Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508), also spelled Abarbanel was a penetrating Jewish thinker, scholar, and
prolific Biblical commentator. In Genesis Chapter 2, he unearths the meaning of the two trees featured
in the Garden of Eden: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Regarding the tree of life, Abravanel questions: How is it that the tree bestows eternal life upon
someone who eats of it? After all, anyone who ingests fruit from any tree can only receive those
qualities or nutrients provided by the tree. Since a fruit’s makeup consists of vitamins and minerals that
remain in man’s bloodstream for a limited time, the impact will be finite. Surely, someone who eats that
fruit does not become immortal.
Before Abravanel answers the question concerning the tree of life, he poses a parallel one about the
tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is: How could it be that the tree of knowledge, a tree devoid of
feeling or intelligence, imparts knowledge to the person who eats from it? Again, Abravanel asserts that
fruit can only give to the eater that which itself possesses. So, for example, if pears don’t have any
vitamin k (let alone any emotion or cognition), then a person who eats pears won’t derive any vitamin k
benefit. In our context when we speak about the tree of knowledge, it means that anyone who eats
from that tree shall not receive a boost to his/her I.Q. (intellectual or emotional).
Now Abravanel answers the two questions, and we summarize. Abravanel cites the Talmudic sages’
opinion who learn that Adam’s constitution was a sturdy one; he was created to potentially live and not
die. The rabbis’ position concerning man’s super longevity is not inconceivable, writes Abravanel.
But Adam sinned when he ate from the tree of knowledge. Disobedience to God’s command abruptly
dashed Man’s death-defying potential. Abravanel believes, that had Adam complied with the Creator’s
request, the tree of life would have facilitated a robust life – earning him eternity.
Was Adam originally meant to cheat death and live forever? This question requires explanation. We are
not advocating a position whereby Adam inherently shared traits with the stars and planets, designed to
remain permanent fixtures in the heavens. To be sure, man’s makeup at creation cannot be likened to
the celestials that forever occupy the heavens. That is, Adam was not earmarked to dwell on earth and
not succumb to the grave. Instead, had Adam obeyed God, then the Almighty would have repaid him
handsomely; His kindness and compassion could have catapulted Adam, breathing into him a turbo-
charged existence. But, alas, bumbling Adam blew a golden opportunity to skirt death.
Abravanel now turns to discuss the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Let us restate our original
suppositions and definitions. In fact, the fruit held no sway over man’s knowledge base, not of good and
evil in a moral sense (because trees cannot convey morals) and not of I.Q. (because trees cannot convey
intelligence). Rather, Abravanel says that the knowledge fruit worked as an aphrodisiac. The more a
person consumed, the more desirous of sex he or she became.
As for redefining the tree of knowledge, Abravanel puts forth that In Biblical parlance, “knowledge”
refers to sexual relations. “Knowledge of good” suggests normal and moderate spousal intimacy;
whereas, “knowledge of evil” conveys exaggerated sexual conduct, lechery.
God forbade Adam to eat the intoxicating fruit, as excessive sexual behavior would distract him from
religious values. Crucially, the Torah did not frown upon looking at or even touching fruit from the tree
of knowledge. As stated, Heaven blesses man insofar as he enjoys appropriate spousal intimacy.
However, sexual promiscuity will not be condoned by the One Above. Hence, Adam was told not to eat
Genesis chapter 2. Based on Abravanel’s World of Torah, by Zev Bar Eitan.