What do the
two trees in Paradise represent in the Kabbalah? Already in biblical metaphor
wisdom, identified by Jewish tradition with the Torah, is designated as the
Tree of Life (Prov. 3:18); thus opening the whole realm of typology. The trees
in Paradise are not merely physical trees; beyond this they point to a state
of things which they represent symbolically.
In the opinion of
the Jewish mystics, both trees are in essence one. They grow out into two directions
from a common trunk. Genesis tells us that the Tree of Life stood in the center
of Paradise, but it does not indicate the exact position of the Tree of Knowledge.
The Kabbalists took this to mean that it had no special place of its own but
sprouted together with the Tree of Life out of the common matrix of the divine
world. The two trees are different aspects of the Torah, which have their common
origin in revelation.
Tree of Life represents that aspect which has hitherto been unrealizable because,
due to the sin of Adam, it remained virtually hidden and inaccessible, and we
do not know the taste of its fruits. The law which is concealed in the life
of this tree is that of a creative force manifesting itself in infinite harmonies,
a force which knows no limitations or boundaries. The paradisaic life under
this law never came into being. The sin of Adam was that he isolated the Tree
of Life from the Tree of Knowledge, to which he directed his desire.
Once the unity of
the two trees in men's lives were destroyed, there began the dominion
of the Tree of Knowledge. No longer did unitary gushing, unrestrained
life prevail, but the duality of good and evil in which the Torah appears
in this aspect of revelation. Since the expulsion from Paradise, in the
exile in which we all now find ourselves, we can no longer percieve the
world as a unified whole. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil under
whose law the world now stands corresponds to a condition of this world
in which distinctions must be made before the unity of life can be regained:
the distinctions between good and evil, commandment and prohibition, holy
and profane, pure and impure.
For the author of those
sections of the Zohar the two trees were not only, as they were for other Kabbalists,
symbols of the sefirot ( manifestations of God in Creation), the Tree
of Knowledge representing the tenth and last sefirah. Beyond this they were
models for two possible forms of life in the light of revelation. Of course,
at the present only the one is tangible and capable of fulfillment. Precisely
out of those very distinctions and limitations, man is to restore the lost form
and the violated image of the divine in himself and thus bring the Tree of Knowledge,
with which he is mystically associated, to its full development.
Torah of the Tree of Knowledge is, however, nothing other than the world since
the expulsion from Paradise. Only the redemption, breaking the dominion of exile,
puts an end to the order of the Tree of Knowledge and restores the utopian order
of the Tree of Life, in which the heart of life beats unconcealed and the isolation
in which everything now finds itself is overcome. Thus the inner logic of this
conception of the dominion of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as
the legitimate form of revelation in an unredeemed world had to regard the redemption
itself as a return home to Paradise, where all things will again be in their
Although it is not a matter
of a physical return to a geographical Paradise, it is in any case life in a
state of the world which corresponds to that of Paradise or in which Paradise,
for its part, expands into the world. The Torah of the Messianic age will then
be that of the Tree of Life, which no longer knows any of all those separations
and limitations. This Torah is still revelation and, in Kabbalistic terms, an
evolution of the divine name; but it has nothing further to do with the form
under which we have known it until now. It is a utopian Torah for a utopian
state of the world.
Gershom Scholem. The Messianic Idea in Judaism. New York: Schocken
books 1971. pp.69-70. Excerpted by permission of Schocken Books.
Earth and Torah: A Tu B'shvat Anthology edited by Ari Elon, Naomi Mara
Hyman and Arthur Waskow, JPS 1999; pp. 115-117.
TREES Table of Contents