by Les Saidel - January, 2014

My uncle always used to say "Bread doesn't grow on trees." He was referring to the monetary kind, but it is common knowledge that the edible kind doesn't either.

This was not always so. At the dawn of time, in the Garden of Eden, bread actually did grow on a tree, a wheat tree. All Adam and Eve had to do was step out into the garden and grab a delicious something off the tree, no need for bakeries, no problems with stuff like organic, whole grain, hechshers ...

This may sound fantastic to you, but it is part of a famous debate in the Gemara in an attempt to define what the eitz hada'at (the tree of knowledge) actually was. We all know the more popular opinions - a fig tree, a grape vine (no not an apple tree, that came later as part of a Christian depiction), but very few are familiar with the hypothesis that the tree of knowledge was wheat.

According to this opinion, (R. Yehuda, Brachot 6b.), wheat was originally created in the form of a tree, a spectacular tree towering over mountains, but still lesser in physical stature than the other trees. In fact it was the lowliest and least attractive of the trees in the Garden, but nonetheless assumed pride of place in the center due to its inherent spirituality rather than material, outward appearance.

To try prove this theory a number of interesting facts emerge.

The Hebrew word for wheat "hita" has the same grammatical root as the Hebrew word for sin "het". It is well known that infants do not begin to acquire knowledge until they begin eating grains (Brachot 40a.), grains being the embodiment of knowledge. Rav Kook takes this one step further by pointing out that the gematria (numerological value) of "hita" is 22, the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, the foundation upon which all knowledge is based.

Not only did Eve eat from the forbidden wheat tree, she committed an additional sin by taking the wheat, grinding it into flour and making it into bread which she fed to Adam. She thus sinned by thinking she could "improve" on G-d's creation. Until then all food was eaten straight off the trees in the Garden.

This fits well with the theory that states that Adam would never have eaten directly from the tree of knowledge, but that he was duped by Eve, who fed him an altered form of the wheat, hence his retort "This woman, who You gave to me, she (deceived) gave me to eat."

Perhaps the clinching fact in support of the wheat theory is the punishment Adam received - "you shall eat bread by the sweat of your brow." Eve's (and womankind's) punishment was twofold, not only would she suffer the pain of childbirth, but also would have to rise early each morning to prepare bread for her family (Midrash). Adam and Eve were unsatisfied with G-d's gifts and thought it necessary to "process" or alter them, now for all eternity we have to process wheat to make it into bread.

Following the sin, the wheat tree was also "demoted" and reduced in stature from a tree to a lowly grass, the wheat we know today (Triticum spp.) Thus ever since man was evicted from the Garden of Eden, he has been forced to labour hard to produce his daily bread, or perish.

As we celebrate Tu Bishvat, the New Year of the Trees, we should be mindful of G-d's bounty, express our gratitude and try effect a reversal of the process that brought us to this sorry state.

The good news (for everyone except bakers) is that this saga will eventually come full circle. When the messiah arrives, wheat will be restored to its former glory and "will again be as high as a date palm and tower over mountains. Lest you wonder how its fruit shall be harvested, G-d will bring forth a wind which will blow through the tree. Man will walk in the field and catch the falling fruits for himself and his family." (Ktubot 111b.)

Bakers, of course, will then be out of business!

Les Saidel


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