Wife Swapping in the Garden of Eden?

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated.

Rated PG-13

There’s an old joke – an oldie but a goodie, and worth repeating given this week’s Parshah of B’reishit.

Adam turns to G-d and says, “G-d! You’ve created me so alone! I need a partner! I need a helpmate!”

G-d muses over Adam’s request for a bit, then he says: “I’ll tell you what I can do. I can create a partner for you; one who will fulfill your every need and desire. Someone who will challenge you, yet reinforce you; love you, yet tease you. Someone who will be compatible with you in every way, and turn the rest of your life into existence of sheet bliss.”

Adam is stunned. “But that’s incredible! What do you sound so hesitant? Is there a cost involved?

“There is, indeed,” says G-d. “It will cost you an arm and a leg.”

Adam frowns, and thinks for a moment.

“What can I get for just a rib?”

And the rest is history.

Jokes aside, there are two fundamental untruths in the above joke. The first is a common mistake: Eve wasn’t actually created from Adam’s rib. The Hebrew word used in the Torah is “Tzela,” which literally means “side.” Hence, it has been a word that has been occasionally borrowed to mean “rib”; its true import, however, is that Adam was created with two sides – one male and one female. G-d separated the female side from Adam, and constructed a separate being from it: Eve. In this way, Eve’s inherent identity is both superior and inferior to Adam’s. She enjoyed an existential advantage since, unlike Adam, who was created from dust, Eve was created from an infinitely more lofty being: Man. On the other hand, having come from Adam, Eve was, in a certain sense, subject to Adam and his limitations.

The second untruth is the suggestion that Eve was a compromise that Adam had to settle for. Indeed, Kabbalistic and Midrashic sources tell us that Eve was by no means that only or even the first female in Adam’s life. She was, however, the most compatible female, complementing Adam like the second piece of a two-piece puzzle. Who was the other?

Ah, let us turn to Lilith.

The legend of Lilith, as discussed briefly here, is cobbled together from different cryptic accounts in different cryptic books – particularly from the Zohar, the works of the Arizal, and the Alphabet of Ben Sira. It is worth noting that Alphabet of Ben Sira itself is a fairly controversial work of dubious reliability; indeed, in the canonization of the bible, the Alphabet of Ben Sira was deliberately excluded. With that caveat, the Alphabet of Ben Sira states as follows:

When God created the first man Adam alone, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” So God created a woman for him, from the earth like him, and called her Lilith. They Adam and Lilith promptly began to argue with each other: She said, “I will not lie below,” and he said, “I will not lie below, but above, since you are fit for being below and I for being above.” She said to him, “The two of us are equal, since we are both from the earth.” And they would not listen to each other. Since Lilith saw [how it was], she uttered God’s ineffable name and flew away into the air.

Alphabet of Ben Sira, 78.

So Lilith was a strong independent woman, a domme. She would not consent to being under Adam in any fashion; she was created from the same source, and saw herself as being equal to Adam in every way. She was ultimately deemed not to be a compatible mate for Adam. However, based upon the Alphabet of Ben Sira, she does appear to have been human like Adam, or at least a humanoid. G-d then created Eve from Adam; “therefore she shall be called ‘woman’ (Isha), for this one was taken from man (Ish).” Genesis, 2:23.

Though she failed to past muster as a mate for Adam, however, Lilith in no way remained celibate. Indeed, she is named as being one of the wives of Samael, the notorious arch-angel or “fallen angel,” whom she must have turned to after Adam’s rejection of her. Samael makes his first debut in the Garden of Eden in the form of the primordial snake, in which form he succeeds in seducing Adam’s second wife, Eve. It is clear even from the less mystical Midrashim that the snake sexually desired Eve, and that his urging her to sample the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was motivated by lust for her. See B’reishit Rabba, 18:6. However, the Kabbalah goes further, as we discussed here, and suggests that the snake was in fact successful in seducing Eve, thereby polluting her and all of her descendants with its evil. See Sefer Halikutim, Tazria. Thus did Samael, having taken Adam’s first wife as his own, defile Adam’s second wife.

Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden took a toll on their relationship, and they separated. For 130 years. Kabbalah suggests that during that time, however, Adam was not successful in remaining celibate, and that he once again consorted with Lilith (who must have had an open relationship with Samael). Their sexual congress bore fruit, and Adam thus sired legions of demons, further propagating the energy of selfish sensual fulfillment throughout reality.

At the end of the 130-year separation, Adam and Eve reunited, and together bore their third son, Seth. For the first time, the Torah describes their offspring as “in [Adam’s] likeness, after his image.” Genesis, 5:3. Seth became the father of all of humanity.

