Good and Evil In The Garden Of Eden
The Tree of Life vs The Tree of Knowledge
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
What does it mean for us to recognize God as our King, Master of the universe? In this series, Rabbi Fohrman examines the early chapters of Genesis to discover just what God's mastery is all about – and what it really means to recognize it.
Rabbi Fohrman: The story of the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life and the Garden of Eden is one of those things that we've -- one of those stories that we recognize from childhood in one form or another. Whatever kind of Hebrew education you've had even if it was only your mother telling you bible stories or if it was Hebrew school or it was day school, you've come across the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden as a ubiquitous story. Even if you haven't come across it in a Jewish context, you've come across it in the secular context, from a Christian context because it permeates the western society. It permeates art. It's there as part of our cultural heritage.
The problem we have, I think, in confronting a story like this is that oftentimes when you know a story very well from childhood, it's difficult to look at the story with fresh eyes because you tend to view the story as if you were a child for your whole adult life. I think that's certainly with the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden that sounds so mythic, that it just sounds like one of these Grimm's fairytales. Perhaps in our heart of hearts that's what we dismiss it as. Oh yeah, the talking snake and the whole thing, right. You know, it goes right along with Little Red Riding Hood and the talking wolf.
I think the challenge with all biblical stories and particularly with one like this is to see if we can sort of break out of that view of that mythic childlike world and to examine it again. It's a very difficult thing to do because oftentimes first impressions last. My wife, actually, who's an educator in her own right, suggests -- often feels that we shouldn't even teach these stories to kids. They should be completely ignorant of them until they're 16, 17-years-old in high school and they can really learn them in depth because the damage that you do by teaching these stories at a simplistic level can never be undone later in life, she says.
That's true, you know. If you read the comic books, the bible tales, it's very difficult to shake those impressions loose. Part of the difficult manifests itself in the following way. It seems to me that one of the best ways to begin attacking a story like this is to try to clear away all the brush. Try to attack the big questions in the story. Let me give you an example of what I mean by a big question on the story.
I think that almost every bible story, almost every biblical narrative has at its core a big question. By Big question with a capital B, I'm distinguishing it from Little question with a capital L. It's difficult to distinguish between Big questions and Little questions, but let me try and give you my take on it. A Big question to me is a question that at the end of the day if you haven't answered this question about the story, you can't really claim to have any understanding at all of the story. I mean, you're just completely in the dark. It's a question that is so pervasive that if this story is important to you, it's going to keep you up at night because you don't have the answer to this question.
Little questions are why does the verse use this word instead of this word? Why is this imagery used instead of this imagery? Those are Little questions. Those are details from the Big questions, the serious questions. Every biblical narrative almost every biblical narrative has it's Big question. The story of the binding of Isaac, for example, the akeidah. It has as it's big question, you know, Abraham gets called out of the blue by God, take this child up to the top of a mountain and kill him. We celebrate this every Rosh Hashanah. We all go into shul and we hear the shofar blasts.
The shofar blasts that you hear are a memorial to Abraham's act and the goat that he slaughtered instead of his child, and you have to ask yourself did Abraham do the right thing, you know? Maybe he should have just said no. If God comes out to you and says take your child and take him to the top of a mountain and kill him, how do you know that's the right thing to do? How do we deal morally with this act and the scary thing is that when you look at the Torah itself the bible does not seem to be in the least bit bothered with this problem, but this is the big elephant that's standing in the middle of the room that we need to begin dealing with before we go further.
The problem is that these biblical stories have what I would call a lullaby effect. The lullaby effect is that if you ever actually listen to the words that you sing to your children in lullabies, you know, rockabye baby on the treetop, how does it go? When the bough breaks, when the wind blows the cradle will rock. When the bough breaks the cradle will fall and you're singing this nicely and then down will come baby, cradle and all. Now you've got like a 16-month-old baby in your arms that you're rocking to sleep. Just imagine this baby in the boughs and then the bough's breaking and this child coming crashing down.
I mean, now, nobody ever asks this question about the thing. They just go and sing these words. So it's a lullaby effect. You've just sung it so many times and your mother used to sing this that you simple cease to think seriously about the words. You divorce those words from real life. The problem is, the words are real life and if you were first introduced to this story as an adult, to this lullaby as an adult, you know, you'd scream bloody murder. You'd call social services on your mother for singing you this thing. You'd be asking -- and then after the bough broke how long was the fall? You'd be asking did anyone call 911 at the bottom?
We don't ask those questions because we recognize the text from childhood and it's just okay and it doesn't really have to make sense. The story like the Tree of Knowledge you have that sort of thing where like other biblical stories, there are some big elephants in the middle of the room which nobody goes around saying anything about. It's just like, yeah, there's an elephant in the middle of the room, but we just walk around like nothing's strange.
So the first challenge is to see the elephant, to try to take the blinders off and see the story as if you've never seen it before. I think that's really the first challenge in any biblical narrative. To completely block out any knowledge that you have of this story before. To read it at first glance and then just ask yourself what's going on here? Now in order to do that, I'm going to ask you to do a very difficult thing. That is, you all have chumashim in front of you that have commentary in them. The Hertz digest of commentary.
