DovBear is playing the What If? Game, which reminded me of a question/davr torah I’ve wanted to post.When God created the Garden of Eden, according to the Torah, in it he created all sorts of trees, and two very specific trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (I’ve pointed this out before: “it’s not Eitz HaDa’at, it’s Eitz HaDa’at Tov Vara“). The tree of life, we are told, grants it’s eater everlasting life. We are also told that God warned Adam that if he ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that he would “surely die” the very day he ate from the tree. (Genesis 2:17) We also know that this is not true. Adam does eat from said tree, and does not die. Was God lying? Was he wrong? Of course, these two options are not possible. God is omniscient and infallible. Certainly, the threat of death must have meant something else. The answer to that question lies in our examination of another, much more difficult question to ponder:
What would have been if Adam had first eaten from the Tree of Life and only then eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?
My short answer? The achievement of perfection in man, and the fulfilment of the potential and purpose for which man was put on this earth.
Wow, that’s a lofty short answer, I think I’ll elaborate. God knows when he creates that tree what it will do to man when he eats it: “And the LORD God said: ‘Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil;” (3:22) Nevertheless, God makes the tree, and imbues it with this power. That man should become God-like is part of the ultimate plan.
At this point you’ll ask me, “If this is what God wanted, why make eating from the Tree a punishable sin? Why couldn’t Adam eat from the Tree of Life afterward (and he certainly couldn’t; he was banished from Eden, and the tree guarded – ” and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” (3:22))?
The answer to that is central to the point: God specifically wanted Adam to eat from the two Trees in a specific order: first the Tree of Life then The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is why God threatens Adam with death as the punishment. The only punishment that Adam had already been informed of the cure for was Death. If God had threatened Adam with the true punishment (expulsion from Eden, a difficult life, modern women) Adam couldn’t relate. But God threatened Death, even though he had no intention of killing him. Adam’s thought process should have been “wait, Death? God just told me about a way around Death: the Tree of Life. EVE! I’m going out for a bit.” (“What? Where are you going? With who? What time are you coming back? Should I keep dinner warm for you?”) But Adam missed this opportunity. God’s threat to Adam was a clue to the way God wanted him to go. God wanted him to gain everlasting life first, then gain God-like knowledge.
Why? Why that order? This is where to story gets applicable to us. (Seeing as how I have no problem understanding the creation story as a metaphor, this particular lesson is presented to us in metaphor as well).
The Tree of Life represents Torah. Eitz Chayim hee la’machzikim bah. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil represents all other knowledge: science, art, culture, history; all secular knowledge. What is God’s path to perfection? First gain “life” ie Torah knowledge, then gain knowledge. Only after we’ve learned the Torah can we properly prepared to learn the secrets of the world, ie morality (Good and Evil) and science. Morality has no meaning without Torah. If we first strive to gain secular knowledge (like Adam) we’re in for a world of pain and we will essentially prevent ourselves from proper attainment of Torah knowledge (because it will become guarded).