Parshat Bereishit (2011)


Parshat Bereishit
Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

The Creative Power of Complimentary Relationships

Before I get started, I want to say this was a hard one to write. This is dedicated to Hugo Garzona, of blessed memory, may his name continue to rise higher and higher into the heavens.

Once again we embark on our annual procession through the Torah. It is my hope that this year we continue to look the dynamics of relationships that we see it the Torah. After years of research and pouring over both mystical and allegorical commentary on the creation story it’s very hard to not get attached to every tangent, but I think staying the course in looking at what G-d has to say about personal relationships is really the direction that is most meaningful at this time in my life.

“Thus G-d made Man

in His image,

in the image of G-d

He create him;

male and female He created them”

| Vayivra Elohim et-ha’adam

| betzalmo

| betzelem Elohim

| bara oto

| zachar unekevah bara otam

Genesis 1:27

We cannot help but be thrown immediately into the most profound questions of, “What is Man? And who am I?” We are told that Hashem created Man, Man was created in His image, Man was created both male and female. As is widely known, our tradition tells us that Man was created with both female and male aspects, in one person. In fact in Talmud Brachot 61 the Man is allegorically described as having two faces, one male and the other female. With this as a given understanding, the prevalent misconception of G-d as a male being found in western traditions does not even come into consideration. The Jewish tradition stands firm in the idea that G-d created Man, meaning the human race; that race is made up of males and females, of which both our natural aspects are a reflection of the Divine image.

Monastir, Yugoslavia, A Jewish couple on their wedding day, Prewar.

Monastir, Yugoslavia, A Jewish couple on their wedding day, Prewar.

Now notice that here in chapter 1 when we see the description of Man, the word used is adam; we are talking about the human race. In terms of describing what this race was like, it was both zachar (male) and nekevah (female). This is important, because if we look at chapter 1 the description of creation is a gloss-over, it speaks of things mater-of-factly and often without qualification. However when it comes to Man, we find a clarification, lest we come to the misconception of G-d as a person who embodies any form or gender.

It is not until chapter 2 that we get a finer description of what the world at this point looks like. We are given a description of how the world operates, and what the created beings occupied themselves with. We are also given a description of how Man was created; being formed of the dust of the earth, that G-d caused to live by imparting a breath of life. (v.7)

Now, it is important that we clearly understand that the biblical narrative starts from the assumption that Hebrew is lishon kodesh, the holy tongue, and in-fact the mother tongue of all of G-d’s creation. Being that the text is written in Hebrew it also makes the assumption that we can clearly see the connection of one word to the other, and that we understand how meaning is derived in Hebrew words.

For example, the text reads “Vayitser Hashem Elohim et-ha’adam afar min-ha’adamah / Hashem, G-d, formed man out of the dust of the ground.” It assumes that we see the connection between the words Man (adam) and the ground/earth (adamah). It also assumes that we see the brilliance intertwined in the Hebrew language, with the play of words in the word Man (adam) and the word red (adom, same spelling but different pronunciation), which is the same color as the ground (adamah) that Man was formed out of. Likewise, the life force of Man, his blood (dam: spelled Dalet, Mem) is also red (adom; spelled Alef, Dalet, Mem).

For those who study in the Hebrew language we understand that words are derived from a shoresh, or root word. Words are built based off of conjugations of these root words. This has a very important benefit, in that if the word in application is unknown to us the meaning of the word is hinted to by the root from which it is derived. Verbs are perfect examples, which consist of three letter radicals; to understand the word we can break it down to it’s root.

We understand that each item that was created in the world was formed through an utterance; G-d spoke and it came into existence. The contention is being made that as G-d spoke, each letter and each word had an inherent meaning, which took form as G-d uttered it.

Therefore in chapter 2, when we see Man charged with his task of naming each of the animals that were brought before him, we see that he is not just arbitrarily naming the creatures. He is forced to consider each of them, and name them according to their essence. He looks into each creature and named it according to the attributes by which it was formed. In fact Bereshit Rabbah 17 lauds man as being superior to the angels, which it states were not able to assign names to the animals.

“And the man

named all the animals,

and of the birds of the sky,

and all the wild beasts;

but the man did not find

a helper opposite him.”

| Vayikra ha’adam

| shemot lechol habehemah

| ule’of hashamayim

| ulechol chayat hasadeh

| ule-Adam lo-matza

| ezer kenegdo

Genesis 2:20

Now let us step back and consider this, taking all this into account. We see that Man is created in G-d’s image, again we understand this as meaning that Man was endowed with Divine midot (characteristics; attributes; or ways of relating to the world) and the desire to emulate them (Sifri). We were created in order to exemplify godliness; that we establish justice and bring order to chaos. G-d created us to be an active part of creation, to partner with Him in perfecting this world (tikkun olam).