What I want you to do is I just want you to focus on the text. I don't want you to read the commentary. Reading the commentary already prejudices you to issues which are beyond the text itself. You just can't do that. You've just got to look at the text. Tomorrow I'll try to have for you some clean sheets that just have the text if you like so you won't be tempted, but it's very, very helpful to just clear your mind, almost like a meditative exercise if you've ever been involved in meditation, to get that sense of the blank slate and then go into the text and say okay, what strikes me about this story?
In a few minutes I'm going to actually have you do that. You'll break up in pairs and you'll go through the story and you're going to try and look for what strikes you in the story, what you think is troubling, what you think needs to be answered. Then we'll come back and talk about it. Before we do that, I'd like to just see if we can bring out at least one big elephant in the room to begin with to give you something to begin working with. So I'm just going to summarize the story very briefly. It's a story you all know. You tell me just listening to the story what would you say the big elephant in the room is, what would you say the problem is.
Okay. So God creates Eden, this wonderful place. It's paradise. He has people, Adam and Eve, which he's created as well, and He places them in Eden. He places them in paradise. The deal in Eden is as follows. There are lots of trees. The Trees are all fruit bearing trees and Adam and Eve are allowed to eat from any tee that they like. There are two special trees. There is the Tree of Life and there's the Tree of Knowledge between good and evil. We're told that God has created them and God has one command and one command only. The command is that you can eat from any trees that you like, but there's one tree that I don't want you to eat from. It’s the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and you must not eat from it. On the day that you'll eat from it, you'll die.
Now apparently on the day that you'll eat from it you'll die means that on the day that you eat from you'll become mortal. In other words, they didn't die on that day, but they changed from immortal beings to mortal beings. Death will become a reality for them. Okay. So that's the deal. Scene Two. Everybody's naked. Nobody has any problems with that. God comes and -- excuse me, along comes the serpent. We are told the serpent is a very cunning creature and the serpent has a deal that he'd like to propose to Eve.
He suggests to her that wouldn't it be not such a terrible thing if she tasted some of this fruit after all? Eve engages in a short dialogue with the serpent and decides that maybe the serpent's right after all and takes some of the fruit. We're not sure which fruit it is, by the way. The story -- the idea that it's an apple is a myth. The Torah doesn't talk about apples. He hands the fruit to her -- actually the Talmud talks about it being a sheaf of wheat as a possibility. So it doesn't sound so delicious, but we'll actually talk about that later. I think that has some significance.
So she takes some, hands it to her husband Adam. He takes some as well and all of a sudden things go downhill very quickly. God appears, He's not happy about the situation. He asked them why they ate, nobody has any good excuses. Various punishments come out. God says for the man there's going to be, you know, you're going to have to work the land, the woman's going to have difficult child labor. The snake is going to have to eat dust. Everybody gets expelled from Eden. Nobody's too happy. That sets up story Number Two, Cain and Abel. That's your two-minute summary of the Adam and Eve story.
All right. Now, I told you that story. Is there any premise to this story that doesn't seem to work? What would you say? Now what I mean by that is the following. I'm asking that -- I was given the -- what I want to hear is more of an internal question, not an external question. In other words. It's not -- I don't want you to say well, given my 21st century morals, I find it difficult to believe that there's a place called Eden. We can talk about that, but that's not what I'm interested in for the purpose of this discussion.
What I'm interested in is questions that the Torah itself wants you to ask. That is to say when you look at the story, it's almost as if the Torah is asking you to ask a certain question and tempting you to ask that question because that question's that’s really there internally in the text itself is more often than not a window into deeper understanding of the text. So what do you say? Anything here that is odd? Yeah?
Participant: I have two things.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay.
Participant: The second being more important, but the first being, what was the snake's interest in having Eve -- in tempting them?
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, good. What was the snake's interest in tempting Eve? Why would the snake do such a thing? Okay.
Participant: The other question is why were those trees put there if they weren't supposed to eat from them?
Rabbi Fohrman: Why were the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, why were they put there if we weren't supposed to eat from them? Okay. Very good. So I would say that that is a very important question. Why were the trees put there if we shouldn't eat from them? I'm not sure if that's an internal question or an external question. We will address it a little bit, but that's an interesting question. If God really doesn't want us to eat from these trees, so what are they here for anyway? Okay. That would lead you to suggest that what? That maybe it's all a setup. Maybe God really wants us to eat from the trees but then He gets really mad at us when we eat them.
I'll get to you in one second, but I just want to respond to that in a moment, but let me just put it to you this way. I'd like you to think in the back of your mind, do you think that's a tenable reading of the story? Is it possible that really God wants us to eat from these trees and it's a setup, basically? Does that work or does that not work in the text? Something to think about. Yes?
Participant: Why were they created without a knowledge of good and evil in the first place?
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Why were they created without a knowledge of good and evil in the first place? Good. I would say -- but you could reformulate that question to make it an internal problem in the text. See right now, you've just posed a philosophical problem that you have. Okay? You can reformulate that question a little bit more but we're getting very warm. Go ahead. Yes?
Participant: Well any parent knows that if they tell a kid not to do something, you're sort of challenging them to do it.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. So you're touching on Sharon's question, which is come on, God. If you really don't want them to eat about it, so don't create the tree. If you tell them the cookies are in the cookie jar but you can't have any cookies, so what do you expect? Yeah?
Participant: So the whole thing's not -- why the tree of good and evil?
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Good. This is what I would see as the central textual problem in the middle of the story, which is the following. What's the one tree that God doesn't want you to eat from? It's the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Now -- you were going to say something else?
