Adrian A. Durlester

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B'reishit  5770

One G"d, b ut Two Trees?


וַיַּצְמַח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, כָּל-עֵץ נֶחְמָד לְמַרְאֶה, וְטוֹב לְמַאֲכָל--וְעֵץ הַחַיִּים, בְּתוֹךְ הַגָּן, וְעֵץ, הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע.

And from the ground the L"rd G"d caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad.

Two trees. Why? Are you sure?

Owing perhaps to the superficiality of people's beliefs, and/or the superficiality of their religious education, many people don't even seem to recall that there were indeed two trees in Gan Eden.

On the other hand, I'm beginning to wonder if they're on to something. were there really two special trees? Far be it for me to disagree with centuries of scholars and their translations. Also,the Masoretes, which punctuated the verses using tropes, made some clear decisions about the meaning of this verse. Of course, they, too, had an agenda.

So, accepting that this is an idea not necessarily supported by Hebrew text scholars, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that it is possible to read the text such that there was only one such special tree. It was the Tree of Life, and also the Tree of the knowledge of good an evil (or the knowledge of all things, if you accept "tov v'ra" as a merism.) After all, having two trees has a sort of gnostic ring to it. One G"d, one "special" tree, right?

Another place I might disagree with the linguists is in using "the tree" because that "the" is not implicit in the Hebrew. (It's sort of like the "B'reishet vs. Bareishit argument - in a beginning vs. in the beginning.) The text could have said "va-eitz," the tree, but it doesn't. Then again, it not eitz hayim, tree of life, but rather eitz hahayim, tree of the life. These subtle differences open up paths for new understandings of the text.

Early Jewish understandings of the two trees are that the Tree of Life could have given Adam and Chava a chance for a pure connection with the Divine, had they resisted the temptation to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Their "choice" (unless you really do want to pin the blame on the serpent) was a choice that gave them "choice," i,e, free will. Having free will imposes an entirely different understanding of the world, with the more subtle nuances of good and evil, as opposed to the (theoretically purer) concepts of truth and falsehood (true and false being, at least in some way, more objective. Once again, not sure I agree with that.)

The Christian world took this concept further, embodying (pun intended) the Tree of Life as representing Christ, representing perfect faith, and imbuing the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil with symbolism as the point of original sin (does that thus imply that knowledge is sinful? Is that perhaps part of the reason for the somewhat anti-Scientific bent one often finds in fundamentalist religious expressions?)

What is life without knowledge? More specifically, what is life without the knowledge of good and evil? Bliss is one answer. It's an answer I don't buy. It's connected with my belief that any G"d that created a perfect universe would quickly become bored with it. It's that random chance, the possibilities, that make it interesting.

If our task here on earth is to bring us all to a state where we will all live in a perfected state-if that is the true messianic idea-then I'm not so sure I want to row in the same direction. I'd we 'learn to better master and utilize our internal inclinations for good (yetzer tov) and inclinations for evil (yetzer hara.) As our sages have taught us, we need that balance, that tension (there's that tension thing again, it's always there iun Judaism) to make the world go ‘round. Our "evil" inclinations the rabbis teach, are related to our physical selves - the need for shelter, food, clothing, things. It is what drives us to be wage earners, business people, entrepreneurs. Our good inclinations are the spiritual and intellectual side, (I'm not sure I entirely agree with this interpretation. For example, I think the desire to provide for one's family can have its underpinnings from a completely altruistic place.

Lifve does require knowledge, does require choices, does require tensions. A knowledge of good and evil is part of life-in many ways it is life itself. After all, would we be able to "choose life" as the Torah so often exhorts us to do, if we did not have this understanding of what is good and what is evil, and that we must struggle to balance the two?

Further support for my thesis that there was perhaps only one tree comes from chapter three, and the serpent story.

