Forbidden Fruit, Rosh Hashanah, and Our Charge to Take Care of the World

Organic Torah, By Rabbi Nathan MargalitSurrealist painting of a book in landscape

According to Hasidic traditions, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, from the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, worked in a deeper way than we usually think about it. It’s not just that after the eating of the fruit we humans could distinguish between good and evil. The test of “to eat or not to eat” kind of assumed that we had that ability already. What kind of a test would it have been if we couldn’t distinguish between good and bad? No, the real problem that came from eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was that we might know the right thing to do, but only know it in our heads: not really know it enough to change who we are and how we act. That is a curse that we are all living with daily. This curse of the Tree of Knowledge feels very present in this moment when we stand at the brink of worldwide disaster.

The lack of obedience to God’s command brings with it consequences as they were in olden times: famine, droughts, fires, mass migrations and war. Yet, what are most of us doing to change this situation? When we want to change who we are and how we act in the world, as we try to do in approaching Rosh Hashanah, we need to go back to the root of our problems. We must start to live in ways that embody a natural cycle. We must re-learn the ways of being that our ancestors all knew to be holy: treating all that we have and use as gifts from a divine Source. Then our actions, even small ones, will start to change our consciousness and we will begin the necessary work of un-doing that curse of the Tree of Knowledge. We’ll learn again to know– not just with our minds, but with our bodies and our souls– that we are all connected and we all play our parts.

Even little life changes can help us to re-learn this sacred connection. I have been composting for years, returning food scraps to the earth where they can break down and become food for more life. I see that new life every time I go outside in the morning and pick some kale from the garden for my breakfast. The cycle of life is palpable, not theoretical. Through our writing about it, thousands of people may now also be inspired to make similar small changes. Our culture may change, and we’ll inspire one another to make even bigger changes. This year, this critical year, as we approach our holy days, we need to re-examine our own personal Tree of Knowledge and see where we are knowing only in our heads, without translating that into body and soul knowledge that changes our actions.

Letʻs find the ways that we can begin to heal our relationship with the world one action at a time: composting, biking, gardening, car-pooling, buying locally, eating locally, using energy from the sun and the wind, joining with our communities to protest and raise awareness. Our actions can teach us through our hands and feet and hearts that we are all connected. This is what is meant by obeying God’s command to take care of our world. According to our sacred stories, human civilization was started by separating our knowledge from our bodies and souls and our essential connectedness to the earth and our Source. Perhaps we now need to create a new kind of civilization by remembering our original home on earth where we are all nourished by the Tree of Life. For our civilization and the earth to survive and thrive we’ll need to begin our journey back to the Garden of inter-connection and gratitude for all our gifts. Let’s start today. Let’s make this a truly blessed New Year.

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