Participant: (Inaudible 00:14:09).
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. So hold on for a minute. God doesn't want you to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Now think about it for a moment. Let's get to your question. Why would God not want them to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Presumably, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, just take it at superficial face value means what? You eat from this tree and you get -- what do you get?
Rabbi Fohrman: You would get morality -- you'd get an understanding. You'd get the knowledge of good and evil. That's what the tree says. It's a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Now, we have your question, which is what's so bad about the knowledge of good and evil? You know, if God says don't eat from this tree. This is the tree of wanton licentiousness and sexuality or something like that, you know, then we understand maybe God doesn't like that kind of thing, but none of that. This is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Now we have your question, which is so that's a bad thing? So God doesn't want us to have good and evil? So let's talk about this for a moment. If you don't have knowledge of good and evil, then who are you? Let's say you don't know the difference between good and evil. Give me an example of somebody who doesn't know the difference between good and evil. Yeah?
Participant: A child or an animal.
Rabbi Fohrman: A child or an animal. Give me a --
Participant: A psychopath.
Rabbi Fohrman: A psychopath. A child or an animal are people that we don't expect to understand the knowledge of -- the difference between good and evil. Somebody who's an adult and lacks knowledge of good and evil is what we call a psychopath. Or if we want to cast it in perhaps a more charitable light, imagine for yourself the imbecilic axe murderer. Somebody who simply has no concept -- is almost childlike as an adult. He has no concept that there's a difference between right and wrong and he has axes and he likes to go around his neighborhood chopping people up because it's fun to watch the red stuff called blood flow in the streets and he just doesn't understand the concept of good and evil.
This is what you might expect from somebody who just doesn’t know the difference. So the problem is obvious, which is would we hold up the imbecilic axe murderer as a great ideal of humanity before Eden? Now this is how God really wanted it to be. God wanted somebody who had no concept of an understanding of good and evil. After having eaten from the tree God got really mad. Now you understand morality. This is an awful thing.
Who is higher on the evolutionary scale of mankind so to speak? The person who literally has no understanding of good and evil, or somebody who is in a position to choose? Someone who understand there's something called right and something called wrong. We don't go about ascribing heroism to those who don't understand the difference between good and evil. So it sounds rather odd that God would not want us to eat from this tree, but hold on for one second. The question becomes even stronger and even more textual when you think about it this way.
The story actually doesn't work on those terms. Think about it for a moment. There's an internal contradiction in the story. If it's really true that this tree gives you an understanding of good and evil, which you didn't already have, the story ceases to make any sense at all. Can anyone find for me what the internal contradiction, the philosophical contradiction that tears apart the whole story is?
Participant: If they don't know what's good and evil why pay attention to the commandment?
Rabbi Fohrman: Good. If you don't know the difference between good and evil, then why pay attention to the commandment? Because if you don't know the difference between good and evil and God commands you don't eat from the tree, then what' your expected reaction?
Rabbi Fohrman: Indifference, because you don't know that it's good to obey and bad to disobey. You don't have the knowledge of good and evil, right? So if it's really true that you don't know the difference between right and wrong, then why pay attention to the commandment?
Now what problem does that make for us in the story? Why is it the story makes no sense of you assume that the Tree of Knowledge give you an understanding of good and evil? Something happened later on in the story that makes it completely impossible to understand this story on that basis. What happens? Think about what happens in the story. What happens later in the story that makes the story blow apart in a Catch-22 if that's what's going on? Think about what happens. They eat from the tree. What happens next?
Participant: They clothe themselves.
Rabbi Fohrman: They realize their nakedness. They realize they're naked and they make themselves primitive garments. What happens next?
Participant: They try to hide.
Rabbi Fohrman: God calls out. They try to hide. Okay. God says where are you? They hide. What happens next?
Participant: They blame each other for --
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Why do they blame each other? Because God asks you why did you eat from this tree? They then blame each other. Hold on. Let's just take it slowly. They then blame each other. What happens next?
Participant: God gets angry.
Rabbi Fohrman: God gets angry. Why is this not making sense?
Participant: Why would God get angry if they didn't have any capacity to make a decision?
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. God's anger is completely unjustified. If it's really true that eating from the tree gives you a knowledge of good and evil which before you did not have, then God's anger at them for not eating is completely inexplicable. Back to Dick's question, why would they pay attention to the command? They would be indifferent to the command not understanding that to obey is good and to disobey is bad. So what do we see from here? God is angry at them, and God is so angry that He dishes out lots of punishments.
Eve has difficult childbirth and Adam has trouble in the field. Death all around. The Snake gets -- has to eat dust. All of this is completely capricious. It's completely unjustified. You have this idyllic being living in the Garden of Eden that was like one of these Reuben's angels that didn't understand the difference between good and evil and now all of a sudden you're punishing them for an act that they didn't -- okay. So what must we conclude? It must be that before they ate from the tree, they did understand the difference between good and evil. Hold on. Free will is impossible without understanding the difference between good and evil.
In other words, I can have all the free will I want, if I don't know that there's something called right and something called wrong, I'm not responsible for my actions. In order to be responsible for my actions, a couple things have to happen. I have to understand the difference between right and wrong and I need to be able to make a free choice between right and wrong. If I don't have ither one of those things, I'm not responsible for my actions.
