The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
“The tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (2:9). These two trees bring the drama of the Garden of Eden to a climax. The Tree of Life has all the flow of vitality in it. Man is lodged in its web, like a fish in the water, and is not able to perceive it, because he cannot (as long as he lives) to regard life in a detached view that brings awareness. The Tree of Knowledge, on the other hand, requires a certain detachment, an examination and inquiry, and then a merger, just like with the sexual union which Da’?t-Knowledge represents (“And the man knew chavvah his wife” (4:1). The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil contains also the knowledge of the end, awareness of death, which leads to a tragic view of the world, a world where every individual is destined to expire.
At first, Adam was only forbidden to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. As if God was wary lest His children acquire education and knowledge. Ostensibly, if they would only taste of that tree, there would be revealed to them the most arcane secrets of the Creation. But what was that knowledge to which “the eyes of them both were opened” – “and they knew that they were naked” and vulnerable.
Thus – sexual knowledge, the ability of making a sexual selection and reproduction, seems to be the most basic knowledge, is the one that makes them to be as gods. This is also the way that God discovers that the transgression was made “And He said – who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee that thou should not eat?”
Till here, we have became familiar with the kind of man that was completely under the rule of the urge (Ye?er) and instincts, who “there was not found a help to match him” – or as RaShY interpreted, he was constantly in heat. When he ate of the Tree of Knowledge, sex became a conscious thing. “And the man knew chavvah his wife”. And clothing is the counter-measure. There is no incest (Giluy ?rayot – Hebrew for “uncovering the genitals”) without clothing.
The Aggadah goes still further and brings an assumption that Adam kept himself separate from his wife for a hundred and thirty years (Rashi for 5:3). Such separation would have been inconceivable under the conditions of ignorance of Adam in the Garden of Eden. The urge, or natural inclination, is of the characteristics of the Garden of Eden, whereas choice belongs to the outside world.
With Knowledge came shame – “and they knew that they were naked” – and the covering with leather – Or – cloths. The first utterance of creation is Yehi Or – “Let there be Light”. The Qabbalah regards the beginning of the process of creation as the formation of something like cloth that covers the infinite, which cannot be grasped in any way, and this cloth is made of combination of letters of light. The Aggadah of Midrash Rabba (Beresit Rabba section 20, paragraph 12) tells: “For the man also and for his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them”, in the (book of) Torah of Rabbi Me’ir (the name “Me’ir” means “enlightening” and is very pertinent here) was found “garments of Light” (Or ). Some of the sages understood from this that at first Adam and Eve had only “etheric bodies” of light, and after their choice focused only on the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (and not the entire tree) they lost the vision of the bodies of light and felt themselves naked.
?den means, literally, refinement or delicate. Light – which appears in the Torah as the first created thing – is, according to current scientific view, vibrations in a five-dimensional continuum. We can say that the expulsion from ?den is actually the loss of the five-dimensional perception and descent to the mere material, three-dimensional world.
This change of the letter Aleph with the letter yin has Gematria significance. The Letter Aleph has the value of one and it symbolizes unity and oneness, whereas the letter yin has the value of 70 and it symbolizes multiplicity (as we saw from the combination “Adam and Eve” (Adam ve avvah) has the value of 70 and will see concerning the 70 nations).
It is for a reason that there formed traditions that identified the Tree of Knowledge with wheat (e.g. Genesis Rabba 15:7). According to this theory – Adam was punished with the subject of the transgression. They sought to eat of the fruit of this garden – and that was given them, for ever, with the good and the bad of it. There ended the age of “Of every tree of the garden thou mayst freely it” (2:15) and instead there came the age of “in the sweat of face shalt thou eat bread” (3:19).
