‘But From the Tree of Knowledge You Shall Not Eat’ (Genesis 2:17) – A Rebuke to our Universities

‘But From the Tree of Knowledge You Shall Not Eat’ (Genesis 2:17) – A Rebuke to our Universities

by Rabbi Yosef Y. Polter

As if the brutal, sadistic murders, rapes, beheadings, torture, and burnings of some 1400 men, women, children, and babies and kidnappings of 200, and the wounding and maiming of some 4,000 in 20 towns and kibbutzim in southern Israel by savage barbarians wasn’t enough, our American universities, including many elite schools such as Harvard and Columbia, and others such as Tufts, NYU, UCLA, University of Wisconsin, and myriads more, have added grave insult to injury.

One would like to think that from the halls of higher education there would be at least the “moral clarity” to know right from wrong, good from evil – in this case, evil incarnate. And yet, the vile, odious response from so many university students, faculty members, and administrators was an indescribable disgrace to the American education system.

This indictment applies to the faculty and administrators even more than to the students. They are the ones who have indoctrinated and poisoned these young adults against anything sane, honorable, and moral, and destroyed their minds and souls to the degree that students are able to stage rallies and sign letters standing with demonic monsters.

By Divine Providence, the new cycle of weekly Torah readings began one week, to the day, after this gruesome massacre. In this initial portion of Genesis, there is an important lesson regarding the parameters of knowledge. G-d places Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and tells them: “Of all trees of the garden you may eat. But from the tree of knowledge, you shall not eat.” (Genesis 2:17)

What was G-d’s obsession with the tree of knowledge? Why was it more precarious than any other tree? Indeed, why wasn’t it more preferable than every other tree? What could be better than knowledge?

It must be noted that knowledge without fear of G-d, morality, insight, and wisdom is highly toxic and can derail one much further than a lack of knowledge. In fact, it leads to sheer stupidity, moral depravity, and the inability to discern even the worst evil.

The Talmud provides details about this story and explains that this ban was actually intended to last a mere few hours. Adam and Eve were created on Friday afternoon, and the prohibition was only supposed to be applicable until the onset of the Sabbath, i.e., Friday evening. Once the Sabbath arrived, it would have been permissible to eat from this tree. (Why they were not able to hold themselves back for a few hours is an obvious, but separate, question.)

Why would the arrival of the Sabbath make it “safe” to eat from this apparently treacherous tree? Perhaps it is because the Sabbath is an acknowledgement of a creator. As it says (Genesis 2:2): “And G-d concluded … the work He did and rested on the seventh day…” (see Genesis 2:1-3, generally). This declares the existence of a creator and higher power over the world. Introducing the Sabbath into the world would thus enable mankind to pursue knowledge that would yield moral and healthy fruit instead of twisted rotten fruit.

Knowledge is a great thing only when tethered to and guided by the recognition and fear of G-d, by an awareness of His presence and involvement in the affairs of mankind. This entails the realization that there is an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and that all our deeds are recorded for the final accounting that we will be called upon to give. Only then can knowledge be “safe.” Without this prerequisite, knowledge, like a lethal poison, wreaks havoc, as confirmed to our utter disgust and disbelief by the moral depravity displayed at our so-called highest echelons of learning.

The pursuit of knowledge, when unchecked by an ever-present awareness of G-d and the humility resulting from that awareness, leads to arrogance. As we become more arrogant, we become disconnected from moral truths. To counter this tendency, all learning must be accompanied by a strong awareness of G-d and His moral principles. If not, it leads to the deepest depths of moral degradation and, ultimately, as strange as this sounds, to ignorance in everything else but one’s chosen field, if even that! (And let’s not forget, Nazi Germany was “highly educated” and “enlightened.” So much for unbridled “education.”)

American universities with all that so-called “knowledge” have become cesspools of heresy and blasphemy, sexual depravity, deviance, and now, as we just horrifyingly witnessed, total and complete moral bankruptcy of the absolute lowest level. The professors and administrators of our universities have spent years destroying the moral fiber of our youth, many of whom are now adults, parents, and, dangerously, in leadership positions.

The very first Torah reading immediately following a full week of worse-than-abhorrent behavior at these supposed citadels of knowledge – as students demonized Israel (the good guys) and supported and defended vicious, ruthless terrorists – proclaims a powerful rebuke to these bastions of destructive education and tainted knowledge.

Jewish law teaches that the gravest sin is to lead others astray. Over the years, these faculty members and administrators have committed this cardinal transgression in stunning fashion. Absent serious repentance, contrition, and righting their wrongs by reversing the profound devastation they have caused and starting to teach truth and moral clarity, G-d will demand an accounting.

Note: In Jewish tradition, the name of G-d is not written in full on temporary/disposable publications (newspapers, flyers), out of reverence for His holiness.


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