur at the end? How is it that we understand that?
What if the answer to those questions lie in one last possibility? The possibility comes from Occam's razor. Occam's razor is an idea in philosophy that all things being equal, the simplest explanation is the right one. If you can cut away anything extraneous and keep things simple, usually the simple thing, if you cut away anything extraneous, is right.
Think about our theory. It's a very interesting theory. At some level, the trees are physical embodiments of what it means to have God's word in the Garden. They don't come from the ground, they come from God. But there are two of them, because there are two different ways of looking at God's words. Well, if there are two different ways of looking at God's words, but it's all about God's words, the question you've got to ask yourself is, how come there are two trees if there's only one thing called God's words?
There are really two different ways of looking at the two trees. If there's really two different ways of looking at God's words, then that expresses itself in two trees. Wouldn't it be simpler if there was only one tree, but there were two different ways of looking at it? That's a very interesting possibility. We're going to try to pick up on that thread, and see where it leads us, when we come back next week.
So join me next week. Same bat time, same bat channel, 7:45 p.m. Eastern, 4:45 p.m. Pacific, and I'll see you there.
Shirley Anne: Thank you, Rabbi. Goodbye, everyone.
Rabbi Fohrman: Thank you, guys. See you.
Participant: Rabbi Fohrman, can I ask you one last thing? Is it possible, when you brought up Deuteronomy, that Moses kind of tipped his hand when he said the word re'eh (see)? Because Parshat Re'eh is full of commands of what you can and cannot eat.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, I was thinking about that. It is interesting that Moses tips his hand with the word re'eh. "Re'eh natati lefanecha hayom," see I have given you today life and good. What's interesting about 'see' is that if you go back to the trees, look at how all the trees were described. When God makes the trees, they're described in two ways. Those two ways are, "Vayatzmach Hashem Elokim min ha'adamah kol etz nechmad l'mar'eh v'tov l'ma'achal," God made all the trees that were beautiful to look at and good to eat.
There are two ways that you could relate to all trees: through sight, and through eating from them. Along comes Moses and says, see, I have given you today these things. If Moses really is referencing the two trees, is he also referencing a mode of accessing them? And the mode that he's discussing is not primarily eating, but looking, because that was one way that you could access the trees. You access a tree's beauty by looking. You access its fruits by eating. Is Moses talking to you about how to access the trees? We'll talk about that next week, too. But yes, that's a great point.
Okay, guys. See you next week.