We have already mentioned in the introductory chapter the importance of the cultivation of cereals for the development of human civilization, a development that transformed humankind from the pastoral stage to that of fixed settlement – that ostensibly saved humankind from the fear of hunger, but got us bound in slavery to the earth, and initiated the problems of population density. These brought about the formation of social classes, to landowners and serfs and the provision of “clothes” of walls and fences, but – in the spirit of the Tree of Knowledge – also to further specialization and knowledge. In other words – which we shall further discuss in the next section – here lie the roots of the continuing conflict between shepherds and agriculturists, between those that get enslaved to property and the people of freedom, between the patriarchs, who were taken out of their land and brought to other places, and their offspring, who were educated by the Torah to become permanent settlers.
There is, therefore, no wonder that the picking of the fruit was attributed to the woman, who was – as the archeologists concur – the mother of the domestication of plants and of agriculture. The men were the hunters-gatherers and they pushed for the wandering life, whereas the women became the growers of cereals and fruits at fixed places, and pulled the men for sedentary life upon their homesteads.
The entire Torah is a testimony and admonishment about the dangers to the human spirit entailed by servitude to the soil. Idolatry was strongly connected with the tenure of the soil – at every place in the world, the cult of the gods of corn required sacrifices, including human sacrifices, and in the environmental conditions of the Middle East the main object of idolatry was to force the sky god(s) to bring the rain.
That is why already in the first story about the beginning of humankind – the story of Adam and Eve and their sons – this conflict is already enfolded. In the next stories, about the further attempts to re-establish humankind, we shall see the development of this tension. In the first war between brothers in human history according to the Book of Genesis – the struggle between Cain and Abel, was the prototype of the struggle between agriculturists and pastoralists. “Noah Ish ha’Adamah” (“the husbandman of the soil” (and really of the “living earth” or “Gaia”), was the next one chosen to establish a new humankind. After he failed, Abraham and his family, a family of wandering shepherds, were chosen for the next experiment. It was important for the editors of the Torah to teach a nation of agriculturists who incline after the deities of the land that their forefathers were shepherds, men free from servitude to the soil and its negative influences, and who worshiped a single superior God, and not the gods of Canaan, the idols of rain and of cereal.
Cain, the founder of the first city, is the representative of the great idolatrous kingdoms, such as Egypt, Assyria and Babylon that were powerful and enslaving. The tribes of the Torah were meant to have a collective memory of free shepherds, unfettered by social and religious domination, whether they themselves come to settle in great walled cities or when dominated by urban cultures. The self-image of the nomad is of a relatively free person, who can develop his potential through choice and not through coercion.
It is the woman, as we noted, who observed the fruit of the Garden of Eden and the potential of its separation from the tree and the cultivation of its seed.
The Qabbalah regards the transgression not in the actual eating from the tree, but in eating the fruit, or in its language in “the cutting of the shoots” (ki?u? biNeti’ot). The trees of the Garden of Eden are formed, according to the Qabbalah, in the pattern of the Tree of the Sephirot (see appendix ‘A’), and that man and his wife transgressed in that they separated the Sephirah of Malkhut (“Kingdom”, concrete reality) from the rest of the Sephirot (the more abstract and causal realms), namely, they chose to separate the food part of the tree from its other parts, which together comprise the whole of the tree. This utilitarian and exploitative behavior neglects the reciprocal relations and the factors that form and create, and limits itself to the pleasurable things that issue from them. This is an exit from the world of Formation (Yetzirah) and certainly from the World of Creation (Bri’ah), which is the world of Health (Beri’ut) and wholeness. (In this context it is fit to recall the “Indian Bible”, the Bhagavad-Gita, according to which human vocation is “to act without desiring the fruit of action”, a practice that even Mahatma Ghandi confessed at the end of his life that he did not succeed to accomplish).
We shall deal in the sequel extensively with the implications of the characteristics of the Tree of Life upon those who eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and just note here that the curse of the Tree of Knowledge of our times – namely of science and technology – has brought eventually to a human population increase that it is doubtful whether the earth can accommodate.
