The Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)


Mixing Good and Evil 1

The Land Becomes Confused. 2

Marital Intimacy. 2

Excretion. 3

The Place. 5

What Was The Fruit?. 5

Clothing. 7

Tu B’Shevat 7


In this study I would like to study the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that was found in Gan Eden. This is the tree that HaShem commanded Adam and Chava not to eat.


Bereshit (Genesis) 2:16-17 And HaShem 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.


When Adam and Chava ate from this tree they crashed the world. Most are aware that Adam and Chava required clothes after they ate, but most do not realize the profound ramifications of this sin that have reverberated through all of time. In this paper we will explore some of these ramifications.


Mixing Good and Evil


The tree of the knowledge (daat) of good and evil contained fruit that was a mixture of good and evil. If this idea was present in a human being, we would call this situation:  Doubt. Thus we have the tree of doubt, the tree with an admixture of good and evil. To understand this admixture we must understand the state of Adam HaRishon as he was before the sin. The state of Adam HaRishon before the sin was quite different from the state we find ourselves in today.


Hakham Chaim Volozhiner explains in his Nefesh HaChaim that Adam HaRishon before the sin did have the ability of choosing good or evil. However, he was the embodiment of unsullied purity and holiness without any internal leaning toward evil. Any desire toward evil came from an external source (the primordial snake), as an outsider might try to convince a person to jump into a fire. By eating from the the tree, man’s desire to do evil entered the person himself to the point that it appears that he really wants to do it!


Hakham Eliyahu Dessler said that the difference between before and after man’s sin was the internalization of the evil inclination. Before eating from the tree, Chava had to be convinced by a snake to disobey HaShem, and Adam in turn had to be convinced by Chava, neither would have sinned on their own. The snake, identified with the Satan, was instead of their evil inclination.


Hakham Dessler[1] explains this further. In our present state of after the sin we hear our desires for evil in first person. “I really want to do that... I really want to go there...” The desires for good then speak up in second person. “You know that you really shouldn’t... You know it’s wrong...” The “I” is the want to do evil. The mutiny has been so complete that we totally identify with the evil. That was not the case with Adam HaRishon. As the Ramban wrote, his “I” only wanted to do what was good. An internal desire to go against the will of HaShem was incomprehensible to Adam HaRishon. It was like wanting to jump into a fire. How could “I” want to do evil? How could “I” want to cause myself destruction?


Before the first sin, according to Hakham Dessler, the roles were reversed: man’s natural tendency was to virtue, and sin required conscious effort. In that sense, after the sin, man became “knowers of good and evil” in a more immediate and personal way than ever before.


This is an important concept because we will find ourselves in this same state during the messianic age. During the messianic age we will no longer have to deal with the yetzer hara, our evil inclination, as a part of ourselves. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Lets go back to the beginning and examine some the details of this tree.


The Land Becomes Confused


Because of the first sin, HaShem cursed the land. Notice the effect of the curse:


Bereshit (Genesis) 3:17-19 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18  Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19  In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.


Notice that we now have a mixture of good and evil sprouting from the earth. In addition to sprouting food plants, the ground is also sprouting volunteer thorns and thistles. I say volunteer because no farmer intentionally plants weeds. Weeds are the bane of a farmer. HaShem’s curse meant that man would spend his life separating the the good plants from the evil plants. He would spend his life pulling weeds and harvesting the fruit of the good plants.


Thus we see that HaShem extended the confusing effects of Adam’s sin to the earth. It was not longer man himself who was confused. Now even the land was confused. The land was now bringing forth good and evil. This situation will persist until the end of the age.


Matitiyahu (Matthew) 13:24-30 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: 25  But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. 26  But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. 27  So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? 28  He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? 29  But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. 30  Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.


Matitiyahu is a midrash which present a profound truth disguised as a simple parable. In this section of the midrash we see that Matitiyahu is using the opinion that the tree of knowledge of good and evil, was wheat. The plants represent the mixture of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous wheat will grow in a field mixed with the wicked tares. At the harvest these two types of men will be separated. This hints that at the end of the age the curse given to the land will be removed. This suggests that Adam will have his confusion removed at the same time.