If I understand the difference between right and wrong but I can't make a free choice, if I'm forced into doing something, so I'm not responsible for my action. I was forced. Likewise, if I have free will but I don't have the understanding of the ontological categories of right and wrong, I just don't understand the difference, so again I'm not responsible. I'm a baby. I'm an animal. So it must be that the fact that God punishes them, the fact that God is angry proves to us that before they ate from the tree, they understood the difference between good and evil.
So now the story doesn't make any sense because they already had the knowledge of good and evil before they ate from the tree. Now this forces us into a particular understanding of the story. What does this force us to conclude? That what?
Participant: (Inaudible 00:21:11).
Rabbi Fohrman: What? Okay. If we are willing to live with the capricious god so we might just close our books and say all right. God is capricious. We now understand why nobody has to understand to God and religion is a farce. It starts from Story Number One. It's just an evil God. Here He goes, He has these innocent beings and He just takes out the whole Zeus lightning bolt and just tries to make their lives hard from the very beginning. That's one possible way of looking at the story.
Or if we're not willing to live with a capricious God, we live with a just God, it must be that our thesis is wrong. It cannot be that what this tree gives them is an understanding of the difference between good and evil. It must be what? Let's just set up the structure. It must be what? You disagree?
Participant: No, at first I was disagreeing, but then I was thinking about my disagreement and what I was thinking is, you know, a child knows to obey his parents. He may or may not know why, so it's very different from the knowledge of good and evil. So what maybe this is talking about is, you know, of course they were obeying their parent and then they kind of became teenagers and were just doing their own thing and got tempted. So there's a difference between oh, knowing you're supposed to do this and knowing you're not supposed to do this versus the knowledge, you know, deeper knowledge of why you should do this and not do that.
Rabbi Fohrman: Let's talk about that for a little bit, though. Well, let's try and take it apart. A child knows that he's supposed to listen to his parents and -- knows that he's supposed to listen to his parents. Would we call that a knowledge of good and evil, a knowledge of right from wrong?
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Let's see. Now, if it's obedience and it doesn't come from any sense of moral sense, is the parents justified in punishing the child when they do wrong? I mean I have a kid who's, how old is she now? She's ten-months-old. So even at ten-months-old you can already see the beginnings of understanding of obedience. In other words, she knows enough to be able to look at a parent's face and to detect a look of disapproval and to move her hand away from what she was about to touch, but I'll be darned if I would punish her for touching the thing that I gave a look of disapproval to because I don't believe that she yet has an understanding of right or wrong associated with that. To me, it's just instinct at this stage.
So what I'm pointing out to you is the following it seems that there's no escaping this kind of dichotomy. Either you understand right or wrong, or you don't and you just have an instinctive understanding of obedience. If your only understanding of obedience is instinctive and it has nothing to do with a moral understanding of right or wrong, I believe punishment is out of the question, God's anger is certainly out of the question and God's punishment is certainly out of the question. This is what I believe.
To me, if I see God punishing and God's getting angry, to me -- those punishments -- if you read the text, God sounds pretty angry. It's not simply that this is a little educational exercise that He's trying to move you away from the stove. He's telling you that humanity has changed for history from now on women will have labor and childbirth and from now on men are going to work the by the sweat of their brow. This is real life. This is not just some little exercise. God seems genuinely angry and genuinely punishing.
To me that only makes sense if there was a real act of disobedience. So to me therefore, that implies heavily, strongly, that there was some understanding of good and evil to begin with before eating from the tree. We then have the catch-22. Apparently they already had the knowledge that the tree was supposed to give them before they ate from the tree. So the tree's a farce. So it must be that we got something wrong. That our theory is wrong and cannot be that the tree gives you an understanding of good and evil which you before did have. It can't be.
There's only one way out of that question. There's only one other way out. If the tree doesn't give you an understanding of right and wrong that you didn't have before then what could it give you if it's a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Just to lay it out structurally, I think it means the following. It is not the case that before I had no understanding of morality and afterwards I had that understanding. What must be the case is that before I had one kind of understanding of morality, and afterwards that understanding changed. What it changed into was something called the knowledge of good and evil, but before that wasn't what it was called.
In other words, before I had one way of understanding right and wrong and it was called we don't know what, but that was enough that basic sense of morality that you had that God could get angry at you if you disobeyed. You had an understanding of right and wrong. Let's call it knowledge of right and wrong just for arguments sake. Then by eating from this tree, you would then -- that knowledge would change. What you would now have is a different kind of moral knowledge called the knowledge of good and evil. For some reason God doesn't want you to have that knowledge
The question is why? The real question is so what then are these two states? What were they like before eating from the tree? What were they like after eating from the tree? That is one of the central challenges that will face us for the rest of today. What I'd like to do now, without any further ado, it two things. First of all if we can turn down the heat because people are going to get real sleepy soon unless we do that. The second thing is what I'd like you to do is to break up, to find yourself a chavrusah, find yourself a study partner. If you want to study in groups of three you can, but here's what I want you to do.
With this question in the back of your mind, but don't try and answer it too quickly, I want you to read through the text and keep a little notepad, you and your partner, of problems that you find in the text. Difficulties that you think need to be addressed in this text. Strange things in this text or observations. You should have some paper. If you can't we'll try and supply some for you, but make a list of them. That's what I want you to do. Hold on, don't do it yet. Don't do it yet. Folks.
