Yael Chaya Miriam Gray

“Was It From The Tree?” ~ Bereishis 3:11

Imagine a pile of coins locked inside a box, and the key to the box is also in the box. How would the box be opened? This is G-d’s question to Adam: The Tree held all the desires in the world, including the desire to desire those desires. So where did your desire to eat from the Tree come from?
~ The Maggid Of Dubna, From The Book of Genesis With Commentary From 500 Mystics And Sages, by R. Yanki Tauber (Open Door Books:2023).
I came across this mashal last week and I have been busting my skull ever since then, trying to figure out what it means. Here’s my best guess:
The coins are desire, the box is the Tree, and the key to opening the box, which is locked up within it, is also desire. That they desired to eat from the Tree is undeniable[1]. It’s equally undeniable that all desires – including the desire to desire evil things, which they had never before experienced (until they sinned) – are contained in the “locked box” which is the Tree. So, from what Source did their desire to eat from the Tree come? From Hashem, of course, paradoxically through the agency of the Tree of Life, itself, the middle pillar which is the trunk of the eitz chayim.
I therefore conclude as follows:
  • Their desire to eat from the Tree was G-d given [2] and therefore could not have been totally evil; since
  • Hashem permitted them to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, provided that they also ate from the Tree of Life (the ARI); and
  • Hashem wanted them to eat from the Tree[3], just not at that time (this is also the ARI); So,
  • When Eve offered him the fruit of the Tree, Adam’s desire to eat from it was so overwhelming – in the manner described by R. Mordechai Yosef Lerner in his Mei HaShiloach with reference to Tamar and Judah, and a host of other heaven-sent, “overwhelming” temptations – Adam either could not or did not resist eating it right away. He simply could not wait the two hours it would take for Shabbos to come in, when it would have been permissible to eat the fruit of the Tree (“The prohibition to eat from the Tree of Knowledge was only for three hours. With the advent of the fourth hour and the start of Shabbos, it would have been permitted for them to ‘eat of its fruit as a holy celebration to G-d.'” R. Mordechai HaCohen of Safed).
  • Both Adam and Eve then ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, causing the box to open, and making all desires – both good and bad – accessible to humankind; because sadly,
  • They ate prematurely and mistakenly from the wrong part of the Tree, (or from the wrong Tree[4], depending on whether one holds that the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge are the same Tree[5], or two different Trees which, according to one source, grow from 2 separate roots underground, but grow so close together that, on the surface, they gave the appearance of being only one Tree [6]).
Perhaps they were unable to distinguish one Tree from the other? After all, both Trees are described in the Torah as being “in the middle of the garden,” [see Bereishis 2:9] and two Trees cannot occupy the same space!
To my mind, a mistake about which Tree they were eating from would certainly explain R. Lerner’s otherwise cryptic statement that “the sin was only from Adam’s and Eve’s point-of-view” and was “as insubstantial as the skin on garlic”. Also, such an interpretation would not be inconsistent with the ARI’s saying that Adam and Eve ate from the wrong part of the Tree. Perhaps this is why Hashem adjudged their sin to be an inadvertent one?
I must admit, however, that the scenario I’ve described above begs the question of why G-d would engineer such an elaborate and convincing ruse[7]? Perhaps I’m thick, but I believe the answer to this question is that, in some limited sense, G-d meant Adam and Eve to sin, in order to bring evil into the world from potentiality to actuality. For the existence of evil in this world is necessary in order to gift mankind with the divine quality of free will, however limited it might be.
As the ARI states in Likutei Torah, Bereshit, the passage that begins:והנחש היה ערום; “Because tsaddikim are so committed to truth, when they speak words, believing them to be true, but in fact, they are not, HaShem providentially adapts reality to make their words true. How much more so for HaShem Himself.” Thus, notes the Ari, “HaShem said ‘On the day you eat from it, you will surely die.’ He didn’t say, ‘if you eat from it’ rather ‘on the day…’ The Ari explains that when HaShem spoke those words it was inevitable that the day would come, when those words would be proven true.
“Why? Perhaps because the relationship HaShem sought was not with a puppet but with a full-fledged other. HaShem gave Adam and Chava the opportunity to cut their umbilical cord by issuing a command and secretly compelling them to disobey it. In that way Adam and Chava asserted their autonomy. They assessed the situation and chose to differentiate—for heaven’s sake—to enable God’s purpose to succeed. This was Chava’s initiative and she has been hounded for it through history, yet, in fact, she probably saved the day.” [8].
[1] See Bereishis 3:6: “And the woman saw that the Tree is good for eating and that it is lusty in the eyes and the Tree is covetous to make wise.” To me, these words imply a strong desire on the part of Eve to eat from the fruit. This is borne out by the other name by which our Sages call the Tree of Knowledge: they call it the Tree of Desire. Then Eve offered the fruit to Adam, who also ate. The Torah is silent regarding Adam’s desires in the matter. But the mashal, itself, testifies to Adam’s desire to eat from the Tree. Res ipsa loquitor (“The thing speaks for itself”): the simple fact is that Adam ate the fruit, and one does not eat what one does not desire to eat.
