Lessons from Gan Eden
by Shmuel ben Shlomi
Looking back all those millennia ago to the beginnings of humanity and our first parents Adam and Chavah (Eve) there are many lessons for us in our age of advanced sciences, high technology, great philosophy and the myriad of religions all proclaiming what they consider is truth. With that in mind one wonders why it is so difficult, and has always been so, since our first parent’s expulsion from “paradise, to distinguish the real truth from falsehood.
When Adam and Chavah were created and placed in Gan Eden we are told that they had at their disposal the fruit of every tree in the garden, including the Tree of Life. In fact, HaShem only had one negative commandment for them at the time, “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; but as for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (bad), you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
Things were moving along quite smoothly but quietly within the thoughts of both Adam and Chavah was this growing intense curiosity over this one negative commandment from HaShem. What was it about this particular tree that would compel Him to admonish them about it? What did this tree have that all the others, including the Tree of Life, didn’t have? The more they thought about it the more intense their desire to know.
The serpent (not Satan or some demon), the shrewdest of all the wild beast and for reasons understood only by HaShem and the reptilian, saw an opportunity as he witnessed them, especially Chavah, stopping by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil almost daily, intently gazing at it in wonderment. On one such occasion he said to her: “Did Adonai really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden.” (Genesis 3:1) The question from the serpent, by the way it was worded was trying to usurp the authority of HaShem over His creation, and was also done so that the serpent could measure the level of understanding Chavah had of the command of Adonai concerning this particular tree. Chavah revealed her ignorance of the actual command since it had not been delivered directly to her from HaShem but was passed on to her from her husband Adam who had obviously embellished. She replied to the reptilian creature, “We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden. It is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that Adonai said: ‘You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die.’” (Genesis 3:2-3) The serpent found his way in. If he could just get her to simply touch the fruit first and show by it that she would not die then he could claim that eating it would not kill her. He told her as much and added “but Adonai 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.” (Genesis 3:5)
Of course we all know what happened next. Since Chavah didn’t drop dead on the spot after touching the fruit she took a nice big bite out of it. Then she found her husband, told him what she did and as he could see she was still very much alive, he also ate of the fruit. This became the first act of disbelief of the words and commandments of HaShem in recorded history, and all future acts of disbelief from humanity sprang from this one.
While neither of them physically died instantly upon eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; what did die? We only assume that they would have lived forever in flesh bodies before this incident but it isn’t really spelled out specifically in the text that would have been the case. Perhaps they would have lived very long lives (which they did anyway) and eventually had died peacefully until the time of resurrection. However, HaShem’s word is always true so what did die instantly the moment they ate of the “forbidden” fruit?
Before this first transgression of HaShem’s only negative law to them Adam and Chavah did not have any knowledge showing the difference between good and evil. They had no need for such knowledge because all was good and evil was not present. What they did have is a firm recognition and ability to comprehend truth from falsehood. They could not be fooled into believing a lie. This makes Chavah’s and Adam’s transgression all that much more devastating because neither was fooled by the serpent for they were quite easily able to know the falsity of the the reptile’s statement concerning the fruit. They literally chose of their own accord to disobey the command knowing full well what HaShem had told them about the tree was the truth while the serpent was lying to them. Then they perpetuated the situation by both of them lying to HaShem. Adam passed the buck on to his wife and Chavah lied by stating she had been beguiled, when in actuality both knew they were responsible for their own actions.
So then, what did our first parents lose as a result of this willful disobedience and what did they gain? They lost the innate ability to discern truth from falsehood. From that time on they and their descendants (all humankind), can be easily deceived (beguiled) by a smooth lie told. They gained nothing except a terrible experience and a lesson in humility. However, they did acquire something that was lacking in them before this because it wasn’t needed — they acquired a conscious — that inner voice that tells them when something is good or evil. They could no longer clearly distinguish a lie from a truth — that would require a wisdom that comes only as a gift from HaShem — but, they could now, like divine beings know good and evil.
I have little doubt that once Adam and Chavah were expelled from Gan Eden out into the harsh realities of a life of knowing good and evil they had wished for those innocent days of seeing clearly truth from lie and had yearned that they had not chosen the tree of the knowledge of good and evil over the Tree of Life.
How fortunate are we today. While we still suffer from having the knowledge of good and evil in our lives, today, unlike our founding parents, have at our disposal the Tree of Life, the Torah of Adonai from which He gives the wisdom to know beyond good and evil with the ability to see the truth from the charade.
כִּי־חַיִּים הֵם לְמֹצְאֵיהֶם וּלְכָל־בְּשָׂרוֹ מַרְפֵּא׃
They (words of Torah) are life to him who finds them, Healing for his whole body. (Proverbs 4:22)
עֵץ־חַיִּ֣ים הִ֭יא לַמַּחֲזִיקִ֣ים בָּ֑הּ וְֽתֹמְכֶ֥יהָ מְאֻשָּֽׁר׃
“She (Wisdom of Torah) is a tree of life to those who grasp her.”