At the heart of the Bible’s first story, humanity in the Garden of Eden, two trees play a central role, the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life
And out of the ground the Eternal God (YHWH Elohim) made grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food. The Tree of Life (Eitz ha-Chayim עץ החים) was also in the midst of the garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. . . And the Eternal God commanded the human (Adam), saying: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the Tree of Knowledge (Eitz ha-Da’at עץ הדעת) of good and evil, you shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
Now the snake was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Eternal God had made. And he said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?’” And the woman said to the snake, “Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat, but of the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, or you die.’”
The snake said to the woman, “You shall not surely die, for God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be god-like, knowing good and evil.’”
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she gave also to her man with her, and he ate. And both their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked*, and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves loincloths.
*Note: The Hebrew word for naked,erumim עֵֽירֻמִּ֖ם is the plural of same word used to describe the snake’s cunning or deviousness, arum: עָר֔וּם
In short order, God confronts Adam and Eve about their transgression. They immediately “pass the buck.” Adam blames “that woman you gave me,” and Eve points to the snake. Everyone gets punished: the snake to slither on the ground (according to the Midrash it walked upright prior to this incident), the woman by pain in childbirth and subservience to the man, and the man by hard toil to cultivate food until life ends and he returns to the earth. God worries that the human beings, who have learned to disobey, will next reach out to eat from the Tree of Life, becoming immortal, so he exiles them from the Garden of Eden with its Tree of Life.
Consider and Comment: And ever since, commentators have been arguing about what this story meant! (Of course, most modern Jews don’t take this story literally, but see it as a creation myth that our ancestors shared to explain the human condition.) Do Eve and Adam discover free will and expand human knowledge (and why should that be bad?). Did they initiate sin, mire the world in duality and judgement, or awaken to their own sexuality? Was eating the fruit sinful, rebellious, liberating, or just an inevitable part of “growing up”? In Judaism, this story describes the human condition but was not considered a source of “original sin,” and every person is viewed as starting with a clean slate. Please share your own interpretations in the comments section.
Featured image: Tree in Pahoa, Hawaii, Howie Morningstar