At the summit of Paradise stands the Tree of Life, whose glory is so great that it cannot be approached; indeed, for Adam and Eve any approach to it was effectively hedged off by the Tree of Knowledge, lower down the mountain, whose fruit they had been forbidden to eat. The serpent, however, manages to persuade them to disobey the divine commandment and to eat the forbidden fruit. This act of disobedience opens Adam's eye both to the higher state of glory which God had destined for Eve and him if only they had kept the commandment, and to the shame that failure to keep it had brought upon them. The consequence of their action is a judgment which is in fact self-imposed.
Ephrem here follows a tradition known from a number of early Christian writers that Adam and Eve had been created in an intermediate state; whether or not they would be raised to a higher state God leaves to the outcome of the exercise of their free will. This is a theme developed at greater length in the Commentary on Genesis II: 14-23.
The Tree of Knowledge can be understood as playing the same role as the sanctuary veil: only those authorized to do so many penetrate inside it; Adam, like king Uzziah (2 Chron. 26), presumptuously tried to enter--with disastrous results.
As for that part of the Garden, my beloved,
which is situated so gloriously
at the summit of that height
where dwells the Glory,
not even its symbol
can be depicted in man's thought;
for what mind
has the sensitivity
to gaze upon it,
or the faculties to explore it,
or the capacity to attain to that Garden
whose riches are beyond comprehension.
Praise to Your Justice that crowns the victorious.
Perhaps that blessed tree,
the Tree of Life,
is, by its rays,
the sun of Paradise;
its leaves glisten,
and on them are impressed
the spiritual graces
of that Garden.
In the breezes the other trees
bow down as if in worship
before that sovereign
and leader of the trees.
In the very midst He planted
the Tree of Knowledge, [ Gen 2:9 ]
endowing it with awe,
hedging it in with dread,
so that it might straightway serve
as a boundary to the inner region of Paradise.
Two things did Adam hear
in that single decree:
that they should not eat of it [ Gen 2:17 ]
and that, by shrinking from it,
they should perceive that it was not lawful
to penetrate further, beyond that Tree. [ Gen 3:7 ]
The serpent could not
for neither animal
was permitted to approach
the outer region of Paradise,
and Adam had to go out
to meet them;
so the serpent cunningly learned,
through questioning Eve,
the character of Paradise,
what it was and how it was ordered.
When the accursed one learned
how the glory of that inner Tabernacle,
as if in a sanctuary,
was hidden from them,
and that the Tree of Knowledge,
clothed with an injunction,
served as the veil
for the sanctuary,
he realized that its fruit
was the key of justice
that would open the eyes of the bold
--and cause them great remorse.
Their eyes were open*--
though at the same time they were still closed
so as not to see the Glory
or their own low estate,
so as not to see the Glory
of that inner Tabernacle,
nor to see the nakedness
of their own bodies.
These two kinds of knowledge
God hid in the Tree,
placing it as a judge
between the two parties.
But when Adam boldly ran
and ate of its fruit
this double knowledge
straightway flew toward him,
tore away and removed
both veils from his eyes;
he beheld the Glory of the Holy of Holies
he beheld, too, his own shame and blushed,
groaning and lamenting
because the twofold knowledge he had gained
had proved for him a torment.
Whoever has eaten
of that fruit
either sees and is filled with delight,
or he sees and groans out.
The serpent incited them to eat in sin
so that they might lament;
having seen the blessed state,
they could not taste of it--
like that hero of old*
whose torment was doubled
because in his hunger he could not taste
the delights which he beheld.
For God had not allowed him
to see his naked state,
so that, should he spurn the commandment,
his ignominy might be shown him.
Nor did He show him the Holy of Holies,
in order that, if he kept the command,
he might set eyes upon it
These two things did God conceal,
as the two recompenses,
so that Adam might receive, by means of his contest,
a crown that befitted his actions.
God established the Tree as judge,
so that if Adam should eat from it,
it might show him that rank
which he had lost through his pride,
and show him, as well, that low estate
he had acquired, to his torment.
Whereas, if he should overcome and conquer,
it would robe him in glory
and reveal to him also
the nature of shame,
so that he might acquire, in his good health,
an understanding of sickness.
A man, indeed, who has acquired
good health in himself,
and is aware in his mind
of what sickness is,
has gained something beneficial
and he knows something profitable;
but a man who lies
and knows in his mind
what is good health,
is vexed by his sickness
and tormented in his mind.
Had Adam conquered,*
he would have acquired
glory upon his limbs,
and discernment of what suffering is,
so that he might be radiant in his limbs
and grow in his discernment.
But the serpent reversed all this
and made him taste
abasement in reality,
and glory in recollection only,
so that he might feel shame at what he had found
and weep at what he had lost.
The Tree was to him
like a gate;
its fruit was the veil
covering that hidden Tabernacle.
Adam snatched the fruit,
casting aside the commandment.
When he beheld that Glory
shining forth with its rays,
he fled outside;
he ran off and took refuge
among the modest fig trees.
In the midst of Paradise God had planted
the Tree of Knowledge
to separate off, above and below,
sanctuary from Holy of Holies.
Adam made bold to touch,
and was smitten like Uzziah:* [ 2 Chron 26:16 ]
the king became leprous,
Adam was stripped.
Being struck like Uzziah,
he hastened to leave:
both kings* fled and hid,
in shame of their bodies
Even though all the trees
of Paradise 42 Chron. 26:
are clothed each in its own glory,
yet each veils itself at the Glory;
the Seraphs with their wings,
the trees with their branches,
all cover their faces so as not to behold
They all blushed at Adam
who was suddenly found naked;
the serpent had stolen his garments,
for which it was deprived of its feet. *
God did not permit
Adam to enter
that innermost Tabernacle;
this was withheld,
so that first he might prove pleasing
in his service of that outer Tabernacle;
like a priest
with fragrant incense,
Adam's keeping of the commandment
was to be his censer;
then he might enter before the Hidden One
into that hidden Tabernacle.
The symbol of Paradise
was depicted by Moses
who made the two sanctuaries,
the sanctuary and the Holy of Holies;
into the outer one
entrance was permitted,
but into the inner,
only once a year. [ Lev 16 Heb 9:7 ]
So too with Paradise,
God closed off the inner part,
but He opened up the outer,
wherein Adam might graze.
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