The Tree of Life versus the Tree of Knowledge
“The tree of life also in the midst of the garden” (2:9), namely, embedded in the garden, in its overall pattern and in every detail thereof. This is a distinct case of the Self-similarity noted before. Therefore, the Tree of Knowledge may be embedded within the Tree of Life and vice-versa, as we saw that the knowledge hidden within the Tree of Knowledge includes also the knowledge of death.
Ostensibly, Death was the punishment expected to those who eat of it: “for on the day that thou eatest of it thou shalt surely die”. But from God’s response it can be understood that there was no instantaneous death lurking in the case of the Tree of Knowledge, because the creator then says (3:22) “Behold, the Adam is become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and noe, what if he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eating, live for ever” that if the man would only eat later of the Tree of Life he would not die, from which we may surmise that the man was due to die from his inception, regardless. Moreover, Adam who transgressed and was expelled from the Garden lived long (nine hundred and thirty years) and begot many offspring. Thus the real, and automatic, punishment of any man who eats of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was the knowledge of death, the fear of death. The very awareness of death changed his conception of time and all his being.
The names of the two sons of Adam testify to this conception. With the one there is an attempt to contend with this dire verdict and to increase possessions – Qinyan – from thence the name Qayin, with the other, Abel – Hevel, meaning also “vanity” – there is resignation in the manner of Ecclesiastes: “Havel havalim ha’Kol Hevel” (“vanity of vanities, all is vanity).
Among the legends of the Hassidim there is a story of “The Holy Brothers” Rabbi Elimelekh and Rabbi Zusiah, where Rabbi Elimelekh asked his brother: “My holy brother, please tell me, we have learned that all the souls of humankind were present with the first Adam, therefore you must have been there with him at the Garden of Eden. So when he ate of the forbidden fruit, why did you not restrain him from this?” and Rabbi Zusia answered: “Of course I have been there, and I am the one who forced his hand to take the forbidden fruit and eat of it”. For the puzzlement of his brother he explained: “If Adam would not have listened to the voice of the serpent, he would have been tormented all his life – his eternal life – that maybe he made a mistake, and would always be tormented in doubts, perhaps the serpent spoke the truth? So I wanted him to experience and to know for fact that the serpent had lied”.
This story is in the spirit to the Hassidic Midrash of the Alte Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the RaShaZ, the founder of the ?aBaD movement, in his book Torah Or), there is a measure of compassion in the new edict that was issued on Adam “and now what if he puts forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eating, live foe ever”, rather than a punishment. For initially, it was not prohibited to eat from the Tree of Life. But after they became knowers of “Good and Evil”, and good and evil became mixed within them, they would most likely suffer for the rest of their life. The angels, like God Himself, are not influenced by the evil, but are capable of observing all the worlds with a detached, objective, quasi “scientific” observation. Whereas man ends up fighting with evil for the duration of one’s life, and it is better for him that this struggle will be relatively short, for a few decades, rather than endure for millennia.
Ever since the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the Trees of Life and of Knowledge must balance each other, and the struggle is now at its fiercest. Let us then examine the assumption we brought at the introduction chapter, according to which we are living now at the sixth millennium, namely at the “Sixth Day of Creation” – the epoch of the creation of Adam.
A close examination shows that this Sixth Day started about 1240 C.E. It is quite interesting that these are the years in which there developed the Kabbalah in general and the Book of the Zohar in particular, and there became known the Tree of the Sephirot, as the pattern of the Trees of Life and of Knowledge.
A thousand years earlier there was developed the symbol of the Cross, the symbol of the separation between body and spirit, between earth and heaven and which denies the concept of the Tree of Life, through the belief in the doctrine of “The Original Sin” – the “sin of the First Adam” – from which there is no restitution. The concept of the “Original Sin” is a late invention of the founder of Christianity, St. Paul, (with preludes at the Dead Sea sect) – an invention that gave the church an enormous power over its believers, by explaining to them that they are all sinners from their human nature and would certainly perish in hell unless they obey all its dictates. Since then there took root in humankind the opinion that the moral of the entire Bible, and especially of the story of the Garden of Eden, is to tell about “The Original Sin”.
