Answered Questions – Why Were Adam and Eve Punished

An atheist asks:

3. Since Adam and Eve didn’t know right from wrong before eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, why did God then punish them for something they didn’t understand they were doing?

The answer has more to do with what eating from the tree accomplished. Per Rabbi Sacks in The Great Partnership:

The biblical word da’at, ‘knowledge’, does not mean in Hebrew what it is normally taken to mean in the West, namely knowledge of facts, theories, systems and truths. It means interpersonal knowledge, intimacy, empathy. The ‘tree of knowledge’ is about this kind of knowledge. True knowledge that the other is not a mirror image of me, that he or she has wants and needs of her own that may clash with mine, is the source of all love and all pain. To know that I am known makes me want to hide: that is the couple’s first response after eating the fruit. The turning point comes when the man gives Eve a proper name. Love is born when we recognise the integrity of otherness. That is the meaning of love between people. It is the meaning of love between us and God. Only when we make space for the human other do we make space for the divine Other.

Adam and Eve learned about each-other through eating of the Tree of Knowledge. Before this time, they still knew it was wrong to disobey God (God told them the consequences outright), but they did not seem to have awareness of intimacy. Eating of the tree resulted in self-awareness, the death of naïvety.

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