After reading this question and its answers and related discussion, I am still left with a question (so I don't think this is an exact dulicate):

Is the binary of good/evil (tov/ra) the same as right/wrong?

The text uses so many words for proper behavior (nachon, tzodek, yashar, tov) but fewer (I think) for negative (ra or hara) so I am not sure if there is a difference between behavior that aligns with a moral imperative and behavior that aligns with a legal requirement.

Did the Tree of Knowledge lead to an awareness of disobedience (breaking a rule, doing evil) or towards an internalized urge to pursue something "bad" by moral standards even if not necessarily "wrong"*?

*(maybe like naval b'reshut haTorah - I'm having trouble devising a case but I get the sense that someone can do something outside of morality but within the bounds of law)

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    Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/65881
    – msh210
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 6:19
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    The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim seems to clearly distinguish between ko'ach hayetzer (good and bad) and moral knowledge (right and wrong). Tov and Ra, in this understanding, are qualitatively subjective, and are only "objectively" correct or wrong when the labeled is applied by Hashem and/or the Torah. Nachon, tzodek, and yashar may also have connotative differences. According to Rambam, what the tree introduced was subjective judgement, which allows man, like Hashem, to make decrees of "good and bad" but, unlike Hashem, those decrees are not absolute Truth. Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 14:49

1 Answer 1


The concept of “original sin” is Christian. Christians had to justify Jesus's death, so they wrote that for the sin of Adam and Eve, G-d punished all of humanity to bear children with pain and produce food "the sweat of their brows."

Maimonides disagreed. Maimonides understood the "Garden of Eden" story to be a parable. The ultimate goal of humanity, according to the Rambam, is to develop the intellect. Thus Maimonides distinguished “truth and falsehood” from “good and bad." For example, when Adam ate of the tree of good and evil he recognized his nakedness was a bad but he did not know truth from falsehood (Menachem Kellner). Thus Maimonides saw the parable as teaching intelligent people to live their lives based on reality, on what is true and false. Or, to look at it from another perspective, there is a parable (Talmud, Yoma 69b) where the יצר הרע yetzer hara is captured for a few days. When the rabbis note that no one engages in business, not even a single egg is laid, they conclude that the evil inclination can be used to do good. That the evil inclination is a “necessary evil.”

The moral of the story is that if everything was given to us for free society would become boring. Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote that when people have things too good they will take a hammer to a window. It is easy to be lazy in the garden where everything is provided. It is much harder to work with "the sweat of their brows," but that is freedom.

Thus, Genesis, which is at the beginning of the Torah, teaches that to be successful, people need to work hard with "the sweat of their brows." Nothing comes easy. Adam and Eve learn this lession from the tree of good and evil. It seems that from here that it was not really a punishment at all. Rather, our ability to choose between right from wrong, to exercise our free will as G-d intended, is a gift, not a curse, from Adam and Eve.

  • Where does Maimonides say the Garden of Eden story is a "parable"?
    – Schmerel
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 23:43
  • @Schmerel Good question. When I get the source trm, I will send it to you.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 3:19
  • @Schmerel See Guide II, 25 where he says its possible that its a parable.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 18:06
  • Also see Warren Zev Harvey's Maimonides First Commandment essay.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 18:10

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