There's one thing that I don't want you to do. This is very important. What I don't want you to do is answer any of your questions. No theories, okay? We're going to separate -- no theories. I don't want you to try and answer any of the questions. The only thing you're doing is coming up with problems, observations, strange things from the very small to the very big in this story and then we're going to get back and discuss them, but I am not interested in you trying to at this stage formulate theories. I think it's important to separate the two, to just look at the text and find the problems, and then later on to come back and try to put it together
At this point we probably won't have enough information yet to begin to provide solid answers. As we put together the problems, I think they'll begin to start answering themselves. Let me tell you where you should look at, okay? What I'd like you to look at is start from Chapter Two Verse Eight, which is the planting of the Garden of Eden and read through Chapter Three.
Right. So remember you have two rules, two no-nos which you have to abide by. No-no Number One is no theories, no answers to problems and No-no Number Two is no looking at commentary. Okay. You're all set. You've got about 15 minutes and then we'll reconvene. Okay, folks.
First of all I must say that it's interesting. As I was going around the room, there are a few people saying gee, you know, half these questions I'm not sure if these are the kinds of question you're supposed to ask. This is going to be a common theme as I was going around the room, but all of you from the little that I listened in really were tuning in to some really important things so I'm eager to hear your feedback on this. Let's try and get a representative sample of what you think some of the other problems in the story are other than one of the big elephants which I mentioned before.
Are there any other big elephants or small elephants or little kangaroos or anything in between? You know what? This might be a good way of doing it. What I think we can do just for the heck of it, is why don't I read through the story very quickly and you stop me when you have a question? Why don't we do it that way? Okay?
Participant: So read a verse, stop.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. This might take a while. All right, all right. I may not get to all of you, but hold on for a second. We didn't start yet. You have a question?
Participant: Well, you've got to say the first word first.
Rabbi Fohrman: Thanks. I get to read a whole sentence before I stop. Harumph.
Participant: You said (inaudible 00:30:08).
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. "Vayita Hashem Elokim gan b'eden mikedem vayasem sham et ha'adam asher yatzar." And God planted a -- and by the way, what you might want to do, if you have any of your notepads in front of you, what might be helpful is if you find a question from the crowd that you find particularly interesting that you didn't think of, you might want to write it down as well on your note page and keep track. Because when we come back together and put this all together, we'll want to address those questions. It might be helpful for you.
"Vayita Hashem Elokim gan b'eden mikedem," and God planted a garden in Eden in the east, "vayasem sham et ha'adam asher yatzar," and He placed the man that He had made there. Yes?
Participant: Vayita says that God planted? So if everything has been created, then what's this sense of planting? Is He planting for somebody else to take care of?
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. God seems to plant or create a new place which is going to be Eden, which is distinct from the rest of creation. Yeah.
Participant: God put man in Eden, so He formed man outside of Eden. What did man know before he got into Eden?
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, very good. For some reason, and that's important, Rashi actually notes this here, man was created outside of Eden and put there. The logical thing to do would be if you want man to be in Eden and you're making man, just make him there. You don't have to put him there. Nevertheless, man is outside of Eden and then he's put there. That's interesting as well. Yes.
Participant: In this verse, as in Verses 9, 15, 16,, 18, 19, 21 and 22, God's name is Hashem Elokim. So there's a pattern here of both justice and mercy parts of God's name being put together. Is there a reason why God's name is this way in this part of it?
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, good question. Just to give the background of where that question is coming from, traditionally it's understood that God has different names and each of them signal different ways that human beings perceive God. Two of those names, two of the most common of those names, are Hashem, which we just pronounce Hashem, just really means "the name," but that is the name that we give to the most fundamental name of God, which you'll see as a Yud-Hei and then a Vav-Hei. We don't know how to pronounce it; we just say Hashem when we're referring to that name.
The other name that is very common is Elokim, Alef-Lamed-Hei-Yud-Mem. Oftentimes the translation will translate that as the Lord God, and Lord is Hashem and God is Elokim. But Jewish thought has it that there is a significance to each of these names. They represent different ways that we perceive God. There's a general understanding that the word Hashem connotes a sense of God's compassion, whereas the word Elokim connotes a sense of God's justice, or ability to relate to us in terms of justice rather than compassion.
Sometimes, God is referred to by both together, Hashem Elokim, as you point out is happening here. God's name is doubled in each of these cases, Hashem Elokim. Is it significant that God is referred to by both appellations here? Okay, good.
"Vayatzmach Hashem Elokim min ha'adamah kol etz nechmad l'mareh v'tov l'ma'achal v'etz hachayim b'toch hagan v'etz hada'at tov vara." Now, so God plants all of this beautiful stuff, and He plants the Tree of Life "b'toch hagan," in the middle of the Garden, "v'etz hada'at tov vara," and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yes?
Participant: At this point until later, it's not clear what the Tree of Life really is.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, good. Let me just elaborate on the question. All right, we now are introduced to the two important trees. The title of this was "A Tale of Two Trees." We are now told about the two trees. Tree number one is the Etz Hachayim, the Tree of Life. Tree number two is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Okay, what's strange here in this verse about these two trees? Let everyone look, and then I'll get you. One second. What's strange here about the way these two trees --
Participant: (Inaudible 00:34:27) life is eternal life. That's not --
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. The Tree of Life seems to be a tree that would grant you eternal life. What were you going to say?
