The Tree of Knowledge


A Puzzling Prohibition

Man receives his first prohibition midway through the second chapter of Sefer Bereshit:

(טז) וַיְצַו י"י אֱלֹהִים עַל הָאָדָם לֵאמֹר מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּן אָכֹל תֹּאכֵל.  (יז) וּמֵעֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע לֹא תֹאכַל מִמֶּנּוּ כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכׇלְךָ מִמֶּנּוּ מוֹת תָּמוּת.
(16) And the Lord God commanded the man, saying: 'Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; (17) but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.'

On one hand, the directive is quite simple: Adam is prohibited from eating from a certain tree, and he is warned that doing so will bring about his death. Yet, this short command hides more than it reveals and has perplexed readers throughout the centuries: 

Life and Death

Alongside the עֵץ הַדַּעַת (Tree of Knowledge), a second special tree was found in the garden, the עֵץ הַחַיִּים (Tree of Life).  What does this name connote?  Did this tree grant immortality, rejuvenate a person, or cure illness?  How did the two trees relate to each other?  Man was told that eating from the former would lead to death, while eating from the latter, presumably, extended life.  At the beginning of the narrative, only the former is explicitly prohibited, yet after the sin, Hashem banishes Adam from Gan Eden, "lest he take also from the Tree of Life".  Does this suggest that it, too, had originally been off-limits and God was fearful that man would once again be disobedient? Or, was the Tree initially permitted and only banned as a consequence of sin? If so, was man originally meant to live forever?  Was part of his punishment that this was no longer to be the case, or did Hashem have a different motive in guarding the way to the Tree of Life?

Measure for Measure Punishment?

Each of the participants in the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge is directly punished by God.  The snake is cursed to crawl on his belly and eat dust, and is told that enmity will endure between him and mankind. Chavvah is punished that she is to bear children in much pain and sorrow and that she is to be ruled by her husband.  Finally, Adam is informed that the land is to be cursed before him and that until his death he will need to produce food through the sweat of his browh. How does each punishment fit the crime?  Are they measure for measure responses to the specific deeds of each individual?  If so, what light might the various punishments shed on the nature of the sin? Finally, is it possible that the curses given to Adam and Chavvah are not punishments at all, but merely the natural consequences of eating from the Tree?

Additional Questions

The story raises several other questions which directly relate to the points above: