There is much discussion in the Talmud and Midrash about identifying the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. One opinion was that it was a fig tree, and it makes sense because figs were mentioned in the story – that Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves for themselves to wear. Another opinion is that it was actually a grape vine. A third opinion is that it was wheat stalks. The Midrash further goes on to suggest that it might have been an etrog. All of these have some form of connection to the text itself. One of the interesting aspects of the discussion is the suggestion that it was wheat, because we know that wheat does not grow on trees! Including wheat as a possible identification of the Tree of Knowledge is a comment about life in the Garden itself. Humanity did not have to work the land in order to obtain food. It was divinely provided for them. Prior to the sin of the Garden of Eden, wheat grew on a tree so that it was easily taken by humans and worked into however they decided to ingest it. The tree, in essence, represented a divine gift of the Almighty for us to enjoy with a minimum amount of work, or no work whatsoever. As a result of the sin of the Garden of Eden we were punished by having to work hard for the food that would sustain us. Wheat would no longer grow on a tree but would grow as we know it today in nature. This is a valuable lesson for us as certain aspects of nature would change as a result of Adam and Eve’s interaction with Hashem and with nature itself. The bigger change, of course, we would see after the Flood in the days of Noach. The acts of Creation, those that cannot be taken for granted, do require our involvement. Even in our prayers we say that God renews the acts of Creation each day, for without Hashem’s supervision and involvement the phenomena of Creation would cease and would not offer benefits to the human race. We therefore extend Adam’s role in the Garden of Eden where he is called upon to “work it and to guard it” to be the responsible way that we have to work and preserve the gifts of God and nature in the world today as well.
Avraham was supposed to rectify Adam’s sin. When he asked Hashem, “How will I know that I will inherit the land?” (Genesis 15:8), it showed that he had not rectified his knowledge completely. Therefore, Hashem told him, “Know that your children will be slaves in a land that is not theirs” (Genesis 15:13). Knowledge needs to be improved. All the miracles in Egypt were to increase knowledge. After the Exodus Hashem told the Jews, “You have been shown to know…” (Deut. 4:35), the sentence that begins our Simchat Torah liturgy. If not for the sin of the Golden Calf, the rectification of knowledge would have been complete. Now it would not be complete until the coming of Mashiach when “the earth will be full of knowledge of Hashem…” (Isaiah 11:9).
“Hashem gave Cain a sign.” According to one view of the Midrash, Hashem gave Cain a dog to accompany him. What was the significance of giving Cain specifically a dog? The Chafetz Chaim explained that the Midrash says that Abel was stronger than Cain and in the original altercation Abel was in a position to kill his brother. Cain pleaded with him to have mercy and spare his life. After he was released, Cain attacked Abel when he was unprepared and was thus able to kill him. According to this, Cain came to kill his brother because of his lack of Hakarat HaTov, an ability to show gratitude to someone who had performed a kindness to him. It was for this reason that Hashem gave him a dog to accompany him, since a dog is known for its Hakarat HaTov and total devotion to its master who feeds it. Our Sages say (Horayot 13a): The dog recognizes its master. Its appreciation is so great that it will sacrifice its own life to protect its master. By giving him a dog as a companion, Hashem afforded him the constant reminder of the importance of demonstrating Hakarat HaTov, and hoped in this manner he would correct this most serious deficiency in his character. A real endorsement of having a dog in our lives!
Rabbi David Grossman