Participant: It's almost as if the trees for nourishment are in one place and the trees of life and knowledge are in another place.
Rabbi Fohrman: Well, hold on for a second. Let me ask you something like this. Let's talk about location of trees for a moment. We are mapping the Garden of Eden. Now, in our rudimentary map, we know there's lots of trees here, but there are two special trees. Where is the Tree of Life? In the midst or in the middle of the Garden. The sense is it's probably in the middle of the Garden. You could read it that it's just in the Garden, but there's a strong temptation to understand that it is in the middle of the Garden, b'toch hagan.
Now, where is the Tree of Knowledge? Interesting, we don't know. Now, as you read this verse the first time, when you read it superficially, you tend to think that the trees are in the same place. But if you read the verse carefully, you'll notice that that's not actually the case. Why? How do you know? Because if you wanted to write that both trees were in the middle of the Garden, what should the text have said? How should the text have read?
Participant: Etz hachayim v'etz hada'at.
Rabbi Fohrman: B'toch hagan, right. It should have read, etz hachayim v'etz hada'at tov vara b'toch hagan. It should have said, and the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil were in the midst of the trees of the Garden. Instead, it only says that after the Tree of Life, and then it just adds on, and there was a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. So clearly, the narrator is trying to tell us that whereas it's clear where the Tree of Life is, it's in the middle of the Garden; it's not so clear that that centrality exists with the Tree of Knowledge either.
That becomes particularly interesting when what? Now, hold on for a second. I'd like you to look for a moment at Eve. Later on, when Eve talks about these trees, and I think, Margaret, your group was talking about the inaccuracies in Eve's description. What is strange about Eve's description to the serpent? Take a look for a moment, fast forward to Eve's conversation with the serpent. Hold on, I'll get to you in a second. Let everyone look at it. Eve's conversation with the serpent, what is strange about the location of the trees there?
First of all, let me ask you this. Which tree or trees are you not allowed to eat from?
Participant: The Tree of Knowledge.
Participant: Tree of Life.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, some confusion here, right. Some of you are saying the Tree of Life, some of you are saying the Tree of Knowledge. Which one is it, or is it both?
Participant: Verse 17.
Rabbi Fohrman: What does Verse 17 say? Please read the verse.
Participant: From the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, don't eat from that.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. So clearly, when God gives the command, when He commands Adam, He says that there's one tree that I don't want you to eat from, and that is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. What about the Tree of Life? He doesn't even mention it. Is it clear that Adam even knows that there's a Tree of Life that exists? If you read the verse -- let's read it. Verse 16, "Vayetzav Hashem Elokim al ha'adam laymor," and God commanded man saying, "mikol etz hagan achol tocheil," from any tree of the Garden you may surely eat. "U'mei'etz hada'at tov vara," but from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, "lo tochal mimenu ko b'yom achalcha mimenu mot tamut," do not eat from it because on the day that you eat from it, you will die. This is the only thing Adam knows about trees. There are lots of trees in the Garden. There's one tree I don't want you to eat from, it's the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Don't eat from it. On the day you eat from it, you'll die.
Is there any command about the Tree of Life? No. Does he even know there's a Tree of Life? We don't even know. Yet what's strange is that at the end of the story, the Tree of Life finally makes a cameo appearance.
Participant: Verse 22.
Rabbi Fohrman: Verse 22. What happens in Verse 22?
Participant: In Chapter 3, Verse 22, I'm fascinated by this verse. It says -- I'm going to do the English. "And the Lord God said behold the man has become as one of us to know good and evil. And now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the Tree of Life and eat and live forever, therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden."
Rabbi Fohrman: Whoa, that's right. Hold on for just a minute. So here you have, God says okay, now we're in deep trouble. Man has eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and he's become like one of us. First of all, this is very strange. He's become Godly? God's worried about His territory over here? He's afraid -- and God's plural? There's lots of problems here. Lots of problems. We'll get to this in a second. But as far as the Tree of Life is concerned -- and then God says, oh boy, I'm very concerned. The people have eaten from this Tree of Knowledge; now I'm really in deep trouble because what's going to happen next? They'll eat from the Tree of Life, and then the implication is?
Participant: They'll become like God.
Rabbi Fohrman: They'll become just like Me.
Participant: The implication here is that if you eat from the Tree of Life, you live forever.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. That seems to be the sense, that if you eat from the Tree of Life, you'll live forever. So here what happens is -- this is a very strange verse. God is so scared? God is God. God knows who He is. He's omniscient, He's omnipotent, He's the Creator, He's all of that. Now He's worried that because we eat from two lousy trees, we're going to be just like Him? This is very strange.
But what's really strange is just textually, all of a sudden God's worried that they'll eat from the Tree of Life. If God was so worried about them eating from the Tree of Life, why didn't He command them not to eat from it? When He originally commands, He says -- one second, hold on. You're jumping. Just hold on for a minute.
So what's strange is that if God doesn't like people eating from the Tree of Life so much, so He should have said, don't eat from the Tree of Life. All He says is, don't eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then, all of a sudden, he wants them out of Eden for the grand imperative that maybe they'll eat from the Tree of Life. But you never said you didn't want them eating from the Tree of Life. It must be --
Rabbi Fohrman: It's contingent. The only possible answer is that I don't mind you eating from the Tree of Life, if you haven't eaten from the Tree of Knowledge. Once you've eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, everything changes. Now, I have to kick you out because maybe you'll eat from the Tree of Life.
