The Tree of Knowledge
The Tree of Knowledge
An Interactive Learning Module by Rivka Kahan
Garden of Eden
Jan Brueghel the Younger
The very first story about humanity revolves around the sin of eating from
"עץ הדעת טוב ורע"
, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
This module will explore the
nature of the knowledge
that was acquired by eating from the tree and how the sin transformed human nature.
An in depth analysis of this issue can be found at
The Tree of Knowledge
. As you use this module, you are invited to compare your own analysis with the analysis found there.
2. The Verses
Let’s begin by
examining the verses
that describe the tree and its fruit by clicking to read them in the Mikraot Gedolot: a)
What information do these verses provide about the tree and the
type of knowledge
that its fruit imparted?
Does it seem to you that the knowledge imparted by the fruit was
positive or negative
are raised by these verses about the nature of "ידיעת טוב ורע" and why it was forbidden?
3. Meanings of "ידע" and "דעת"
Let’s now examine the meaning of the word
as it is used throughout Tanakh.
and click on the word "
" in verse 17 to access the
One Click Concordance
Scan the first 15 sources that appear. What are the
of this word in Tanakh?
Now, under the heading
(Related Entries) on the right side of the concordance, click on
and scan the first five sources that appear.
What additional connotation is found in these sources?
4. Summary of Findings
Our concordance search has shown that the word "דעת" and the root "ידע" have various meanings in Tanakh:
(for example, Shemot 31:3 and Melakhim I 7:14)
Knowledge of God
(for example, Bemidbar 24:16 and Yeshayahu 33:6)
(for example, Devarim 4:42 and Yehoshua 20:3)
(for example, Bereshit 4:1)
Which one or more of these meanings best fit(s) the context of Bereshit 3?
5. Meanings of "ידיעת טוב ורע"
Now let’s explore the meaning of the phrase "ידיעת טוב ורע".
Switch to the
of the concordance by toggling the button in the top right corner from "basic" to "advanced".
In the first field, input:
, choosing the verb from the dropdown menu. In the second field, input
, choosing the adjective form, and in the third field, input:
, again choosing the adjective form.
What are the
of the phrase "ידיעת טוב ורע" in Devarim 1:39 and Shemuel II:19:36? Which meaning of "דעת" is implied by each?
How does the tension between the understandings of "דעת" as
(or moral) knowledge and "דעת" as
knowledge in these verses parallel the different implications of "ידיעת טוב ורע" that emerge from Bereshit Chapters 2-3? Which verses in Bereshit 2-3 imply Godly knowledge and which imply sexual knowledge?
6. Commentators: Ibn Ezra
Let's now look at how our commentators have understood the "knowledge" granted by the tree.
(First Commentary) on
(from: "ודע כי האדם מלא דעת היה . . . שהוא בער").
What definition of "דעת" does he
Now look at his comments in his First Commentary on
(from: "והנכון בעיני").
Which definition of "דעת" does Ibn Ezra
How does he
7. Ibn Ezra: Biblical Context
To better appreciate Ibn Ezra’s approach and how it fits the
of the chapter, go to the
This will enable us to
the components of our text and find the words that appear with the greatest frequency within Bereshit 3.
What word appears with the
in this chapter relative to the rest of Tanakh? [See the table.]
How does this support Ibn Ezra’s interpretation?
What other aspects of the narrative in
the interpretation that eating from the tree granted
8. Ibn Ezra: Difficulties
While Ibn Ezra’s approach is supported by several aspects of the narrative, it is
, which describe "ידיעת טוב ורע" as Godly knowledge. How is sexual desire a Godly attribute? [This problem is pointed out by
Ramban on Bereshit 2:9
To understand how Ibn Ezra
addresses this problem
, see Ibn Ezra on
(from:"וטעם הפסוק . . . על מחשבתו").
What are Ibn Ezra’s
for explaining how "ידיעת טוב ורע" can be Godly knowledge?
Do you have any other ideas of how to resolve this tension?
9. Ibn Ezra: Solutions
Ibn Ezra resolves the issue by suggesting that the word "אלהים" in the verse be understood as
rather than God, or that the verse is speaking from the
Do you find these answers satisfying? Why or why not?
Another way of resolving the difficulty and understanding how
associated with God
is that such desire gives man the identity and drive to be a
, in emulation of God the ultimate creator.
Do you have any other questions about Ibn Ezra’s interpretation?
10. Commentators: Ramban
Let's compare Ibn Ezra's reading of the story with that of
See Ramban on
(from "והיפה בעיני" until the end of the commentary).
of "דעת" does Ramban adopt?
Which verses in the narrative of חטא עץ הדעת support this interpretation?
How does Ramban
the understanding of "דעת" as sexual knowledge (as implied by Bereshit 3:7) into his commentary?
According to Ramban, how is the acquisition of "ידיעת טוב ורע" both a
transformation for man?
11. Understanding Ramban
Ramban adopts the interpretation that the fruit imparted the capacity for
Sexual morality is one arena of human desire and choice, and is thus associated with eating from the tree.
Free choice is a
that elevates man, but also forces him to contend with temptation and the
(יצר הרע). As such, eating from the tree had both positive and negative consequences.
, though, are raised by Ramban’s interpretation of ידיעת טוב ורע?
12. Ramban: Difficulties
Abarbanel (commentary on Bereshit 2:8) points out the apparent
of claiming that man acquired free choice by eating from the tree, when it would appear that the decision to eat from the tree implies that he
already had free choice
A potential resolution has been offered by Tamar Werdiger ("עץ הדעת", Megadim 22 (1994): 9-22). She suggests that "ידיעת טוב ורע" implies the
of free choice rather than simply the
for free choice.
Man was created with the capacity for free choice, but only achieved the reality of free choice once he exercised that capacity by eating from the tree.
Do you have any
of how to resolve this issue?
13. Commentators: Rambam
, Rambam understands "ידיעת טוב ורע" as
, similar to the interpretation of Ramban. (Note that Rambam presents another interpretation in Moreh Nevukhim.)
See his discussion in
Hilkhot Teshuvah 5:1-2
How is Rambam’s interpretation
to and how is it
from that of Ramban? What do the differences imply about each thinker's
to the concept of free will?
What does Rambam’s interpretation imply about the extent of
before and after חטא עץ הדעת?
How would you understand why, according to Rambam, Hashem would have chosen to create man without free will initially?
Do you have any other questions about Rambam’s interpretation?
14. Questions for Further Analysis
According to each of the commentators we have seen, what was the
to human nature effectuated by חטא עץ הדעת and how transformative was that change?
According to each commentator, is "ידיעת טוב ורע"
, or ambiguous?
How do you think each commentator would explain why man was
not initially granted
"ידיעת טוב ורע"?
How do you think each commentator would explain why man acquired "ידיעת טוב ורע"
The narrative of the Tree of Knowledge raises conceptual and philosophical questions which are based in part on the
of "ידיעת טוב ורע".
We have seen two approaches: the fruit of the tree imparted either
and awareness or the broader capacity for
and moral decision-making.
Each of these approaches is supported by aspects of the Biblical text and challenged by others.
Study of this question leaves the reader with
to ponder, such as why God initially created man without knowledge of good and evil, why this knowledge was acquired through sin, and what are the positive and negative aspects of this knowledge.
The nuances of the narrative, and the fascinating, multidimensional questions it raises, point to the multifaceted
complexity of human nature
and human experience.
16. Additional Reading
For further discussion of this topic, see:
The Tree of Knowledge
For other topics related to Parashat Bereshit, see:
Parashat Bereshit – Topic List
the beginning of this module
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