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December 2, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Oct. 29, 2004 / 14 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Serpents of desire: Good and evil in the Garden of Eden — A Tale of Two Trees

By Rabbi David Fohrman


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The third installment of a weekly series examining themes in the Book of Genesis, with the goal of revealing progressively deeper layers of meaning in what too many dismiss as myth. Links to the previous lessons can be found at the end of the article.



http://www.jewishworldreview.com | In past weeks, we've concentrated on the mysterious "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil". But there was more than one special tree in the garden. For G-d also created a second, mysterious tree in Paradise — the Tree of Life:


G-d made grow out of the ground every tree pleasant to look at and good to eat, [including] the Tree of Life in the middle of the garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis, 2:9).


Throughout the Eden story, the Tree of Life remains tantalizingly in the background. It is created, but then virtually disappears from the discussion. What role does this second tree play in the story, and how are we to understand its meaning?


Although the Tree of Life may be out of sight, it is not out of mind. Towards the end of the story, after Adam and Eve have eaten the forbidden fruit, we once again hear of the mysterious Tree of Life:


G-d said, 'Man has now become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now he must be prevented from putting forth his hand and also taking from the Tree of Life, He [can] eat it and live forever!' (3:22).


We have here G-d's reason for exiling Adam and Eve from Eden. They are sent away to ensure that they will never eat from the Tree of Life. But there's something quite odd about this. For in reading the story, we never find that Adam was told to stay away from the Tree of Life in the first place. If G-d thought it was such an awful idea for mankind to eat from the Tree of Life, why did He not command them to avoid it, as He did concerning the other special tree, the Tree of Knowledge?


Just to make matters a little worse, let's remember exactly where the Tree of Life was located:


...the Tree of Life in the middle of the garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis, 2:9).


Let's add it all up. The Tree of Life was in the center of the garden, and Adam and Eve were never told to avoid its fruit. Indeed, it is unclear whether they even knew that it was a special tree. Well, what is likely to eventually happen?


Clearly, it's only a matter of time before someone eats from its fruit.


So the plot thickens. Evidently, G-d didn't mind Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Life. He apparently even desired that they eventually eat from it. But all that was before eating from the Tree of Knowledge. After eating from the Tree of Knowledge, somehow, everything changes: Now, the Tree of Life becomes off-limits. Every effort must be taken to ensure that mankind never eats from it.


Why? What accounts for this curious relationship between the trees? Why is the Tree of Life fine to eat from before partaking from the Tree of Knowledge, but not after?


That's one point we'll want to get back to. But we're not done yet exploring the mysterious relationship between these two trees. Indeed, we are just beginning.

DO THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE AND THE TREE OF LIFE CONTRADICT EACH OTHER?
Try this question on for size: What were Adam and Eve like before eating from either tree, the Tree of Knowledge of the Tree of Life? Were they mortal, or immortal?


Let's see what each tree has to say about this. We'll start with the Tree of Knowledge.


We know that Adam was warned not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, because "on the day that you eat from it, you will surely die" (Genesis, 2:17). As the classic commentator Nachmanides suggests, the verse can't mean that the fruit immediately kills you, for in fact, Adam and Eve went on to live for a long time after eating the forbidden fruit. Rather, the verse seems to mean "on the day that you eat from the fruit you will become mortal". I.e. you will immediately become transformed into beings that eventually die. This, apparently, is the meaning of G-d's warning.


So the Tree of Knowledge seems to answer the question we posed earlier. It proves that Adam and Eve were originally immortal. Right?


Wrong. Because now its time to look at what the Tree of Life has to say about the question.



THE RABBI RESPONDS
Well, folks, you've outdone yourselves! We received more than 100 extremely perceptive and downright profound letters on last week's class. The rabbi has answered a number of them via Real Audio. Click HERE to listen.

Again, this series was designed to be interactive, we encourage you to challenge the rabbi. Don't feel shy about doing so! Use the link in the bio at the bottom of this article to e-mail him.


The Torah tells us that G-d banished Adam and Eve from Eden "lest they eat from the Tree of Life and live forever". Well, the verse seems pretty clear about it: The fruit of the Tree of Life confers immortality — once you eat it, you will never die. So if the Tree of Life makes you immortal — well, that seems to mean you were mortal beforehand.


But wait a minute. I thought we said just a minute ago that Adam and Eve started out being immortal.


Something fishy is going on with these trees. The Tree of Knowledge seems to tell us that man would originally have lived forever. But the Tree of Life seems to tell us that he was originally a being that would die. At face value, the two trees seem to contradict themselves.


