And the Lord God made every tree grow out of the soil, delightful to the sight and good for good, and the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden and also the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" (Bereshis 2:9)
"And the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was tempting to the sight and appealing to the understanding, she took of its fruit and did eat, and gave also to her husband with her and he did eat." (Bereshis 3:6)
Among the many mysteries of the story of Creation are the two trees sitting in the midst of Gan Eden. Of the Tree of Life only one thing is known: eat of its fruit and you live forever. However, the verse above reveals a few more details of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and it is that which I wish to focus on.
The Tree of Life was really the only negative commandment that Adam and Chavah were given, and in context, it doesn't seem like it can have been that hard. Here they werem, literally in paradise. Other than this Tree, they were free to eat any of the fruit or vegetable matter they chose. How could there have been a lust for the one thing?
What's more, if they weren't supposed to touch the Tree, why did God stick it in the middle of Gan Eden in the first place? Isn't that a little unfair?
Rav S.R. Hirsch, in his commentary on Chumash, brings a fascinating thought to bear on this subject. He notes that, from the beginning, Adam and Chavah had to have free will. That was what differentiated them from the rest of the living creatures in Creation. Therefore, the thought that before they ate from the Tree they were two innocents who didn't know how to do wrong, and that after they ate from it they learned what evil and wrongdoing were is wrong.
But if that's the case, a further question poses itself: What did the Tree do to them, because the Chumash tells us that before they ate from its fruit they were naked and weren't ashamed but that immediately after they ate they suddenly were and have to cover themselves up with leaves.
The answer Rav Hirsch gives is truly fascinating:
"Man was not set in the paradise on the Earth to satisfy his sensual nature on the delights and foot which it proffered; it was to the service of God and His world that he was called there. This service was his mission and for this service the delights of the paradisical fruits were permitted tohim... Man is there for God and the world, and is joyfully to sacrifice his personal nature to this higher calling. So that it is not out of his personal nature, but out of its relation to this higher calling of his than Man has to find out what is good and what is bad for him. For that purpose, the tree stood for him in all its glory, appealing to all his senses, his whole personal nature must say to him 'this is good', and God's Word had forbidden the eating of it as 'bad'. That was to be to him the model, the pattern and the rule for all good and bad for mankind, that was for him the tree of the knowledge of good and bad."
This is a test that we all go through regularily in our lives. The Tree of Knowledge of God and Evil stands before each of us repeatedly. Whenever we are tempted by something we know is forbidden by the Torah and try to justify it by saying something along the lines of "God wants me to be happy, this would make me happy, therefore it must be permitted", we are in danger of succumbing to eating the fruit of the Tree ourselves. Whenever we find there is something we're not allowed to do by halachah and we say "Oh those rabbis" or "Oh, the rules are outdated", we eat from the Tree.
And this, Rav Hirsch, goes on to explain, is why Adam and Chavah were suddenly ashamed of being naked after they ate the fruit. Before they did, they were pure in both mind and body. A pure mind does not look upon the covered areas of the opposite sex's body and think lustful thoughts because it knows such thoughts are wrong. But the impure mind does and the feeling they had when they first realize they were thinking improperly when they looked at each other brought out the feeling of shame. Sin is what brings shame to man because, deep inside, he knows he can be purer before his Maker but has failed to be.
At this time of year, with the holiday season (finally) behind us, let us all endeavour to continue to live our lives with the energy and spirit that got us through the past three weeks and let that carry us on until next Rosh HaShanah.