וְהַנָּחָשׁ, הָיָה עָרוּם, מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים; וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה, אַף כִּי-אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּ וַתֹּאמֶר הָאִשָּׁה, אֶל-הַנָּחָשׁ: מִפְּרִי עֵץ-הַגָּן, נֹאכֵל

וּמִפְּרִי הָעֵץ, אֲשֶׁר בְּתוֹךְ-הַגָּן--אָמַר אֱלֹהִים לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִמֶּנּוּ, וְלֹא תִגְּעוּ בּוֹ: פֶּן-תְּמֻתוּן.

1 Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild beasts that the Lord G"d had made. He said to the woman, "Did G"d really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?" 2 The woman replied to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden. 3 It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that G"d said: 'You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die.'"

No reference there to two trees at all-just the one tree in the midst of the garden, whose fruit was forbidden to Adam and Chava.

וַיֹּאמֶר הַנָּחָשׁ, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה: לֹא-מוֹת, תְּמֻתוּן. כִּי, יֹדֵעַ אֱלֹהִים, כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְכֶם מִמֶּנּוּ, וְנִפְקְחוּ עֵינֵיכֶם; וִהְיִיתֶם, כֵּאלֹהִים, יֹדְעֵי, טוֹב וָרָע. וַתֵּרֶא הָאִשָּׁה כִּי טוֹב הָעֵץ לְמַאֲכָל וְכִי תַאֲוָה-הוּא לָעֵינַיִם, וְנֶחְמָד הָעֵץ לְהַשְׂכִּיל, וַתִּקַּח מִפִּרְיוֹ, וַתֹּאכַל; וַתִּתֵּן גַּם-לְאִישָׁהּ עִמָּהּ, וַיֹּאכַל. וַתִּפָּקַחְנָה, עֵינֵי שְׁנֵיהֶם, וַיֵּדְעוּ, כִּי עֵירֻמִּם הֵם; וַיִּתְפְּרוּ עֲלֵה תְאֵנָה, וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם חֲגֹרֹת.

4 And the serpent said to the woman, "You are not going to die, 5 but God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who know good and bad." 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked; and they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths.

Aha-so knowledge really is Divine. Is the serpent punished for being deceitful, or is the serpent punished because it was revealing the truth? Was the serpent a whistle-blower who suffered for its actions? Was the serpent being like Toto in the movie version of the Wizard of Oz, revealing the secret of the great and powerful?

Chava saw that the tree was desirable as a "source of wisdom." Obviously, Chava already had discernment. She instinctively knew that having wisdom, having knowledge were good things for human beings. Remember how G"d confounded the work on midgal Bavel(Tower of Babel) because G"d was perhaps afraid the people might actually build that tower up into the heavens and confront G"d. Might this be a similar situation? G"d hustled Adam and Chava out of Gan Eden and blamed it all on the serpent. Convenient, to say the least.

If eating from the Tree of Life would have been the best thing for Adam and Chava, why was it never attempted, or even suggested?G"d never told them not to eat of its fruit. This becomes a moot point if we accept that these "two" trees were one and the same. Source of life, source of wisdom, source of free will, source of choice, source of the knowledge of good and evil.

One tree, a tree of the life - of living - (i.e. the lives of human beings,) whose living requires knowledge of good and evil, coming from that same tree. One tree-One G"d. Makes sense to me.

וַיַּצְמַח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, כָּל-עֵץ נֶחְמָד לְמַרְאֶה, וְטוֹב לְמַאֲכָל--וְעֵץ הַחַיִּים, בְּתוֹךְ הַגָּן, וְעֵץ, הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע

And from the ground the L"rd G"d caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, and a tree, of the life, in the middle of the garden, and a tree, knowledge of good and bad.

Shabbat Shalom

©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester

All translation from the revised JPS Tanakh

Some Other Musings on this parasha

B'reishit 5769 - Do Fences Really Make Good Neighbors
B'reishit 5767-Many Beginnings
Bereshit 5766-Kol D'mei Akhikha
Bereshit 5765 (5760)-Failing to Understand-A Learning Experience
Bereshit 5764-Gd's Regrets
Bereshit 5762--The Essential Ingredient
Bereshit 5763--Striving to be Human

Bereshit 5761--Chava's Faith
Bereshit 5760-Failing to Understand

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