Marital Intimacy


Knowledge, as we have studied before, is the intimate bonding of opposites which produce fruit. So, for example, when the opposites of male and female bond in marital intimacy, then the result is a child. When good and evil become bonded in the human being, then the fruit of that connection is doubt.


The account of the first sin is given to us in a way that is different from most of the Torah. In most of the Torah, the pshat is evident. In the account of creation, the pshat is deeply buried.


Rashi says, according to the Rambam, that if a person thinks that they will understand what went on in the creation of a universe or the account of the creation of man, then they are wrong. Imagine a gallon bucket which is having the waters of the Pacific ocean pumped into it, how much can it contain! Human intellect is finite the creation is relatively infinite. The same is true for the story of the ejection of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden. The Talmud states that after Adam died, the light which shone from the lowest part of his body was greater than two suns.[2] Then what must the light from his head have been like? This would be after he was dead what must he have been like while alive. That would be after the sin of eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge, what must he have been like before? The Midrash actually states that the Angels mistook Adam for HaShem.[3] The world was different beyond our comprehension and so too were humans.


The first sin is described by the Torah as “eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. As true as this is, it misses the depth of the reality. If we strive to understand its depth, we will begin to see what we need to do to correct it, and we will begin to understand how it relates to the rest of the Torah.


What is the essence of eating? Eating is where something external becomes a part of us. We share the same essence. Our body has become an admixture of what we were before we ate, and what we have just eaten. We have become one with what we ate. This gives us an essential clue to the depth of the first sin. Chazal teach that the first sin was the sexual intimacy of Adam and Chava with the snake. The snake was an animal that was the manifestation of man’s yetzer hara, the evil inclination. When Chava became one with the yetzer hara, she become a mixture of good and evil. What Adam ate of this same fruit, when he became intimate with the snake, he took on this same admixture of good and evil. He became one with the snake. He took the yetzer hara into himself and made it part of his being, as we read in the Zohar:


Zohar Shemot 231a Observe that at the creation of Adam the Holy One, blessed be He, made him male and female together, female behind and male before. Then He sawed them apart and adorned the woman and brought her to Adam; and when they were thus brought face to face, love was multiplied in the world and they brought forth offspring, a thing that was not yet before. But when Adam and his wife sinned and the serpent had intercourse with Eve and injected into her his venom, she bore Cain, whose image was in part derived from on high and in part from the venom of the unclean and low side. Hence it was the serpent who brought death into the world, in that it was his side that was the cause of it.[4]


Rashi writes, “Even though [Adam] was endowed with wisdom to give names [to the animals], the yetzer hara did not enter him until he ate from the tree, upon which the yetzer hara entered him... .”[5]


The rest of history is the story of man trying to overcome the yetzer hara and divest himself of it. Adam and Chava not only crashed themselves, but they crashed all of creation. Chazal teach us that, “the yetzer hara exists mainly in the area of sex“. Very often, it is sexual temptation that leads a person away from HaShem and G-dliness in other areas. It is often the strongest barrier standing in the way of an individual’s spiritual perfection.




Everything in creation was originally created perfect. Because of the sin of Adam, all of creation crashed. Originally, Adam ate only vegetables and fruits and there was no excretion because his food had no negative components which needed refining. He had no negative side and no negativity. After the sin, there was a negative component to food which needed refining. This is why the Jews of the Exodus in the days of Moses did not have to go to the bathroom. The manna had no negative component, therefore there was no excretion.[6] The Gemara, in Yoma 75b, states that the manna was absorbed directly into the 248 limbs of the body and even elevated all other food stuffs so they too resulted in no waste, meaning that no waste was produced.


This was a great mercy from HaShem! Consider that the camp in the wilderness was more than ten miles across. This means that one would have had quite a hike just to go to the bathroom! (Excretory functions had to be performed outside the camp.) The Midrash also tells us of this miraculous manna:


