Earth’s excellent idea

"Fruit Tree Leaves" by shaire productions is licensed under CC BY 2.0

God created the world as an idyllic vegan paradise.

And God said: Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing plant that is upon the entire earth, and every tree in which is the seed-bearing fruit of the tree, it shall be for you for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves upon the earth that has a living soul, all plant vegetation for food, and it was so. (Bereishit 1:29-30)

Even lions and tigers ate grass, and – it would seem – no living creature needed to harm another.

And yet, even a vegan diet sometimes entails ripping plants from the soil, devouring their roots, stems, and leaves. Must the survival and nourishment of one organism always entail harm to another?

On the third day of Creation, God commanded the earth to bring forth “etz peri oseh peri” – fruit trees that bear fruit (Bereishit 1:11). The earth then produced “etz oseh peri” – trees that bear fruit (Bereishit 1:12).

Rashi, citing Bereishit Rabba, comments on the discrepancy:

Etz peri” (fruit tree): That the taste of the tree [itself] should be like the taste of the fruit. And she [the earth] did not do thus. Rather, the earth brought forth trees that bear fruit, and the tree [itself] was not fruit. (Rashi Bereishit 1:11)

Why did the earth choose to disobey God’s command?

Perhaps she wished to improve on God’s original intention. A tree whose wood is tasty and edible will swiftly be consumed along with its fruit. Like other plants, it will sacrifice its own life to nourish hungry people and animals.

The earth had a wonderful new idea: trees whose wood is hard and inedible, and yet freely produce sweet and nourishing fruits for eating. A tree can live and thrive for years, even centuries, offering new fruit each year. Fruit is almost the only food that causes no death or injury to any living thing.

How did the earth’s innovation work out?

Fruit trees seem to be a success, meriting a place of honor in the Garden of Eden.

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and He placed there the man whom He had formed. And the Lord God caused to grow from the ground every tree attractive to look at and good to eat and the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Bereishit 2:8-9).

Yet it is one of these fruit trees – the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – through which Adam and Hava first sin:

The woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and that it was desirable to the eyes, and the tree was attractive for enlightenment and she took from its fruit and ate, and she also gave to her husband with her and he ate. (Bereishit 3:6)

God punishes the sinners: Adam who ate, Hava who ate and led Adam to eat, and the serpent who tempted Hava.

But another punishment is hidden in these verses: “cursed is the ground because of you” (Bereishit 3:17). Rashi, in the conclusion to the comment cited above, explains that this is punishment for the earth’s sin in bringing forth trees that did not conform to God’s original command:

Therefore, when Adam was cursed for his sin, she was also remembered for her sin, and was cursed. (Rashi Bereishit 1:11)

Why is earth punished for her disobedience only after humanity’s sin? Are these two violations of God’s will somehow connected?

We don’t know.

We do not know what Eden would have been like if the earth had produced edible, tasty fruit trees in accordance with God’s original command. We do not know how the story would have played out.

The earth may have sought only to create the perfect food, one that offers nourishment without harm or destruction. But perhaps she could not foresee all the consequences of her innovation.

Could it be that the earth’s disobedience was the first link in the chain that led to Adam and Hava eating the fruit, becoming mortal, and being banished from the Garden?

About the Author
Ilana Sober Elzufon is a Yoetzet Halacha in Yerushalayim, and a writer and editor for Nishmat's Yoatzot Halacha websites (yoatzot.org) and for Deracheha (womenandmitzvot.org).
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