All right. So there's a lot of questions here, we just have to take it slow. We will get into more of that. We will, in short order -- actually, why don't we do this now. Let's take the opportunity for a moment to just focus on questions having to do with the Tree of Life. We're going to devote the next five minutes to the Tree of Life for a moment.
So question number one is, what is the curious relationship between these trees? Why is it that eating from the Tree of Life is okay, but eating from the Tree of Life after you've eaten from the Tree of Knowledge is not okay, and is so not okay that God has to banish you from Eden? That is problem number one.
Problem number two is a problem we touched on also, which is God's whole tone here is completely inexplicable. God's really worried that we'll become really God-like and we're going to be just like Him? I mean, God knows better than anybody that human beings are never going to be God. So why is it that He seems to be so concerned?
Another problem, getting back to the Tree of Life, and this is what we started this discussion with -- let's get back to our Garden of Eden map. Where's the Tree of Life? In the middle of the Garden. Where's the Tree of Knowledge? We don't know. Okay. Now look at Eve. When Eve talks to the serpent, let's construct the map based upon that. What does Eve say to the serpent? Let's see if we can devise any cartographer --
Participant: She doesn't even identify the tree by name, it's just the tree in the middle.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. She says there's one tree -- let's read the verse. Chapter 3, Verse 3. "Vatomer ha'ishah el hanachash mipri etz hagan nocheil," the woman says to the serpent, oh, no, we can eat from trees. "U'mipri ha'etz asher b'toch hagan amar Elokim lo tochlu mimenu v'lo tig'u bo pen temutun," it's just the tree in the middle of the Garden that we can't eat from and we can't even touch lest we die. What is strange about what Eve says here?
Participant: She doesn't identify which tree it is.
Rabbi Fohrman: She only identifies it by place.
Participant: She's implicitly talking about the Tree of Life.
Rabbi Fohrman: She misidentifies the tree, right? Because the tree that they're not supposed to eat -- she says, the tree that we're not supposed to eat from is the tree that is in the midst of the Garden. Which tree was that? The Tree of Life. But God never said anything about the Tree of Life. It's the Tree of Knowledge that they're not supposed to eat from. So she misidentifies the tree to the serpent. Fascinating.
Participant: In Verse 16, God tells man le'echol mikol etz hagan which means every tree.
Rabbi Fohrman: You do raise an interesting point, which is that when God says that you can eat from the trees, what's the language that God uses?
Rabbi Fohrman: "Mikol etz hagan achol tocheil." Look at the language which Eve uses when she says we can eat from the trees. What's the language that Eve uses? "Mipri etz hagan nocheil." What's the difference between "mipri etz hagan nocheil," from the fruit of the trees we can eat, and what God said, from all the trees you can eat?
Participant: God says broader, you can (inaudible 00:44:04).
Rabbi Fohrman: The sense of God is much broader than the sense of Eve. God's talking about all the trees. Eve says, yeah, we can eat from the trees. But the word 'all' got left out. What else is different between God's command and Eve's repetition of it to the serpent?
Participant: The touching.
Rabbi Fohrman: The touching, okay. We have three things that are different. Eve says, we cannot eat from the tree nor can we touch it, lest we die. What does God say? God says, don't eat from it. He didn't say anything about touching it. So, so far we have three differences between what God said and what Eve said. A, Eve misidentifies the tree. She talks about a tree in the middle of the Garden that she can't eat from. It's not true. That was the Tree of Life that she presumably could eat from. That's question number one. Question number two, Eve talks about not touching the tree. God didn't say anything about not touching the tree. Question number three, "mikol etz hagan." God talks about all the trees of the Garden. Eve just talks about the trees.
There's one other distinction, which is what is the consequence of eating from the forbidden tree? What does God say the consequence is? "Ki b'yom achalcha mimenu mot tamut." Translate that? Ki b'yom, on the day, achalcha mimenu, that you eat from it, mot tamut.
Participant: You're going to get it.
Rabbi Fohrman: You're going to get it. You shall surely die. Mot tamut is the doubled verb. You'll die, yes, you'll die. Fast forward to Eve. Eve says we can't touch this tree or eat from it, then what does Eve say? Why not?
Participant: Because you might die.
Rabbi Fohrman: Because you might die. What's different about what Eve says and what God says? Might die, that's much more equivocal in Eve. So we have four fascinating differences --
Participant: She wasn't there when God said it.
Rabbi Fohrman: Interesting, she wasn't even there. She just got this command via telephone from Adam, right, because she wasn't created yet. Remember, Eve was not created when God made this command, so how did Eve know the command? Either Adam told her, or where was she created from? His rib, right? Before she was created, what were they? They were androgenous. They were Adam-Eve together as one. So maybe she got it by osmosis. She was part of the being that got the command.
But either way, however she got the command, there are four key differences in what she says. You talked about Nechama Leibowitz. Nechama Leibowitz has a fascinating analysis of why those four differences make a difference. If we have enough time at the end of all of this on Tuesday, we'll get back to why those four things make a difference. But for now, just keep those things. Maybe we'll talk about it during recess, if you want. It's a little bit off our topic, but keep those four things in mind.
