In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Bereishit, which is the first Parsha of the Torah, we learn that Adam, the first human, is commanded not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.
And the Lord God commanded man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat. But of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it, for on the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die.Bereishit 2:17
Nevertheless, Adam and his wife Chava chose to eat from the Tree of Knowledge:
The woman saw that…the tree was desirable to make one wise; so she took of its fruit, and she ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.Bereishit 3:6
Hashem then speaks, presumably to the angels:
Now the Lord God said, ‘Behold, man has become like one of us, to know good and evil.Bereishit 3:22
The consequence of all this? Adam and Chava were driven out of paradise, the Garden of Eden.
Now, I have a question. Was it really worth it? Did we need wisdom so badly that we were willing to get kicked out of the Garden of Eden? Imagine for a second if we were all trotting along in the Garden of Eden to this day. There would be no labor (pregnancy) pain, we wouldn’t have to work for a living, we would have the most direct connection with Hashem that one could have. Come along two meshuggeners and send us into the crazy world we face today. For what, wisdom? It seems a little nuts. Hashem literally gave them one prohibition: don’t eat from this tree. Was it that difficult? I guess so.
However, believe it or not, there is a method to the madness. The Rambam pointed to the following statement: “Behold, man has become like one of us, to know good and evil.” What does it mean to know good and evil? You see, Adam and Chava lived in a perfect world, void of subjectivity. There was emet (truth) and sheker (falsehood). There was right and there was wrong. Good and evil, however, are subjective terms. Something being good depends on how we perceive it, how we feel about it. The same about evil. They are not intrinsically objective. I can eat a chocolate chip cookie and feel good about it; however, this doesn’t mean it’s good for me. A child may be grounded by their parents for acting mischievous and think their parents are evil dictators, yet the child needed the discipline and therefore it was good.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Chava knew truth, and there was no subjectivity attached to it. Yet when they ate from the tree, they became wise. They began to process the world through their subjective lens rather than Hashem’s emet (truth).
Now, the question stands. Why was this so bad? Well, first and foremost, because Hashem said so. If Hashem said that something is true, no one can argue; He is the source of Truth. However, why in the world did Hashem put that tree there in the first place? The Garden of Eden was a perfect place, yet there was one obstacle in the way which gave Adam and Chava the potential to ruin their paradise: The Tree of Knowledge. Seems almost intentional, doesn’t it? You see, our world changed once Adam and Chava took a bite of that apple. They began to process the world around them through their emotions, their intellect, etc. This gives sheker (falsehood) the ability to hide and disguise itself as good, for our intellect can ultimately justify anything that our emotions want. This created a distance between us and Hashem, so much so that we have the potential to view ourselves as a deity, G-D forbid. We have the potential to tell ourselves, “I am the one who decides what is right or wrong”, “No one can tell me how and what to do”, “My feelings are the most consideration”, etc.
But there might be something slightly productive in that. When one sees Hashem’s emet (truth) so clearly, they have no true free will. If one has no free will they might as well be a robot. Can you have a true relationship with a robot? No. One cannot really love a robot. In order for a true relationship to take place, the other being must have his or her own mind, emotions, thoughts, and desires. Hashem wants us to follow His will as loyal subjects, but He also wants us to actively choose to do so, He wants us to yearn to do so, He wants us to struggle and yet still try to do so. For a king to be crowned, His subjects must crown him. Hashem wants us to crown Him king, He wants us to acknowledge His Kingship over us; that can only be done by choice.
So, what was the purpose of all of this Garden of Eden craziness? If Hashem wanted a true relationship with us, why didn’t He just conceal Himself in the first place the way it is now? Perhaps we can look at it this way: The Garden of Eden was a glimpse into the future. When one jumps on a trampoline, they must first go low in order to go even higher than where they first started. The Garden of Eden was a high. Adam and Chava knew Hashem’s emet (truth) clear as day. Yet, Adam and Chava, and by that extent, all of humanity, had to descend into a world filled with the potential for subjectivity. This is not to say that Adam and Chava should have eaten from the tree; they should not have, plain and simple, but Hashem knew what He was doing. Hashem’s emet never left. It only became harder to see. In the mess of this imperfect world, He gave us His perfect, unadulterated truth spelled out in the Torah. With this, we have the potential to break through the falsehood of this world. It isn’t simple, and it doesn’t always seem straightforward to us, but the blueprint in the Torah is there for our use.
With the coming of Mashiach, we will ascend to greater heights than where we started in the Garden of Eden, like a trampoline jump. Once again, we will live in a world where Hashem’s presence will be clear as day for us, even clearer. However, it will be even sweeter than the Garden of Eden; we will have worked to forge a true bond with Hashem. Our collective conscience as humanity yearns for perfection; perhaps it is a primordial memory of the days of the Garden of Eden. Except this time, when we finally get to experience Hashem in an unconcealed manner, it will not be a robotic experience, but a true relationship informed with deep appreciation for Hashem beyond description.