Prayer of the Selfish Child, The Tree of Knowledge, and Eating Broccoli in Spite

Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University conducted the following experiment. A child, who had a dislike for broccoli, was instructed to look into another room where there was a child behaving badly. Then the observing child is informed that this badly behaving child will be getting his favorite food- broccoli. But before the plate of broccoli is brought to the badly behaved child, the observing child is given the option of eating some of the broccoli (which he doesn’t like) with the knowledge that only his leftovers will reach the badly behaved child. Bloom reports that some children would literally be in tears as they scarfed down broccoli- even though they don’t like it- just to make sure that the other child was not rewarded.

This is an example of spite. It reminds me of the Shel Silverstein poem, “Prayer of the Selfish Child”:

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

And if I die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my toys to break.

So none of the other kids can use ’em. . . .


This seems to me what Rashi is getting at in Parshat Bereishit 3:6

And the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, and 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. ווַתֵּרֶא הָאִשָּׁה כִּי טוֹב הָעֵץ לְמַאֲכָל וְכִי תַאֲוָה הוּא לָעֵינַיִם וְנֶחְמָד הָעֵץ לְהַשְׂכִּיל וַתִּקַּח מִפִּרְיוֹ וַתֹּאכַל וַתִּתֵּן גַּם לְאִישָׁהּ עִמָּהּ וַיֹּאכַל:

Rashi comments:

and she gave also to her husband: lest she die and he live and marry someone else. — [from Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer , ch. 13] ותתן גם לאשה עמה: שלא תמות היא ויחיה הוא, וישא אשה אחרת:

Eve gave Adam from the Tree of Knowledge to ensure that Adam would not be in a position to marry someone else (Ed note: who else was there to marry?) after she died.

Through this comment of Rashi I better understand why the Etz Ha’Daat is referred to as (2:17) “The Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.”

Knowledge can be both a force of good and evil in the world. If we utilize knowledge to appreciate the many blessings in our lives, then our awareness is a force for good. If our knowledge causes us to overthink things and forces us to consider how our blessings compare to the blessings of others, then knowledge can be a burden and a source of aggravation, pain and stress.

By eating from the Etz HaDaat, all of Adam and Eve’s descendants have both types of awareness available to us. Children often focus a lot of time and energy on thinking about what others have.  It leads them to eat broccoli even if they hate it, and pray that no one else will be able to play with their toys. As adults we must reflect on how we utilize the power of knowledge in our lives.  Have we grown up as much as we should, or are we still “eating broccoli in spite”?

About the Author
Rabbi Yosef Weinstock serves as a Rabbi at the Young Israel of Hollywood- Ft. Lauderdale, a growing, dynamic synagogue community of over 500 families. In his spare time he enjoys jogging, visiting lighthouses and reading books on history and social psychology.
Related Topics
Related Posts