However, the Man found himself different from the rest of creation, in that humankind was endowed with the ability to speak. It is this single capability that is highlighted here as we begin to approach the concept of what Man’s purpose was. As each animal was brought to him it is named, and that name assigned to it was “v’yehi shemo / and that remained it’s name” in the same manner as when G-d created each item “v’yehi kein / and it remained so.”

Man’s observations about the world were in line with that of G-d. He was lacking in nothing. All wisdom and capacity; capability and faculty; Man was without lack or deficiency. We read that G-d “vayavey el ha-adam lir’ot mah yikra-lo / brought the man [the animals] to see what he would call them.” G-d is overseeing this entire task, but never needs to intervene, the man clearly understands each of these animals and species.

But of himself it says, “ule-Adam lo-matsa ezer kenegdo / but the man did not find a helper opposite him.” It appears that at this point it becomes evident to the Man that there is no mate opposite him, he is alone. I must point out that again, this assumes that we are thinking in terms of the Hebrew language which (like romance languages) has both male and female items. With this in mind we can see how perplexing the situation is; he understands the difference between a rooster and a hen, and a cow and a bull, but for himself there is no name. He is merely ha-adam, the human.

Think about it for a moment, up until now that Man has only been referred to by the term “adam,” human. We have a description of what Man is, but he has no name.

It is not until a side of the Man is taken (Rashi) and formed into a corresponding mate that he even begins to answer the questions of his own nature. When he sees his pair that G-d creates for him, he says, “zot hapa’am etzem me’atzamai uvasar mibesari lezot / now this is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh / yikare ishah ki me’ish lukacha-zot / she shall be called ‘woman’ because she was taken from man.” It is at this point that we hear for the first time the terms “man” (ish) and “woman” (ishah). It is at this point that the man becomes aware that he is something more than just a human (adam) but he becomes a person (ish).

And this is where my mind has been all through out this week. We understand that “it is not good that the man be alone,” but in this situation the man is not necessarily by himself. By being “alone” (lebado) we are not saying that the Man was solitary, and secluded; as “lebad” can likewise mean to describe that a person is a unique exception, or distinctly apart from the rest. No, he had the company of the other creations and G-d Himself. But was completely aware of his “otherness.” Though aside from his “otherness,” he had no point of reference for himself.

It is not until he is faced with another human, one that is akin to him that he even thinks so far as to consider who he is, not only as a creation, but as a person. When he sees his mate, who is like himself, for the first time he is able to compare and contrast against himself. He is able to see himself, through the eyes of another. And in this capacity, she truly did became a “helpmate.”

Here in the narrative we have the male, look on the female for the first time and he declares first that she is “ishah/woman” and only then does he define himself as “ish/man.” Without another corresponding to himself he has no idea if what he does is correct, or normative; he has no point of reference for his actions, nor his relevance. In defining her for himself, he found meaning in who he was as an individual.

And that is the blessing of G-d’s plan that we be in relationship with one another, it is intentional in the universe that we have another spur us on. It is the natural order of this world that another ignite passion in us that brings meaning to our life and emboldens us to be better people.

And I guess this is where I have no other way of explaining without making it personal. There are many of us would have not gone after that better job if it weren’t for the caring of a spouse we wanted to provide better for. There are many who would have never sought out better living situations if it weren’t for the care of our loved ones. Many of us would have never have explored our own spirituality if it weren’t for the religious interest of our partners. Think about it, many of the better decisions many people makes for their lives are related to the influence or in response to our relationships to others. Often times life can be mundane, with us being content and lazy, fine with where we are at until someone excites a new direction and new identity in us.

Sadly, I am also aware that conversely when relationships end or our soul mate passes away it can be a devastating blow to our identity. It can seem like the purpose for which we built everything is lost. Often times a slumber begins to descend over a persons ambitions. And sometimes even worse, one can even go as far as to become so disaffected with remembering the love lost that they begin to detest anything that reminds them of that life and shy away from anything that reminds them of that.

We find out as we continue through Genesis that relationships are complicated and unpredictable. They can be chaotic and even come with consequences. However despite all the seeming risk involved not only is it worth the while, it is part of the Divine plan. No, it is not good that we be alone. And if we take an honest assessment of the relationships that we have had in this life, we can say that it worth going outside of ourselves and building new connections to people.

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