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In Genesis 2:9, we are told the creation and the lay out of special trees in the garden of Eden. A tree of life in the center (middle) and a tree of knowledge of good and bad. Are there sources that explain why the Creator dedicated the latter to only good and bad but not to "all encompassing knowledge" ?

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  • Possibly the answer is that "all knowledge" exists in the domain of both good and also evil. – The GRAPKE Oct 11 '20 at 21:57
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I believe because it was not earmarked for factual knowledge. If one looks at the Sforno on the verse, this concept of knowledge is explored in two places.

The pasuk reads:

וַיַּצְמַ֞ח ה' אֱלֹקים֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה כָּל־עֵ֛ץ נֶחְמָ֥ד לְמַרְאֶ֖ה וְט֣וֹב לְמַאֲכָ֑ל וְעֵ֤ץ הַֽחַיִּים֙ בְּת֣וֹךְ הַגָּ֔ן וְעֵ֕ץ הַדַּ֖עַת ט֥וֹב וָרָֽע׃

And from the ground the LORD G-d caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad. (Sefaria translation)

Firstly, according to the Sforno, just looking at any of these special trees inspired greater knowledge i.e. it wasn't the job of the Eitz Hada'as:

נחמד למראה, looking at these trees resulted In the viewer experiencing intellectual stimulation both of his heart and his brain. He would thus be capable of “digesting” the additional intellectual insights granted him by G’d. Compare Kings II 3,15 ותהי עליו יד ה', “Elisha had now been endowed by G-d’s generosity.” [a reference to the additional spiritual insights he had asked from his mentor Elijah prior to the latter ascending to heaven. Ed.]

He then writes next:

ועץ הדעת, a tree whose fruit results in those who eat from it gaining greater understanding of the relationship of good and evil. The word דעת, which appears here for the first time, helps us understand Genesis 4,1 והאדם ידע את חוה אשתו. Without this verse we would have been puzzled by the Torah telling us something that was so obvious. Who does not “know” his wife, especially when he had described her as “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” (2,23) In our verse we are told that the words ידע, דעת do not primarily refer to factual knowledge but to conceptual knowledge. This also helps us to understand why relatives, as in Ruth 2,1 are referred to as מודע לאישה, “someone whom her late husband had been intimate with, had been related to by blood.” It is normal for blood relations to be concerned with the physical and emotional needs of their kin. (compare Proverbs 17,17.)

Thus the Eitz Hada'as, according to Sforno was to serve as a source of conceptual knowledge and not factual knowledge, namely an awareness to do the right thing and to be cognisant of the difference between good and evil.

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  • Similar to Moreh Nevuchim Part I Chapter 2 – Joel K Oct 12 '20 at 11:05
  • @DOV I need to digest your answer and the other comments as my gut feeling is that the capacity of conceptual knowledge as well as factual knowledge matters as much as the knowledge of good and evil. For example to observe the mitzvot. – Pioni5777 Oct 12 '20 at 17:35
  • Possibly - but the main thrust though is that this tree of knowledge didn't necessarily imbue knowledge in they way we think of it i.e. facts and details, but rather a more abstract infusion of thoughts that centred around what is good and evil, right and wrong etc. – Dov Oct 12 '20 at 17:38

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