[2] When Adam And Eve ate from the fruit, that is when and how evil was made manifest in the world. Before that, evil existed only in potentia, in the person of the nachash (serpent). Now, there is no evil at all in God. This is borne out by the fact that God had to create the “will to receive” – the potential for evil – ex nihilo (out of nothing). Ba’al Ha Sulam. That will to receive may be deployed to good effect, when we act altruistically and obey Hashem’s commandments, or to evil affect, when we act selfishly and turn away from God’s commandments. Id. Add to this the fact that animals have no free will, and one can’t help but wonder if the nachash was following a script written by G-d. In any event, man had to be the instrumentality through which the potential for evil became actualized and internalized. Of course God knew that Adam and Eve would fail this particular test, which leads me to believe that perhaps, just perhaps, their sinning was God’s “Plan A.” Were they meant to eat the fruit sinfully, to actualize and internalize our potential for evil, so that we might have the precious, Godly gift of free will, and the reward for deploying it correctly? For it is written, “many designs are in a man’s heart, but the will of Hashem, only that will prevail” (i.e., contrary to popular belief, our free will is limited). Or, as Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch so succinctly put it: “The ‘fearsome plot’ (which the Midrash says that G-d has made on the children of men) is not just death, but sin itself – the inherently impossible notion that the human being, a creature, can disobey their creator.
  • “Of all the trees of the Garden eat you shall eat” (Bereishis 2:15). “This, too, is a commandment, for it is a mitzvah that a person sustain himself with that which is permitted to him.” RADAK, Bechayei.
  • The Tree of knowledge was permitted to Adam and Eve, provided that they also ate from the Tree of Life (the ARI).
  • See also the Jerusalem Talmud, “a person will be held accountable for every food their eye beheld that they did not eat.” See, finally, the commentary from R. Meier Simchah of Dvinsk to 3:1.
  • “The Tree of Life was not forbidden to them earlier, since initially man was to live forever. Only after Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, and death was decreed upon them, was the Tree of Life denied them.” ~ Nachmanides.
  • “Forbidding the Tree of Life would have made it all the more alluring to Adam and Eve, and would have prompted the evil inclination to entice them to eat from it prematurely. Indeed, commanding them regarding the Tree of Knowledge created the possibility that they would transgress – a risk that could not be taken regarding the Tree of Life.” ~ Ohr HaChayim.
  • “Although Eve knew that they were allowed to eat of the other trees of the garden, she was unaware that it was a mitzvah to do so, since Adam had neglected to convey the positive commandment along with the prohibition. [According to Avoth d’R. Nathan, it was Adam who added this ‘safeguard’ in transmitting G-d’s command to Eve.]
  • An alternate explanation is that G-d wants us to eat from the Tree of Life – to reach for the divine wisdom which would extricate us from the material sensibilities in which we have become enmeshed by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Thus G-d says, ‘And now perhaps he will send forth his hand and he will take also from the Tree of Life and he will eat and live forever” – perhaps there is hope yet that mankind will choose eternal life. Thus, the man who is banished from the garden in the following verse is the man who persists in their refusal to take of the Tree of Life, preferring instead the corporeal and material existence. But those who reach for the Tree of Life are never banished.” RADAK.
[4] “Adam and Eve were permitted to eat from all of trees in the garden, including the Tree of Knowledge, provided that they also partook of the Tree of Life. Their sin was that they ate from the Tree of Knowledge alone, severing it from the Tree of Life. ” ~ The ARI.
[5] The Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life are (either) different parts of the same Tree (see Rabeynu Bachya on Bereishis 2:9, “The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge grew from the same root: only above-ground did they separate into two Trees”), or two Trees from two separate roots. R. Bechayei.
[6] There is also one very interesting source – R. Bechayei – which says that there are two different Trees, but that they grow so close together that, on the surface of the ground, they give the illusion of being the same Tree to anyone looking at them. (I read this explanation the other day and i am trying to track down the source. I think this is from the Rabeiynu Bachya).
[7] Even our Sages have recognized G-d’s actions to be a ruse.
  • “It is written: ‘Go and see the doings of G-d, His fearsome plot on the children of men.'” Tehillim 66:5. To what is this comparable? A man wishes to divorce his wife. On the way home, he has a bill of divorce written up. He comes home and says to her, ‘Pour me my cup, that i may drink.” She pours a cup for him. As soon as he takes the cup from her hand, he says to her, ‘Here is your divorce.’ Says she to him, ‘What is my crime?’ Says he to her, ‘Leave my house, for you have poured me a tepid cup.’ Says she to him, ‘You knew in advance I would pour you a tepid cup – you have already prepared the bill of divorce and brought it with you in your hand!’ By the same token, Adam said to G-d: Master of the world! For two thousand years before you created your world, the Torah was harbored with you. And in this Torah it is written, ‘This is the law: If a man dies in a tent…’ Had you not already prepared death for your creatures, would you have so written? And then You come and attach the blame to me.'” ~ Midrash Tanchuma.
  • “The ‘fearsome plot’ of which the Midrash speaks is not just death, but sin itself – the inherently impossible notion that the human being, a creature, can disobey their creator.” ~ R. Dov Ber of Lubavitch.
  • “In the future world, when the sin of Adam will be rectified, we will punctuate these verses differently. We will read them thus: ‘Of all the trees of the garden, eat you shall eat, and the tree of knowledge of good. And evil, do not eat of it…’ For then it will be revealed that, in truth, Adam and Eve ate only of the good of the Tree. The sin was only in their perception, and had as much substance as a garlic skin…” ~R. Mordechai Yosef of Izhbitz.
[8] Sarah Yehudis Schneider,, “The Two Trees.”
About the Author
Jewish Mystic.