But only at face value. There's a way out of the contradiction. A surprising alternative exists about the original nature of Adam and Eve which would resolve the problem. Stop reading for a second, think about it, and see if you can find the solution. (On the other hand, if you'd like to cheat, well, I can't stop you — feel free to plow right along!)

THE GARDEN OF EDEN AND THE HEISENBERG UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE
Here's what I would suggest: Both trees are right. Mankind, before eating from either tree, was neither mortal nor immortal. If he ate from the Tree of Life, he would become immortal; if he ate from the Tree of Knowledge, he would become a being that dies. As for right now, though — before eating from either tree, he was in the "twilight zone". He was perched precariously between mortality and immortality, but as of yet, his nature was undetermined.


If such an "undetermined state" seems strange to you, don't fret. Just repair to the library and pick up any book on quantum physics. According to this branch of science, it is a pretty standard feature of reality for things to be undetermined. At any one moment, a given electron may be here or it may be there, Heisenberg famously proclaimed, but right now it is neither here nor there. Its position becomes "determined" only once an observer steps in and looks at it. Well, if electrons can remain undetermined — maybe people can as well.


Now, if we're right about all of this — that Eden was a place where man was precariously placed between life and death, depending on his choice — well then, it would seem that Eden eerily foreshadows another great moment of Jewish history. It reminds us of another, later time when we were neither here nor there, and the Almighty offered us a similar choice between "life" and "death":


See! Today I have set before you [a free choice] between life and good [on one side], and death and evil [on the other]... Now therefore, choose Life! (Deuteronomy 30:14,19).


When Moses uttered these words, the people stood in the wasteland of a desert, not yet possessing either the "life" or the "death" that lay before them. Once again, we were asked to choose. In this case, "life" was identified as embracing the Torah and its principles, while "death" meant rejecting them.


Strange. The choice to embrace the Torah is painted with the same brush as the choice to embrace the Tree of Life. It might be just a coincidence; a convenient choice of metaphors. But it might also signify something deeper.

THE ANGELS WITH THE FLAMING SWORD
Consider this for a moment:


The angels holding a flaming sword who G-d sets up to "guard the way [back to] the Tree of Life" (Genesis, 3:24) are of a very particular kind. They are cherubs. (For those of you who enjoy Renaissance art, that's the kind of angel that Rubens always used to like to paint — although I don't know why he thought he knew what they looked like). Now, as it happens, a Cherub is a relatively rare kind of angel. Throughout the entire Five Books of Moses, we find them in only two places. Besides their appearance here, guarding the Tree of Life, they are mentioned only once more. Paced atop the Holy Ark in the Tabernacle, are two cherubs, fashioned out of gold:


Make two golden cherubs, hammering them out from the two ends [of the ark]... The cherubs shall spread their wings upward so that their wings shield the [ark's] cover... (Exodus 25:18; 25:20).


Now go one step further. What treasure was this second pair of cherubs guarding — these only other cherubs in the entire Five Books of Moses?


They were guarding the Ten Commandments that were inside the ark. They were guarding the Torah.


For those of you who make it to synagogue on the Sabbath, you should be familiar with the words I am thinking of right now. You say them every week, as the Torah is raised aloft from the bimah so that all can see:


It is a tree of life to all who grab hold of it... (Proverbs 3:18).
Fascinating. The only other time we meet cherubs in the entire Bible, they are once again guarding a "Tree of Life". Only this time, they are not keeping us away from the Tree of Life; they are ushering us towards it, shielding both us and the Torah beneath their protective wings.


What are we to make of all this? Why is Eden's choice between life and death echoed once more as a choice between the embrace of Torah or its rejection? Why are the cherubs who keep us away from the original Tree of Life trying to give us access to a second such tree? What does it even mean to call the Torah "a Tree of Life" — what is the essential similarity between the two?


We have a long way to go, but we are starting to get somewhere in developing our picture of the two mysterious trees in Eden. When we come back next week, we will try and lay out some other puzzle pieces in the grand saga of Adam and Eve in Eden. And then, once the jigsaw pieces are all out on the floor, we'll begin, bit by bit, to try and discern the picture they seem to reveal.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes inspirational articles. Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Rabbi David Fohrman directs the Hoffberger Foundation for Torah Studies, and is an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches Biblical Themes. He has also authored several volumes of the ArtScroll Talmud.

No need to be shy! To comment or ask a question, please click here.

Want to cheat and hear the whole series? The "Serpents of Desire" columns are based on a series of audio tapes by Rabbi Fohrman. Get your set now at http://www.jewishexplorations.com, or by calling 410-764-7488.


PREVIOUSLY:

Adam, Eve, and the Elephant in the Room

Serpents of desire: Good and evil in the Garden of Eden





© 2004, Rabbi David Fohrman