Midrash Rabbah - Numbers VII:4 When God brought down the manna for them He wrought for them many miracles. Our Rabbis said that they had no need to ease themselves as is otherwise usual with mortals. Why so? For no other reason than this: God said: ‘If My children are to have need of easing themselves, how can I cause it to be written concerning them that they are god-like beings, as I did in the text, I said: Ye are godlike beings (Ps. LXXXII, 6)? This must not be; but even as the angels do not need this thing, so shall they also not need it any more.’ Another exposition: God said: ‘ The nations eat and need to respond to nature’s call. How then shall I put a distinction between My children and the nations?’ They, therefore, had no need to attend to nature’s call. How did they respond to the favour which God bestowed upon them? They began to say sneering things about the manna. One said to the other: ‘Do you hear, brother Simeon?’ The other said: ‘What do you say, brother Reuben? ‘Says the first: ‘On your life! Have you ever seen in all your days that a man should put wheat into the mill and that this wheat should not, after being crushed, run down? We, however, eat the manna and it does not run down!’ His companion responds: ‘I fear that ultimately my stomach will swell and burst, since we cannot excrete it.’ At that instant God said to Moses: ‘I can no longer suffer and control My anger, How long will this people despise Me? and how long will they not believe in Me, for all the signs which I have wrought within them (Num. XIV, 11)?


Midrash Tanchuma (Parshat B’Shalach 22) Manna could assume almost any taste, depending of the consumer. It was completely digested leaving no waste to be evacuated. The amount taken would last all day and rot if left over for the next day. On Fridays a double portion would fall, enough for Friday and Shabbat. The distance it fell from the home depended on the righteousness of the consumer; the more righteous the consumer, the closer it fell to the doorway of the family’s tent. For the righteous it was as fine bread; for the virtuous, as course cakes; and the wicked had to grind it between millstones, or beat it with a mortar and pestle. Also, for the young it was as bread; for the old, as wafers made with honey; for infants, as mother’s milk; and for the sick, like fine meal with honey.


Just as man is made up of a spiritual and a physical component, so too is everything that lives. Things like fruits and vegetables, as well as meat, have a physical and a spiritual component. Thus the physical component is used to nourish the body and the spiritual component is used to nourish the soul. This is why eating only those things permitted by HaShem is so important! If we eat that which is not called food, then we fail to nourish our souls and we become unable to absorb spiritual matters. Throughout the Tanakh and the Nazarean Codicil, if it is permitted by HaShem to be eaten, then it is called FOOD. Unkosher things which are eaten, are never called food by HaShem.


When we eat, we are extracting the positive components of food and excreting the negative components. The physical is excreted as brown stuff, and the spiritual component is the smell. As Chazal teach, the sense of smell is a direct connection to the soul.


Baal Peor was a religion that worshipped excretion. One worshipped this god by deficating or urinating in front of the idol. Worshipping this god was a way that the adherents could connect themselves to the negative side.


Baal Zephon, the Lord of Flies, was a religion that worshipped a creature, the fly, that could only eat excretion and things that have already started to decompose. Worshipping this god was a way that the adherents could connect themselves to the negative side.


Worshipping and serving HaShem is how Jews connect themselves to the positive side. We excrete, but then we reconnect to HaShem with a blessing. When we go to the bathroom we say the following blessing (Asher Yatzar) after we have excreted[7]:


“Blessed are You, HaShem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollows (cavities). It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if but one of them were to be ruptured or if one of them were to be blocked it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You (even for a short period of time). Blessed are You, HaShem, Who heals all flesh and acts wonderously.”


The healing mentioned in the last stich is what HaShem will do to restore us to the original state of Adam where we will no longer need to excrete. This will be our state in the messianic era. Imagine, no more bathroom breaks!


The Ba’al HaTurim said, “Torah is only for those who eat manna”, because the manna was 100 percent pure, there was no waste product whatsoever.


The Place


On the spot where the earth from which Adam was formed was gathered by HaShem’s “hand,” where Abraham brought Isaac to be sacrificed, where the first Holy Temple built by King Solomon stood, and the second Holy Temple built by Ezra and Nechemiah stood, on this very spot the third and final Temple will be built, when Mashiach comes. This suggests that the place of our sin is the place of our atonement.


What makes this so interesting is HaShem’s response to Adam and Chava after they had eaten the fruit. HaShem pretends that he does not know where Adam and Chava were. HaShem says, “Where are you?” This from the omniscient G-d who sees everything.


Bereshit (Genesis) 3:9 And HaShem God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?


He contines pretending to be confused by asking, “did you eat from the tree?” When Adam and Chava ate from the tree they became confused. At the same time, HaShem begins to act confused.


