G-d said: Let the earth bring forth…fruit trees bearing fruit.
Rashi: [By “fruit trees” the Torah means that] the tree’s taste should be the same as that of its fruit. The earth did not do this, but gave forth “trees bearing fruit” – but not “fruit-trees.” Therefore, when Man was cursed for his sin, the earth was remembered for hers, and also cursed.
The earth did not willfully “disobey” Hashem’s command. It has no yetzer hora, which is only given to beings who are expected to choose between listening to G-d or rejecting His wishes. The earth is incapable of making any choices.
On the other hand, he earth does have the capacity to depart from the ideal order of things. All things in the physical universe are “fuzzy” enough in their design to allow for different ways of expressing their potential, including ways far from the ideal. This less-than-ideal expression does not come about through a decision making process, but it does happen, largely in response to the decisions made by Man. Moreover, it is the rule, rather than the exception that the earth will act imperfectly. “The heavens belong to Hashem; He gave earth to the children of Man.” Part of the distinction between those two realms is that the heavens, i.e. the spiritual universe, does not know of any departure from Hashem’s ideal plan. The lower universe, however, does not translate the Divine blueprint into an instant model of perfection and efficiency. Because the lower universe is bound by the limitations of space, time, and physical properties, it is by nature deficient relative to the pure spirituality of the heavens. There, no such limitations exist; it is closer to the absolute lack of limitation enjoyed only by Hashem Himself. The real perfection of the spiritual world will not and cannot routinely reflect itself in events and objects in our world. Rather, the physical world constantly evidences its deficiency.
The relationship between Man’s sin and this quasi-sin of the earth should be obvious. Man was created from the earth. As such, he is possessed of the same inherent deficiency, fallibility and imperfection. This nature allowed for and contributed to his sin.
The Torah had good reason to speak of the inherent deficiency of all physical things through the device of the “disobedient” earth. There may be no more powerful image to remind us of the difference between ideal and actual than considering the relationship between earth, trees and fruit.
It is easy for us to focus only on the fruit. That, to most of us, is all that is of interest. (In fact, as we shall see later, this was precisely Adam’s sin: pursuing the fruit, and ignoring where it came from.) The apple that we are poised to eat does not appear ex nihilo, however. All sorts of ingredients and building blocks have to be delivered to it to initiate and maintain its growth. The tree channels crucial substances to the blossom that eventually becomes the fruit.
Our entire physical universe functions according to a similar model. Nothing can exist outside of the Will of Hashem. In a complex process, this Will, which of course is entirely spiritual, finds its way to our finite world, energizing, shaping and crafting the products that we see. In sense, all of our world is a fruit, created by Hashem’s Will. The spiritual apparatus– the pipes and conduits of the heavens – channel this Will to us as a tree does to its fruit. Our world is the fruit, and the upper worlds are its tree.
So much of our discernible, tangible world mirrors realities in the more elevated spiritual world. The behavior (or misbehavior) of the earth in regard to fruit trees follows from the ultimate source of the relationship between tree and fruit in the way heaven and earth interact. The earth, which is the ultimate fruit from the standpoint of the heavens, cannot create any physical phenomenon radically different from the earth’s spiritual role and essence. As a fruit, the earth can help develop and nurture physical fruit. It cannot, however, spawn something that is both a channel and a fruit at the same time. In the spiritual world, the final product appears only after the “tree” – the complex of transmutations of Hashem’s Will – has finished all its work, but not before. If our earth were to produce physical trees that displayed the properties of the final product, it would be exceeding its own nature. Instead, the earth took Hashem’s ideal command and translated it into something consistent with its own physical reality. It created a sharp distinction between tree and fruit, just as this distinction exists between heavens and earth.
It is easy for us sometimes to ignore what feeds and sustains our world, in the same way that we consider the fruit, and not how it came into being. Had the earth not sharply differentiated between tree and fruit, all fruit would be nothing more than an undistinguished and undifferentiated part of the larger tree. Fruit would have nothing to offer us more than the tree itself. More importantly, perhaps, we would not be able to ignore the tree as the source of the fruit. The connection would be too apparent. By “refusing,” as it were, to give the tree properties of the fruit, the inherent deficiency of the fruit – its utter dependence on factors outside of itself to come into existence – is masked. All we see, all we care about, is a colorful orb that promises delight to our palates. We see the attractiveness, and find nothing wanting. We remain oblivious to its vulnerability and deficiency in the greater scale of things. We can too easily ignore its source and its roots.
This, then, was the sin of Adam. He saw the fruit – but ignored its deficiency. Bewitched by the promise of temporal pleasure that it offered, he could pluck it from the tree, and forget for the moment where the fruit came from. He, too, created division between tree and fruit. He created the capacity for Man to take of this world without regard for the spiritual Tree that directly creates and sustains all things.
That plucking, that division, that separation left Man – and the earth – cursed to this very day.