Eve in Garden of Eden

“FROM THE TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL YOU SHALL NOT EAT” (Genesis 2:17)…

”WHEN SHE SAW THAT…. THE TREE WAS DESIRABLE TO MAKE ONE WISE, SHE DID EAT” (3:6)

Eve should get the credit for humans becoming more like God, who knows good and bad.(Genesis 3:5) If it was up to Adam alone humans might have remained in a state of nature (Garden of Eden) for hundreds of thousands of years, like the species who lived before them. What makes us human is not tool use; lots of species use tools from chimps to crows. Even the use of fire goes back a few species before us. But only humans know, far in advance, that we will someday die: (Genesis 3:3) and only humans engage in ritual burials that prepare the departing soul for a future life. Only humans clothe themselves for reasons of modesty (Genesis 3:7). Only humans try to escape responsibility for their moral transgressions by blaming others (Genesis 3:12) If you would prefer to live the amoral life of the 600+ species and subspecies of primates; then blame Eve and your mother for telling you again and again to behave yourself (Eve means moral life giver i.e. 'supermom' see Genesis 3:20)

What kind of tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Most people think Eve ate from an apple tree; but why an apple tree?. They have no idea why or what that interpretation is supposed to mean. The Rabbis have lots of interpretations and all of them provide insights into the meaning of the Torah’s account of what it means to be “like God, knowing good and evil.” (3:5)

Rabbi Yose said it was a fig tree for as soon as they ate from it their eyes were open and they covered themselves with fig leaves. (3:7) This is the simplest explanation and has the most textual support but it doesn’t tell us why figs represent morality.

Rabbi Judah bar Ilai said they ate from a grapevine i.e. wine (alcohol) represents good and evil because wine can be used to sanctify the Sabbath or to make one an alcoholic.

Rabbi Meir said it was a wheat tree i.e. wheat was the first crop to be domesticated and thus represents the beginning of farming and then urbanization-civilization. Settled life is a great test of social morality because nomads can always split apart if they can’t live together but settled people must develop an ongoing legal system and abide by it.

Rabbi Abba said it was an etrog tree. An etrog, used for Sukkot-harvest festival, is called a goodly tree and it is good to thank God for the harvest. (Leviticus 23:39-42) Gratitude is a spiritual value transcending ethics involving attitude and feeling.

There are four ways of interpreting a sacred text and thus four kinds of Midrash. The first is the plain simple way. This may be the literal or common sense way of Rabbi Yose.

The second way is moral lesson pedagogic way of Rabbi Judah bar Ilai. He wants to teach people that many things like the grapevine are capable of being used for good or evil purposes. They are not intrinsically good or evil. We can choose how we use them, so we make them good or evil. (Sex, money and meat eating are other examples.)

The third way is the metaphor allegory way of Rabbi Meir who was reputed to know dozens of fox fables. Rabbi Meir thinks social morality is the primary sign of humanity. Farming brings about relatively dense settlements, property disputes, government and hierarchies. All of this calls for a just legal system. Thus wheat is a good metaphor.

The forth way is the mystical psychological way of Rabbi Abba. The etrog is part of the citrus family. Unlike an orange, a lemon or a grapefruit an etrog has no commercial value. Jews give it a high value (each one costs 100X what a lemon costs) for spiritual reasons. So too does morality have a value much greater than simple humanistic ethics.

Rabbi Maller says it was a Torah tree. Torah is called a tree of life (Proverbs 3:18) and most Jews who study Torah and do Mitsvot live longer than most Jews who do not. Since it is desirable to live a long life it is wise to live morally. What kind of Midrash is this?


                                          BESIDE ADAM’S RIB      By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Everyone knows that God created woman from Adam’s rib. Since humans have many ribs it seems to be no big loss. But the word mistranslated as rib in the Septuagint actually means side (for example Ezekiel 41:5,11 or Exodus 26:26,27,35). God took the right side, or the left side, from Adam and built woman (who is well built to this day). Built seems to be a strange term to use, but the Hebrew word for side appears mostly in the context of building. A wall with only one side cannot exist. A one sided building is not a building. Adam without one side was only half a man. Thus the Torah concludes, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Two sides become one whole. Two sides can stand together. Which side did God take? Probably the right side because Psalm 45:10 says, “A royal consort stands at your right side” This is why the bride stands at the grooms right side under the Hupah.

The woman God built is described as an “ezer kenegdo”- a helper corresponding to or equal to him i.e. a partner or a teammate. The right side does not differ greatly from the left side in bilateral creatures but psychologically perhaps she is the ‘inside’ and he is the ‘outside’. This would symbolize a greater difference. Good partners bring different abilities and talents together. Thus, as partners, one plus one is greater than two. Even a skeptic like Kohellet declares, “If two lie side by side, they keep each other warm; but how can one keep warm alone? ” (Ecclesiastes 4:11)

This is why God says, “ It is not good for a male to dwell alone. I will provide a partner for him.” (Genesis 2:18) 


                         A HELP MATE BY YOUR SIDE    RABBI ALLEN S MALLER

Adam was all alone. He didn't have parents and he didn't have children. He did not even have a brother or a sister to talk to. Adam was all alone. He didn't even have a friend to play games with. Adam was lonely, and he was unhappy.

God said to Adam, “It is not good for you to be alone. But now you are free to do whatever you want to do. When you are alone you don't have to share things with others. You don't have to stop talking and just listen when someone else needs to talk to you. You don't have to help when others need help. You don't have to care about how someone else feels. If you had a sister or a brother or a good friend, you would have to do all these things and many more.”

"I don't like being lonely” said Adam, “ I have lots of things for fun and games but I get bored with them after a while. I have several pet animals, but even having animals is not good enough for me. I still feel lonely and all alone. I need someone who is like me but at the same time is different. I need a partner. Someone to stand by my side and be my best friend. I need someone I can take care of, and who will care for me.”

"I know just what you need.” said God, “What you need is a help mate. A person with a different personality, who can grow together with you in love, and help you become a mensch. I am going to form her right out of your side, so she will stand side by side with you as your equal partner, your help mate. The two of you will be like one pair of hands. You know, one hand cannot wash itself. But two hands can always wash each other. You will have to be responsible for and to each other. You will no longer be independent. You will not be free to do whatever you want anymore. You will have to think about another person's feelings. You will have to think less about your self and more about another. I will give you a blessing to help you become a couple.”

God looked down and saw that Adam had fallen into a deep sleep. God hoped that when Adam awoke he would remember all that God had told him. Even if Adam and all his descendants didn't always become the loving responsible help mates that God wanted them to be, God thought they would be become better by trying. And those who were fully responsible partners and help mates would become God's blessing for each other.

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