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B’reishit, Genesis 1:1-6:8 Shabbat, October 22, 2011 / 24 Tishrei, 5772
Seeking Knowledge Elizabeth Dunsker
It’s true, I have a thing for trees. I love the way they look and smell, the different heights, the fruits, the nuts, the flowers, the bark, the roots, the leaves; I love it all.
Adam and Eve’s garden was full of every kind of tree with everything good for eating growing everywhere, plus the two extras: the Tree of Life and the Tree of All Knowledge. Adam and Eve ignored the first, but as we all know they ate from the Tree of All Knowledge. The Rabbis debate what kind of fruit it was exactly that was eaten from that tree. B’reishit Rabbah 15:71records a marvelous discussion of this. Rabbi Meir believes they ate wheat; as it was one of the earliest domesticated grains, it was considered to be a source and symbol of wisdom (ibid. note 7). When Rabbi Samuel argued that wheat is not a tree, he was told by Rabbi Ze’era that “[in the Garden of Eden] stalks of wheat were like trees, for they grew to the height of cedars of Lebanon.” Rabbi Judah bar Ilai said that perhaps it was grapes that Adam ate because they brought bitterness into the world. According to Rabbi Abba of Acco it was an etrog, because Eve saw that the tree itself (understood as the wood of the tree) was good for eating (Genesis 3:6), and the rabbi insists that the wood of the etrog tree is the only edible wood in existence.
But Rabbi Yose explains that it was figs they ate and points to their use of fig leaves immediately after the eating of the knowledge fruit: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked; and they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7).
After all this debate and speculation, the midrash concludes with the words of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, “Heaven forbid [that we should try to guess the identity of the tree.] The Holy One did not reveal it, nor will He reveal it, for He who is everywhere spares [the honor of a tree, even as He spares] man’s honor (ibid., p. 22). By “the honor of a tree,” he means that no tree should bear the blame for bringing death to the world. Therefore we should cease the search and speculation about which fruit exactly might have been the one Adam and Eve enjoyed.
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