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Beit Hamidrash

The Tree of Life

By: הרב רונן נויברט

"And the serpent said to the woman, you shall surely not die. For G-d knows that on the day you eat thereof your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as G-ds, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw...


The Tree of Life

"And the serpent said to the woman, you shall surely not die. For G-d knows that on the day you eat thereof your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as G-ds, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and a tree to be desired in order to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and did eat, and gave also to her husband with her, and he did eat."(Bereishit 3:3-5)

Apparently, the transgression of eating from the Tree of the Knowledge benefited human kind, for it helped transform them into sophisticated intellectual individuals. From ignorant creatures, man and woman grew to become intelligent human beings. This, of course, is very puzzling. Why is human kind rewarded for the shameless performance of such a severe sin?

Many commentators have aimed to deal with this philosophical issue. One fundamental commentary is that of Rav Chayim of Volozhen in his famous book, "Nefesh Hachayim". According to Rav Chayim of Volozhen mankind was not rewarded for the performance of this sin but rather deteriorated as an outcome of the sin, and in his inspiring words:

 "Before Adam sinned, he was entirely free to choose the path he wished to follow - whether to do good or, G-d forbid, to sin, because this is the purpose of all mankind. Although he sinned, he was not prompted by evil influences within himself, since he was a completely righteous man, surrounded by the forces of holiness... The powers of evil stood at the side, as a matter to themselves, apart from him...Therefore, when he wished to cause him to sin, the serpent had to come from outside to tempt him. Not as is the case nowadays, when the temptation to sin comes from within, and one is convinced that he himself is drawn towards evil behavior, and no outside influence is tempting him..."

According to Rav Chayim, the serpent is an allegory to our evil impulse - the יצר הרע. Before the sin, this evil force was external, in the image of a serpent. We were pure and righteous by nature.  "G-d made man upright; but they have sought out many intrigues" (Kohelet 7:29). After the sin, the serpent intruded our body, and became an integral part of our entity, as Chazal say in the Gemara: "When the serpent came to Chava he contaminated her. This contamination ceased when Israel stood at Mount Sinai" (Shabbat 146a). The sin caused us to lose our innocence and therefore to lose our eternity. "...for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Bereishit 2:17).  Adam and Chava didn't actually die immediately after eating from the tree but rather they lost their immortality. "Reish Lakish said: Satan, the evil prompter, and the Angel of Death are all one" (Baba Batra 16b). Internalizing the יצר הרע is the same as empowering the Angel of Death.  

Therefore, the tree is called the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. For after the sin, the evil as well as the good became an integral part of our existence, and we started wandering in this path of endless confusion.

Our goal is to heal the world, and return this evil force to its original status - detached and separate from our entity. We posses the tools to achieve such an outcome: "I have created the evil inclination and I have created Torah as its antidote"(Kiddushin 30b). The Torah is the antidote to our Yetzer Hara. This is why when we accepted the Torah on Mount Sinai the contamination ceased. Indeed, the contamination returned as an outcome of the sin of the Golden Calf, nevertheless the Torah is a constant and endless cure. The Torah is in fact the Tree of Life: "עֵץ-חַיִּים הִיא, לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ; וְתֹמְכֶיהָ מְאֻשָּׁר" - "It is a tree of life to those who grasp it, and happy is every one who supports it"(Mishlei 3:18).

By realizing the significant role that the Torah plays in our lives, may we all merit to behold the fulfillment of the prophecy "He will eliminate death forever; and the L-rd G-d will wipe away tears from off all faces" (Isaiah 25:8).