But in fact in the entire original Hebrew Bible there is no single divine teacher or prophet (who dwell at length upon the iniquities of the people) who saw in the story of the Tree of Knowledge any special “sin” that is worth mentioning. Moreover, the whole pattern of the Torah, as we have shown and will do so in length in the sequel, is of ongoing restitution and not of an unredeemable original sin, and the exegesis of the Church fathers is an arbitrary interpretation based on a small section which goes against the entire context of the Torah. Regarding the terrible sufferings that this doctrine inflicted upon many millions of human beings, we may well see in the formation of this doctrine (of the original sin) the very original sin of Christianity.
The Qabbalah – and especially the Zohar – believe that the whole vocation of man is in the ability to change and mend. It was not for nothing that the Zohar called the Cross “The Tree of Death”, as an antithesis to the elaborate Tree of Life it proposed.
For this comparison between the two religious conceptions I would like to add here also the Moslem conception, whose impression appears in the decorations of the Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and especially upon the inner side of the Dome. These decorations include many vegetal motifs, and the pillars between the many ornamental gates inside the edifice resemble a palm (Tmarim ?????) garden of a desert oasis as well as the “Timurim” (???????) of the Jerusalem Temple. The architecture of the Dome of the Rock can be seen as an attempt to depict the Garden of Eden. The pattern within the ceiling of the Dome can be seen as a visual representation of the Tree of Life and a visual exegesis upon the Sefer Ye?irah, within the canons of the non-figurative Islamic art. In this pattern there are 32 special figures, decorated with vegetal motifs, that surround the center which is related to the One God and which form – together with the spaces between them – 160 “leaves” or “fruits” (160 is the Gematria value of ?elem – the Image by which Adam was formed – as well as of ?? – “Tree”). Each couple of such figures – along with the spaces between them, form one Qabbalistic tree, and the entire ensemble is the pattern (Zelem & Dmut) of a tree, which is made of many trees, and which is difficult to perceive as such, because we are, in a sense, inside it, as components of it.
The Encounter with the Tree of Knowledge in our Time.
Since the middle of the sixth millennium (and in the Common Era, since the 18th century), science – namely “scientia” – namely Knowledge – underwent a tremendous development. Human knowledge started admittedly to accumulate in former millennia. We know about Chinese wisdom of Greek philosophy. But the tools, the technologies, have gathered momentum only in recent times. Two main thrusts pushed this development: that of achieving a military advantage, and that of achieving economic advantage. The welfare of the whole world as a living system – namely the Tree of Life – has never been the main concern of humankind.
But the amazing outcomes of the technological race will force us to return and to taste of the tree of life. The human population of the earth has grown five-fold in the last hundred years and with global industrialization, the amplifying pollution could bring about a global ecological catastrophe. If we desire only the “fruit” of the Tree of Knowledge – the technological exploitation of science – and disregard its whole structure, the mutual connections among its levels and branches, and maintain them as separate scientific branches and disjoint disciplines; if we will not wise up to use the bio-ecological knowledge about the importance of the mutual relationships among the various natural factors, if we will not bring the technological development into a sustainable stead-state, the Tree of Knowledge will overwhelm us, an ecological disaster will happen, and we shall bring on us the curse of the Tree of Knowledge by our own hands: “cursed is the ground (Adamah – the Living Earth and female for of Adam) for thy sake” (3:17).
It seems that there cannot be a more important message for our times – we live now at the end of the sixth millennium and just before the encounter with the Tree of Knowledge and of a global ecological catastrophe. In order to overcome the environmental catastrophe it is necessary that all human beings upon the earth will decide and act together, and from this issues the transformation of all humankind to an individual – into Adam.