Bereshit (Genesis) 3:11 And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?


HaShem has made a way to restore the clarity that Adam had before the fall. HaShem gave us the Torah and commanded us regarding the mitzvot. The mitzvot are the secret to the banishing of confusion and the restoration of the clarity of Eden. And many of the mitzvot can only be performed in the place where Adam became confused! Again we see that the cure comes in the same place where the disease began.


What Was The Fruit?


What was the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?


  1. Grapes: The claim that Eve “pressed grapes” and gave Adam wine to drink, as surprising as it sounds, was the most widespread answer in our sources. Linguistically it is based on what is said in the Torah, “and she (Eve) took from its fruits” (Bereshit 3:6). Since it does not say “she took its fruits” but rather “from its fruits”, one can claim that Eve created something from the fruit, the bunches of grapes, and this she gave to Adam.


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XIX:5 SHE TOOK OF THE FRUIT THEREOF, AND DID EAT. R. Aibu said: She squeezed grapes and gave him.


Aryeh Kaplan suggests that one way to rectify Adam’s sin is to abstain from drinking wine or eating the fruit of the vine in any form. A person who undertakes such abstention by means of a vow is called a Nazir. The nazir wants to put himself in the state of Adam before the sin. He wants to rectify Adam’s sin.[8]


  1. Wheat: This is one of the most surprising claims since wheat is not a tree, but rather a short plant, and wheat kernels, which one needs to grind before use in baking, cannot be easily described as “the fruit of the tree”, but despite this we find this opinion in the Midrash. It’s basis is probably in studying the realities of life: Wheat symbolizes wisdom, “a baby does not know to call for it’s father and mother until it experiences the taste of wheat” (Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 72)


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XV:7 AND THE TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL  (ib.). What was the tree where of Adam and Eve ate? R. Meir said: It was wheat, for when a person lacks knowledge people say, ‘That man has never eaten bread of wheat.’ R. Samuel b. Isaac asked R. Ze’ira: ‘Is it possible that it was wheat? ‘ ‘ Yes,’ replied he. ‘ But surely TREE is written?’ he argued. ‘It grew lofty like the cedars of the Lebanon’


  1. Figs: It is known that after the sin Adam and Eve sewed themselves garments from “fig leaves” (Bereishit 3:7). The Midrash learns from this that the tree with which the original couple sinned was also the tree from which their rehabilitation after the sin began.


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XIX:6 AND THEY SEWED THE LEAVES OF THE FIG (TE’ENAH) TOGETHER. R. Simeon b. Yohai said; That is the leaf which brought the occasion (to’anah)- for death-into the world.


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XV:7 R. Jose said: They were figs. He learns the obscure from the explicit, and [the meaning of] a statement from its context, thus: This may be compared to a royal prince who sinned with a slave girl, and the king on learning of it expelled him from court. He went from door to door of the slaves, but they would not receive him; but she who had sinned with him opened her door and received him. So when Adam ate of that tree, He expelled him and cast him out of the garden of Eden; and he appealed to all the trees but they would not receive him. What did they say to him? Said R. Berekiah: ‘ Behold, a deceiver who deceived his Creator, who deceived his Master! ‘as it is written, Let not the foot of presumption come unto me (Ps. XXXVI, 12), which means, the foot that presumed against its Creator; And let not the hand of the wicked shake1 me (ib.): i.e. let it not take a leaf from me.2 But because he had eaten of its fruit, the fig-tree opened its doors and received him, as it is written, And they sewed fig-leaves together, etc. (Gen. III, 7).


It is interesting to note that the oral Torah is also called a fig tree, because it enclothes itself in that framework (mixing good and evil).[9] The antidote to the tree of knowledge of good and evil was found next to it in Gan Eden, for the tree of life is the Torah![10]


  1. Etrog: Because the word was seen as deriving from ragag, which means to desire.


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XV:7 R. Abba of Acco said: It was the ethrog (citron), as it is written, And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (Gen. III, 6). Consider: go forth and see, what tree is it whose wood can be eaten just like its fruit? and you find none but the etrog.




Before the sin, nakedness was the norm. Adam and Chava were naked and the serpent was as well:


Bereshit (Genesis) 2:25-3:1 And they were both arom (naked), the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed. Now the serpent was more arom (naked) than any beast of the field....


