In every corner of Gan Eden there are eighty myriad species of trees, the most inferior of them being finer than all of the aromatic plants (of this world); and in each corner there are sixty myriads of ministering angels singing in pleasant tones. In the center is the Tree of Life, its branches covering the whole of Gan Eden, containing five hundred thousand varieties of fruit all differing in appearance and taste. Above it are the clouds of glory and it is smitten by the four winds so that its odor is wafted from one end of the world to another. Beneath it are the Sages who expound the Torah, each of them possessing two chambers, one of stars and the other of the sun and moon. Between every chamber hangs a curtain of clouds of glory, behind which lies Eden. Inside it there are three hundred and ten worlds and in it are seven classes of the righteous.[1]

The Tree of Life mentioned in the creation story in Genesis is not identified in rabbinic sources, although apocryphal sources claim it was the olive tree. The anticipated "messiah" who will usher in a new era will be anointed by the oil of the olive tree (messiah, the Hebrew word for messiah, means anointment) conveys immorality. The midrash above describes the Tree of Life in extravagant terms: it stands in the middle of Eden, shading the entire garden, it is covered with seven clouds of glory, and its fruits have thousands of tastes and perfumes.

In Paradise stand the tree of life and the tree of knowledge, the latter forming a hedge around the former. Only he who has cleared a path for himself through the tree of knowledge can come close to the tree of life, which is so huge that it would take a man five hundred years to transverse a distance equal to the diameter of the trunk, and no less vast is the space shaded by its crown of branches. From beneath it flows forth the water that irrigates the whole earth, parting thence into four stream, the Ganges, the Nile, the Tigris and the Euphrates.

But it was only during the days of creation that the realm of plants looked to the waters of the earth for nourishment. Later on, God made the plants dependent upon the rain, the upper waters. The clouds rise from earth to heaven where water is poured into them as from a conduit. The plants began to feel the effect of the water only after Adam was created. Although they had been brought forth on the third day, God did not permit them to sprout and appear above the surface of the earth, until Adam prayed to Him to give food unto them, for God longs for the prayers of the pious.[2]

Concerning The Tree of Knowledge (of good and evil) which God planted in the Garden of Eden at the time of creation — numerous interpretations abound. Varying sources regard the type of knowledge the forbidden fruit conveyed to Adam and Eve as moral understanding, sexual knowledge, natural intelligence, or rationality. Unlike Christianity, Judaism associates Adam and Eve's sin, not with the knowledge itself they acquired by eating the forbidden fruit, but with the rebellious behavior against God. Legends variously identify the Tree of Knowledge as the fig, apple, pomegranate, etrog, carob, palm, nut tree, grapevine, or wheat stalk.


[1] Abraham Cohen, Everyman's Talmud: The Major Teachings of the Rabbinic Sages, New York: Schocken Books 1995 [back]

[2] Louis Ginzburg, Legends of the Bible, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1975 [back]

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