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Shabbat Parashat Pekudei| 5771

Ein Ayah: The Human Frailties that Emanated from the Tree of Knowledge

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 6:34)

Gemara: If one recited “Borei pri ha’etz” on something that requires “Borei pri ha’adama,” he does not fulfill his obligation. Isn’t that obvious? Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak said: It is needed according to Rabbi Yehuda who said that wheat is a type of tree, as the baraita says: The tree that Adam ate from was what? Rabbi Meir said that it was a grape vine, as nothing gives reason for a person to be upset like wine, as occurred to Noach (Bereishit 9:21). Rabbi Nechemia says that it was a fig tree, for they used the object which caused their troubles to rectify their situation, as it says: “They tied fig leaves together” (Bereishit 3:7). Rabbi Yehuda says that it was wheat, as a small child does not call “Mother, father” before he has tasted wheat [Rashi- that is why it is called the Tree of Knowledge.] 


Ein Ayah: There are three basic factors in a person’s personality that are likely to cause him to turn away from the straight path.

One is when his spiritual enjoyment goes in the direction of physicality. This occurs when one becomes attached to overindulging in wine. This is based on the idea that “wine makes the heart happy” (Tehillim 104:15). In fact, happiness is a spiritual enjoyment and desiring it is good when it is in good measure. However, when it goes beyond its proper boundaries, it can be destructive and specifically enslave the spiritual powers to be used for bad things, including for haughtiness, which is related to drunkenness (see Eruvin 65a).

Another problem is the desire of enjoyment in a manner that is not an important need of the body but is just a matter of indulgence. This encourages man to be interested only in fleeting pleasure, especially things that appeal to his senses such as taste. A third issue is the desire to overeat. When a person is taken by such a desire, he will not care if the food is tasty or attractively prepared. Such behavior will open up a person to everything lowly.

Rabbi Meir, who says that the Tree of Knowledge was a grape vine, sees wine, representing using the spiritual side for material desires, as the main root of mankind’s problems that cause tragedies. Rabbi Nechemia felt that it was the fig, which is a sweet fruit that does not have much other value. The word itself (te’eina) is related to the word for looking for an excuse, i.e., having the good taste without any real gain. Rabbi Yehuda posited that this alone would not lower man that much. Rather, it is the desire to eat normal foods beyond satiation that lowers a person. It is wheat that gives man wisdom, with which he does not need the instinct that animals have to stop eating when he does not need more. We say that an increase in knowledge causes an increase in pain because man who possesses wisdom loses instincts and may not have developed the mind enough to go only in the direction of good. Man combines goodness with evil, and while partaking in the food that he needs to survive, he also brings on physical and spiritual illnesses by overeating, to the point that it could cause him far-reaching disgusting characteristics.

Rabbi Yehuda is of the opinion that before the land was cursed to not produce food easily, a person would receive his food with great ease, and therefore wheat was a tree, as it will be in the time of Mashiach (Ketubot 11b). It would have been better that our sustenance would be achieved through natural instincts and that our wisdom would be reserved for the realm of the intellectual. According to Rabbi Meir, therefore, before the sin there was not a situation of spiritual enjoyment being used for physicality, which is what happened with wine only after the sin. According to Rabbi Nechemia, at that time one would not have been carried away by interest in the sweet and desirable. According to Rabbi Yehuda, the natural inclinations would not have been mixed in with wisdom. Rather he would harvest easily his main food, wheat, by plucking the fruits of the tree. Some even say that eventually the Tree of Knowledge would have become permitted, as once man would have learned how to balance between the needs of the body and those of the spirit, knowledge would have been used for good in an effortless manner, with effort to be reserved for more lofty purposes.

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