Okay, let's go back to the Tree of Life. So one thing we know about the Tree of Life is that God never commanded originally for us not to eat from it. For some reason, it was okay for us to eat it originally. Only after we ate from the Tree of Knowledge, it became not okay. Another thing that's interesting about the Tree of Life is that it was in the midst of the Garden. According to Eve, the Tree of Knowledge is in the midst of the Garden. So the real truth is that the Tree of Life is the one in the middle. Eve's perception is that the Tree of Knowledge is the one in the middle, almost as if to say that there's a difference between God's world and Eve's world.
In God's world, the most central tree is the Tree of Life. What's the tree in the middle? It's a big forest, right? The middle is the point that you're focused on, and everything else surrounds that midpoint. That's the tree. The tree that God focuses on is the Tree of Life. Where's the Tree of Knowledge? It's out somewhere. The way I would read it is that what she focuses on is the Tree of Knowledge. To her, that's the tree in the middle of the Garden. That's the one tree we can't eat. Somebody once said, the one thing that you can do to get your kid to eat from the cookie jar, say that's the tree you can't eat. The tree that I can't eat becomes the focus. That's the one I can't have. All the other trees, yeah, those are the other trees, we can eat from those. But this tree is the focus.
In God's world, that's not the focus. That's the Tree of Life. But interestingly, Adam and Eve were not even told that they even know about the Tree of Life, and presumably if they didn't know about the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Life had some central place in the Garden, if you're God, you've got to figure that sooner or later they're going to eat from it. That can't have bothered God. It only bothered God once they ate from the Tree of Knowledge.
One other thing I want to point out to you on the Tree of Life which I think is fascinating. Someone over here asked that it was strange, what happens -- after they eat from the Tree of Knowledge and then they're banished from Eden, what does God do to make sure that they will never get back here?
Participant: Flaming sword.
Rabbi Fohrman: Who's carrying the flaming swords?
Rabbi Fohrman: Cherubs, angels. In the Torah there are different kinds of angels. One of them are known as keruvim or cherubs. You may have seen Rubens' paintings, cherubs. So it comes from here. The cherubs are two specific types of Biblical angels. So there are two cherubs and they've got their flaming swords. They're going to make sure that nobody is going to make their way back to the Garden of Eden. But not particularly to the Garden of Eden, for a particular reason. Look at that verse which talks about the angels. Exactly what are they guarding the way back to? Not just to Eden, but they're guarding the way back to the Tree of Life, "lishmor et derech etz hachayim," they are watching over the path back to the Tree of Life. Because remember, God's imperative now is they have to be out of here because I can't have them eating from the Tree of Life. That is the focus in God's world.
Let me ask you something else, a little bit of Biblical trivia for you all. Is there any other time in the Five Books of Moses, in the entire Pentateuch, where the angels keruvim appear? Is there any other time in the Five Books of Moses that these particular angels called cherubs appear?
Participant: Yeah, when they're creating the Tabernacle.
Rabbi Fohrman: Excellent, very good. When they're creating the Tabernacle. When they're creating the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, the sanctuary for God in the desert, there are cherubs. Do you remember exactly where the cherubs appear in the construction? They're on top of the ark in the Holy of Holies. Everyone see Raiders of the Lost Ark? A long time ago. So there you saw it. There was the ark, and then there were the cherubs on top of the ark. They tried to reconstruct it as faithfully as they could. That's the only other time in the Five Books of Moses that we have cherubs. By the way, it's two cherubs, just like over here.
Now, what do you think was in that ark? What was in the ark? The tablets symbolizing the entire Torah, right? This is the blueprint for the entire Torah. It's in the ark. What do you call the Torah every time you go into the sanctuary? "Etz chayim hee l'machazikim bah," it's a Tree of Life to those who hold fast to it. Fascinating. There are two cherubs in the Torah, and each time those cherubs appear, they're guarding the Tree of Life. The first time they appear, they're guarding Tree of Life number one, the original Tree of Life. The second time they appear, they're guarding Tree of Life number two, the Torah.
Now, interestingly, what is the function of each of these cherubs? What are the first cherubs trying to do?
Participant: Keep us out.
Rabbi Fohrman: Keep you out. What are the second cherubs trying to do?
Participant: Bring you in.
Rabbi Fohrman: Bring you in. The second cherubs are "sochechim b'chanfeihem," what they do is they shelter you with their wings, underneath their wings, within the orbit of the Tree of Life. So fascinating, the same two cherubs that keep you away from one Tree of Life, now give you access to another Tree of Life. Almost like a replacement Tree of Life. But now the question is, what's the deal with this Tree of Life? What explains the connection between Torah as a whole and the Tree of Life in general? It's certainly not the case that by learning Torah, we live forever. It's not that. But in some sense it's a Tree of Life. Somehow, there must be some deep connection between these two things. How does that shed light on what the Tree of Life was about, why God didn't want us to have -- in other words, apparently the same God who doesn't want us to have the first Tree of Life, now says you can have a second Tree of Life, but the first Tree of Life is no longer good for you. How does that help us understand the relationship between these two trees? Yes?
Participant: Where does the idea that the tablets are the Tree of Life?
Rabbi Fohrman: Where does that come from? It actually comes from a verse in Mishlei, a verse in Proverbs. When you say that on Shabbat and you open the ark, you say "Etz chayim hee lamachazikim bah," you're actually quoting from a verse in Mishlei, a verse in Proverbs where King Solomon describes the Torah in those terms
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