(1) AND THE TREE OF LIFE IN THE MIDST OF THE GARDEN AND THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL. Since Scripture says, And the tree of life in the midst of the garden, and does not say “in the garden,” and, moreover, since it says, But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, G-d hath said: ‘Ye shall not eat of it,’ and does not mention it or refer to it by another name, we must say, according to the simple meaning of Scripture, that it was a known place in the garden which was “in the midst” thereof. This is why Onkelos translated: “in the middle of the garden.” Thus according to Onkelos the tree of life and the tree of knowledge were both in the middle of the garden. And if so, we must say that in the middle of the garden there was the likeness of an enclosed garden-bed made which contained these two trees. This “middle” means near its middle for with respect to the exact middle, they have already said that no one knows the true central point except G-d alone.
And the tree of life. This was a tree the fruit of which gave those who ate it long life.
And the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The commentators have said that the fruit thereof caused those who ate it to have a desire for sexual intercourse, and therefore Adam and Eve covered their nakedness after they ate of it [the fruit]. They quote a similar expression [where “good and evil” refers to such desire], the saying of Barzilai the Gileadite: Can I distinguish between good and bad? — meaning that this sexual desire was already removed from him. But in my opinion this interpretation is not correct since the serpent said, And ye shall be as ‘Elohim,’ knowing good and evil. And if you will say that the serpent lied to her, now [Scripture itself attests to the truth of his statement in the verse], And the Eternal G-d said, ‘Behold man has become like one of us knowing good and evil.’ And the Rabbis have already said: “Three stated the truth and perished from the world, and these are: the serpent, the spies, and Doeg the Edomite.
The proper interpretation appears to me to be that man’s original nature was such that he did whatever was proper for him to do naturally, just as the heavens and all their hosts do, “faithful workers whose work is truth, and who do not change from their prescribed course,” and in whose deeds there is no love or hatred. Now it was the fruit of this tree that gave rise to will and desire, that those who ate it should choose a thing or its opposite, for good or for evil. This is why it was called ‘etz hada’ath’ (the tree of the knowledge) of good and evil, for da’ath in our language is used to express will. Thus in the language of the Rabbis: “They have taught this only with regards to one sheda’ato (whose will) is to return;” and “his will is to clear” [the produce in the store-room in his house before Passover]. And in the language of Scripture, Eternal, what is man ‘vateida’ehu,’ meaning that “Thou shouldst desire and want him;” yedaticha beshem, meaning “I have chosen thee of all people.” Similarly, Barzilai’s expression, Ha’eda (Can I distinguish) between good and bad, means that he lost the power of thought, no longer choosing a thing or loathing it, and he would eat without feeling taste and hear singing without enjoying it.
Now at that time sexual intercourse between Adam and his wife was not a matter of desire; instead, at the time of begetting offspring they came together and propagated. Therefore all the limbs were, in their eyes, as the face and hands, and they were not ashamed of them. But after he ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, he possessed the power of choice; he could now willingly do evil or good to himself or to others. This, on the one hand, is a godlike attribute; but as far as man is concerned, it is bad because through it, he has a will and desire. It is possible that Scripture intended to allude to this matter when it said, That G-d made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions. The “uprightness” is that man should keep to one right path, and the “seeking out of many inventions” is man’s search for deeds which change according to his choice. Now when the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded Adam concerning the tree, that he should not eat of its fruit, He did not inform him that it has this quality. He told him without any qualification, But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, that is to say, the one that is known by its central position, thou shalt not eat thereof. And this was what the woman said to the serpent. And the verse which states, But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, mentions it to us by its true name.