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From: Lisa

Dear Rabbi,

What is the identity of the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?

Dear Lisa,

Soon I’ll discuss what, according to Jewish sources, it might have been. But first allow me to set the record straight about what it wasn’t: an apple. This is a common misconception based on non-Jewish sources and illustrations but is not found anywhere in authentic Jewish texts. The Adam’s apple, then, so called because of the purported lodging of the forbidden fruit in Adam’s throat, is a misnomer.

So, what was this forbidden fruit?

There are at least three opinions in the rabbinical literature: The grape, the fig, wheat.

The grape. This is based on the wording of the verse that states that Eve “took from its fruits” (Gen. 3:6) and not that “she took its fruits”. The implication is that she did not take the fruit of the tree itself, but rather derived a product from it, namely wine which is the fruit of the vine. Thus, this opinion in our Sages posits that “Eve pressed grapes and gave Adam wine”. This, of course, is in keeping with the Torah’s many warnings against the vices of alcohol and the way that wine in particular can cause folly and offense.

The fig. This is based on the narrative that relates how after the sin Adam and Eve covered their newly realized nakedness with fig leaves (3:7). The explanation is that when the first couple became aware of the magnitude of their misdeed they sought to hide themselves from G-d. As they grasped for straw to cover their iniquity all trees in the Garden recoiled from abetting their escape. Only the fig tree, their accomplice in sin, offered cover in its leaves. However, conversely, it was this cooperation to conceal that initiated the rectification of their wrong.

Wheat. This most interesting assertion is based on the idea that an infant only starts to call his father “abba” when he is able to eat and digest wheat. This ability reveals a certain degree of intelligence and discernment. While a child’s first drooling “daddy” is most endearing, it paradoxically plants the first seeds of rebellion. How so? Initially, an infant is in speechless awe of his father. However, when he starts to call him “abba”, he begins to quantify and thereby limit him such that eventually he second-guesses him until he finally attempts to outdo him. Accordingly, it is wheat which caused Adam and Eve to second-guess G-d’s intention and to ultimately rebel against His Will.

Interestingly, this opinion maintains that wheat originally grew on trees in baked form. When Adam sinned, this marvelous tree, which grew ready-made baked goods, was reduced to a lowly kernel sprouting plant. Yet, in the future, when all mankind returns to G-d and rectifies the sin of Adam and Eve, the Tree of Knowledge will be restored to its former glory. Then, all humanity will use its G-d given intelligence and power of discernment not to outdo G-d, but to wholeheartedly do His Will.

  • Sanhedrin 72
  • Bereshet Rabba 19
  • Rashi, Gen. 3:7
  • Ketubot 111b

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