“From every tree of the garden you may surely eat but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you may not eat, . . .” Genesis 2:17
Surely Eat – Did you enjoy those bananas yesterday? When we examined achol tochel, we discovered that Eden is God’s design for Man’s pleasure. It’s the place where I can delight in all that He created for me. We realized that God intends us to experience all good things, to enjoy every feast He has prepared whether it is aesthetic, cognitive, emotional, physical or spiritual pleasure. His version of fruit salad extends to every aspect of creation. But there’s still a bit more. We need to take one more bite of this apple.
Remember that Hebrew must communicate emotional tone, emphasis and linguistic rhythm without punctuation. To do this, Hebrew communicates information in the structure of the language as well as the arrangement of the words. For example, emphasis is often accomplished by placing a word first in the sentence regardless of its proper grammatical position. The translated rearrangement of the original text usually obscures this emphasis. There is another structural method for communicating in Hebrew. The combination of consonants themselves provides a part of the message. Let’s apply this to our phrase achol tochel.
We know that achol tochel is a doubled use of the verb achal. This doubling enhances the emphasis on the word. But now look at the actual consonants. They are Aleph-Kaf-Lamed (achol) and Tau-Aleph-Kaf-Lamed (tochel). Did you notice that the second word is really the first word plus the consonant Tau? Even in phonetic equivalent (achol tochel) we don’t actually see the consonant structure because the second Aleph becomes a vowel and disappears into the collapsed sound of tochel. But when we see the structure, we see two identical consonant constructions with an added Tau. This is very important because the visible structure alters the pictograph.
Achol is the picture of “strength to control what is allowed.” But what happens when I add a Tau to this picture. Now I get “a sign of strength to control what is allowed.” What God says in pictography is “you may have strength to control what is allowed under the sign (covenant) of strength to control what is allowed.” To “surely eat” is to consume according to the covenant requirements. God’s instructions are built right into the idea of consuming. In other words, every time we delight in His creation according to His covenant, we are endorsing His sign of care and concern about us. Abraham Heschel says that the great mystery of God is the fact that He makes us an object of His concern. Genesis says that same thing, buried right in the Hebrew text in the very first declaration of permission. This is “deep” Torah, written right into the structure of the language. By the way, you can’t reproduce this in any other language. Are you beginning to see why God chose Hebrew?
What does this mean for us today? It means that God determines what is good. We are placed in His world according to His instructions. If we want real pleasure in life, we will live under His sign – the sign that guarantees control over what is allowed. Sin is determining what is good without God’s sign. Remove the Tau and all that is left is human control. And as every 12-step participant knows, “Willpower is not enough.” Perhaps you and I need to reassess our lists of what is good. If there’s something on the list that doesn’t come with a Tau, we probably need to remove it. Without the Tau, life is only about consuming whatever comes next.
Topical Index: consume, eat, achol tochel, achal, sign, Genesis 2:17