The forbidden fruit, in Adam and Eve Genesis narrative, carries a double message for our time.
As humans we experience two worlds: The “World of Law-of-Nature” and the “World of Randomness”. Violating law in the former incurs immediate penalty. In the latter world, we are uncertain of the consequence of our decisions and therefore it is in this world solely that we may exercise free will. I have addressed this distinction at some length previously (for example, here and here) and therefore will not elaborate on it further here.
The relevance to our days and time of the sin of eating of the forbidden fruit, as described in Genesis (3: 1-19), had been discussed by me in a separate post. Here I expand on that and address the double message conveyed by the story of Adam and Eve eating from the forbidden “Tree of Knowledge, Good and Bad” (Etz ha-Daat, Tov ve-Ra), or “Good and Evil” (as commonly translated, erroneously in my opinion).
Studying present-day relevance of the forbidden fruit, particularly with regard to the two worlds, as just described, reveals stunning new insights. Let us start by elaborating on the true meaning of the Hebrew Daat (knowledge).
There are two modes of learning (obtaining knowledge), which in biblical Hebrew are denoted by two separate terms: One may learn by absorbing new information, utterly dis-associated from the source of knowledge; or one may learn (and know) by experiencing, by connecting to the source of knowledge. An example for the first mode is conducting research on the Internet. No personal experiencing of the subject of learning is involved. An example for the latter mode is touring a mountainous area, as a result of which one is acquainted, connected, knowing by personal experience, the visited area.
The Bible is permeated aplenty with the distinction between “Acquiring knowledge” (Haskalah) and “Knowing by Experiencing”, or “Knowing by Connecting” (Daat). For example, prophet Jeremiah calls, in the name of the Divine: “Thus says Jehovah: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glories glory in this – Haskel (“Acquiring knowledge”) and Yadoa Oti (“Knowing Me”) that I am Jehovah exercising grace, justice and righteousness in the land, for in these I delight”, so says Jehovah” (Jeremiah 9:22-23). And elsewhere in the Bible: “He who keeps the commandment shall experience no evil thing (Lo yeda davar ra); and a wise man’s heart would discern (“Yeda”) both time and method” (Ecclesiastes 5:5). And similarly: “And Adam once more knew (Va-yeda Adam od) his wife and she bore a child and she called his name Shet” (Genesis 4:25). Likewise, in modern day Hebrew we wish a bereaved family Lo tedeo od machov (“You shall know pain no more”). Knowing here is devoid of any of the common sense reserved for knowledge, but everything to do with personal experiencing.
Given these sources and others, it is essential that we take note that the forbidden tree is not a tree of wisdom, neither a tree of understanding or of advice. No. This is a tree of “Knowing by Experiencing”, Etz ha-Daat, which spells a two-stage learning process: First we experience and then we internalize that experience so that we are capable of telling apart the “bad” from the “good”. The first stage of the learning process is prone to pain and suffering because only after experiencing the “good” and the “bad” may one tell them apart. Not a moment earlier. Adam and Eve, not privy to the agony associated with experiencing the “bad”, are eager to eat of the forbidden fruit noticing only the end result— that they will be like Elohim (God as creator). In modern day parlance, such a fake imaginary process of learning is called “Instant Learning”
But what is “Good” and “Bad”?
Given the two worlds that we constantly experience in our lives, the “World of Law-of-Nature” and the “World of Randomness”, it is obvious that one needs to specify “Good and Bad” in terms of both worlds. Not coincidentally, the narrator of the story of the sin of Adam and Eve already relates to the Divine only by the double name, Elohim-Jehovah, imparting the two aspects of leadership that the Divine exercise in His world: Leadership by Law-of-Nature (scientifically exposed, “public” leadership by the creator, Elohim); and the hidden, concealed leadership by Jehovah in the world of free-will, in the seemingly “World of Randomness”. There is perhaps no better demonstration for the latter than the famous dialogue between Abraham and Jehovah:
“And Abraham drew near and said:” Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? .. Shall not the Judge of all the Earth do justice?”; And Jehovah said: “If I find in Sodom fifty just men within the city then I will spare the whole place for their sakes” (Genesis 18:23, 25-26).
But fifty righteous men were not found, neither ten. And the people of Sodom were puzzled, probably to their last moments, why the world is so random and unexplainable. As were probably the residents of the corrupt “Sodom-like” ancient Pompeii, destroyed by random by mother-nature at 79 AD.
“Good and Bad” in the story of eating of the forbidden fruit therefore carries double meanings: “Good” and “Bad” in the physical world, which is governed by “Law of Nature” (imprinted on nature by Elohim, the creator); and “Good” and “Bad” in the “World of Randomness”, governed by “Law of Justice and Grace” (emanating from Jehovah, ultimate source of morality):
“For thus says Jehovah, creator of the Heavens, he is the Elohim that has formed the Earth and has made it”; Isaiah 45:18).
The double message of the “Tree of Knowledge” sounds loud and clear for our times:
Message 1: Not all that can be experienced in the physical world, in the “World of Law-of-Nature”, is allowed.
There is a spiritual dimension to our existence as human beings that imposes limitations on our behavior in the physical world and on what we may experience. Eating of the “Tree of Knowledge”, supposedly the most natural and beneficial thing to do, is not without boundaries. And once these are crossed, seemingly without inflicting physical harm, the spiritual dimension may adversely be affected, ultimately causing harm also in the physical world (due to loss of ability to exercise free will in the “World of Randomness”). This realization may at times be extremely excruciating and agonizing. Ask any ex-alcoholic, or ex-narcotics-addict, who had gone through rehabilitation, and you may get a faint idea what the process of “knowing by experiencing” may look like once the spiritual dimension of our existence is ignored.
(Again we note that Adam and Eve’s idea is limited, nearly contrary to reality: According to their perception, eating of the forbidden fruit would educate them how to distinguish “the bad” from “the good” in the physical world so that they would instantly be Elohim-like; all the while being unaware of the pain and suffering that this prolonged learning process, ignoring the spiritual dimension, may entail.)
Message 2: To live life fully, it is not sufficient to distinguish “Good” from “Bad” within Law-of-Nature only.
The “World of Randomness”, where free-will is exercised, has its own “Good” and “Bad”, decided by the “Law” that prevails in this world (law of morality, grace and righteousness; or law of Karma, as preached in some religions). And that law, relating to our spiritual dimension, should be heeded, learned and internalized no less than the “visible”, scientifically validated, Law-of-Nature, that we are so intent and careful on pursuing every single moment of our lives on this planet.