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How to become an adult?

What makes a man an adult? Is it really just age? The sages of the Talmud discuss this issue, focusing on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As it is written, when Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit of this tree, “their eyes were opened,” meaning that their “adult life» had started. A question is raised in “Midrash Rabba”1: what was this tree (the text of the Torah does not specify which species of tree) or, in other words, the knowledge of what makes a person an adult? The sages give four answers.

Answer I. The Tree of Knowledge is wheat. It absolutely does not matter that the wheat is not a tree. This response is figurative. Its sense being that a child becomes an adult when he himself can earn his bread. The first time a child earns money on his own, it gives him some freedom from his parents, especially if it is earned through hard work. The sages compared this with the fact, that a dove, released by Noah after the Flood, returned with an olive branch in its beak. But olives are bitter? Yes, and it was like the dove was telling Noah that bitter bread, like the leaf of an olive tree, is better than something sweet, like honey, but from the hand of someone else.

Answer II. The Tree of Knowledge is a grape. Grapes are a symbol of wine, and wine is a symbol of pleasure. Wine, cigarettes, and drugs are all “pleasures enjoyed by adults” in the eyes of children. So, they try them. They try “to be like adults.” These words evoke irony in an adult man, but please remember your own childhood! And really, when a man experiences new feelings, he changes. Does he become an adult? Maybe. I personally want to add that having fun is a science that needs to be learnt and taught. Parents help their child learn from birth to sit, stand, speak, etc. Why don't they teach them how to have fun? For example, a child can learn to speak on the street, but at home his parents correct him, teaching him what and when to say certain things, and what is better not to say at all. In addition, a child learns to say his first words at home anyway. I think that the same should be done with learning about pleasure.

Answer III. So, we draw nearer to the subject of this book. The Tree of Knowledge is a fig. You remember that Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves after eating the forbidden fruit. By the way, do you remember, what exactly they covered up with those leaves? Right, not the head (protecting it from baking in the sun). Thus, the relationship between sex and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is set. It can be sensibly said that, sexual experience makes a person an adult. This is especially true for girls. Not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, I'll say that when a girl becomes pregnant, then she has become adult.

Digressing from the subject for a bit, I want to note that we are discussing the Midrash, which is a figurative model that cannot be understood literally. It does not come out of the Midrash that it is possible to equate the Tree of Knowledge and sex. It is precisely that mistake which the early Christians committed when declaring that sex was the “Original Sin” of humanity, the sin, which (unfortunately for the church fathers) accompanies humanity throughout history.

Answer IV. The Tree of Knowledge is a etrog. The etrog is a citrus tree, from which the wood and fruit are equally edible. The fruit symbolize the goal, the wood — a tool. If I understand the words of the sages correctly, the idea sounds like this. One of signs of maturation is the ability, not only to specify one's dream, but also to offer a realistic plan for its implementation. Really, even in kindergarten a child can say, “I want to become an astronaut,” but much later in life they begin to train and learn how to make that dream a reality.

It is important to note that there is not a dispute amongst the four positions, but rather four perspectives on the one phenomenon. I emphasize the word “one.” The process of maturation involves all four components.

And then everything depends on the individual: one person matures at 13 years, another at 30, and yet others do not mature at all.


  1. Midrash is a figurative model, based on which man can understand one of the aspects of the world structure. In other words, Midrash is a divine idea, shaped in the form of a fairy tale. “Midrash Rabba” was written by sages, the authors of the Talmud, in the IV century.
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