One of the consequences of eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was the awareness that we now had lust for one another. Being naked without lust was a beautiful thing. However, being naked in the presence of the yetzer hara produced lust and shame. Therefore, after the sin we needed to have clothes.


The Hebrew word for “garment” is Le-bhush. This comes from the word Bush, which means “to be ashamed.” The very structure of the Hebrew language indicates that clothing is worn because of shame.


Another Hebrew word for garment is BeGed. This has the same root as the word BaGad, meaning “to rebel.” This indicates that man wears clothing because he originally rebelled against HaShem. Before man sinned and rebelled, he was perfectly content and unashamed of being nude.


HaShem’s consequences always serve to rehabilitate and provide a tikkun, not merely to punish. Therefore, the need to wear clothing is in some way associated with protecting us from further sinning and correcting the reasons why Adam and Chava sinned to begin with. Thus we learn that clothing is designed to keep us from sexual immorality, to restrain lust from the eyes.


Clothing is also an interesting mixture in that they conceal and they reveal. The clothes of a king, for example, conceal the body of a king, yet they reveal that he is a king. Clothes remind us of the first sin, and encourage us to look at a person’s inner beauty, not merely the external beauty. As this generation continues to decay, we attempt to eliminate the tikkun that clothes provide. We seek to put naked bodies on display as meat in a market. This generation is obscuring the and deflecting us from the inner beauty that is revealed when clothes conceal.


The yetzer hara is hard at work undressing folks, whilst our clothes are working hard to give the yetzer hatov, the good inclination, a chance to assert itself. Clothes are learly a tikkun for that first sin.


As an aside, it is interesting to note that the serpent deceived Chava with his lashon hara, evil speech. Lashon hara is when we speak evil, while clothing the evil with the good.


Tu B’Shevat


On Tu B’Shevat we eat the seven fruits[11] which are the praise of eretz Israel. Recently, the mystics have also introduced a seder patterned after the Pesach seder. These celebrations aim to allow us to enjoy the wine and the special fruits of Eretz Israel.


Tu B’Shevat is the new year for the tree, as we can see from the Mishna:


Rosh Hashana 1:1 On the first of Shevat is the new year for the tree . . .


The Pri Tzaddik gives us a connection between the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, with Tu B’Shevat. He notes that the Mishna calls it THE tree. THE tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This teaches us that Tu B’Shevat provides the tikkun for eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After this tree grew and ripened its fruit, we are to use it for the good, thus producing a tikkun, a correction for that first sin.


Recall that we learned earlier that one opinion was that the tree of knowledge of good and evil, was a fig tree. The oral law is also called a fig tree.[12] This suggests that the main tikkun for that first sin comes through the oral law![13]


Thus, Tu B’Shevat is not about eating fruits of the new year for fruit trees. That is only to remind us that to truly achieve freedom from the yetzer hara when we rectify THE tree, by re-dedicating ourselves to the oral law and by using it to rise above our everyday physical reality into the supernatural one of the Tree of Life.


* * *


This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:


Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

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Olympia, WA 98501


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[1] Michtav me-Eliyahu volume 2, p. 138

[2] Baba Bathra 58a

[3] Midrash Rabbah - Genesis 8:10

[4] See also Shabbat 146a, Yevamot 103b Avodah Zarah 22b

[5] In Bereshit 2:25

[6] Rashi Commentary for: Shemot (Exod.) 16:35 forty years Now were not thirty days missing? The manna first fell on the fifteenth of Iyar, and on the fifteenth of Nissan it stopped, as it is said: “And the manna ceased on the morrow” (Josh. 5:12). Rather [this] tells [us] that in the cakes the Israelites took out of Egypt they tasted the flavor of manna.-[from Kid. 38a]. Author’s comments:  This suggests that the matza that they ate for the first thirty days also had the same qualities as the manna.

[7] Brachot 60b

[8] The Aryeh Kaplan Reader

[9] Raya Mehemna, Parshat Naso p. 124b

[10] Mishlei 3:18

[11] Wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.

[12] Raya Mehemna, Parshat Naso p. 124b

[13] Pri Tzaddik, Tu B’Shevat 2