In the meantime, another beautiful seductress was born. She was the sister of Tubal-Cain, and her name was Na’amah. Genesis, 4:22.

Some say that Na’amah was Noah’s wife. B’reshit Rabbah, 23:3. However, others credit her with such beauty and powers of seduction that she seduced angels straight out of Heaven. Indeed, at the end of this week’s Parshah, the Torah states: “That the sons of the ‘Elokim’ saw the daughters of man when they were beautifying themselves, and they took for themselves wives from whomever they chose.” Genesis, 6:2. Rashi and others explain that the word “Elokim” in this verse is a reference to the angels Uzza and Azael who could not resist Na’amah’s beauty, and descended to earth in order to sexually couple with her. See Bablylonian Talmud, Yoma, 67b, Rashi. The Arizal describes Na’mah as yet another one of Samael’s wives, along with Lilith. Likutei Torah, Tazria.

Perhaps Na’amah was the ultimate human seductress of her time; she was, however, not the only one. According to other Midrashim, all of the descendants of Cain adopted a lifestyle that was so provocative as to attract the attention of even the celestial angels. They abandoned clothing altogether; whereas Adam and Eve had been nude out of innocence, their descendants chose nudity precisely because of the sexual power inhere in exposing their bodies. They embraced every form of sexual activity, including incest and adultery, and they did so openly and brazenly, in the streets of their cities. See Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, 22.

Heaven’s angels must have looked down at this cornucopia of sex and human flesh and found it hard to resist their allure. Thus, “the Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of the Elokim would come to the daughters of man, and they would bear for them; they are the mighty men, who were of old, the men of renown.” Genesis, 6:4. The offspring of these angel-human unions became known as the Nephilim, often translated as giants. Indeed, thousands of years later, the Israelites, after sending scouts to survey the the Promised Land, would learn that the “Nephilim, the sons of Anak, descended from the Nephilim,” still inhabited the land. Numbers, 13:33. In fact, Rashiimmediately notes there that these were “giants, descended from Shamchazai and Azael , who fell from heaven in the generation of Enosh.”

So, as the dust settles – Lilith having been rejected by Adam twice – we find Eve emerging as the enduring wife of Adam and receiving the name that means “the mother of all life.”

However, even perfect Eve has succumbed to temptation, and has been cursed with pain in labor and childbirth, and then with the following enigmatic verse: “And to your husband will be your desire, and he will rule over you.” Genesis, 3:16.

Are those two separate curses, or a single curse? Is G-d cursing her with a restricted sexual spirit, punishing her for engaging with the snake by limiting her sexual satisfaction to her husband – and then separately cursing her by granting her husband dominance over her? Or is He cursing her by placing the control of sexual satisfaction in her husband’s hands, effectively forcing the genie of woman’s powerful eros in the small bottle of her husband’s hands and imagination?

And does the fact that Eve was so cursed mean that she should willingly resign herself to such a state? For example, although Adam was cursed with the sweat and toil of agriculture, and an unyielding ground (Genesis, 3:17-19), Noah was celebrated for inventing the plowshare, which greatly lessened the impact of the curse (Genesis, 5:29, Rashi). Does this mean that the curse just means that we have a steeper hill to climb to overcome it, but that we are not consigned to live with its consequences?

Finally, even without G-d’s curse, is it bad to have the woman on top? Was it G-d who rejected Lilith’s sexual equality, or to G-d simply indulge Adam’s discomfort and insecurity? While Eve certainly appears to be the most stable candidate for “mother of all life,” is there a way to blend the quiet strength of Eve with the tempestuous sexuality of Lilith? Can we temper Man’s ego while building up Woman’s confidence? After all, isn’t there something to be said for G-d’s choice of first woman?

B’reishit, more than any other Parshah, abounds with such questions. For many, aptly tackled by the Sages and commentaries, there are answers. But in some respects, the questions of B’reishit are not simply academic or theoretical; nor are they confined to the biblical personalities from whom they arise. Many of these questions echo throughout the generations and millennia in our own lives. As R’ Schneur Zalman of Liadi once explained to a Russian minister, when G-d asked Adam “Where are you?” (Genesis, 3:9), he was not simply asking that question of the first Man. Rather he was asking that every man and woman throughout time to engage in introspection, to take stock of their lives, and to answer the question: “Where are you, truly?”

In a similar vein, B’reishit challenges our perspectives on our sexuality, on the traditional and non-traditional roles of men and women, how those roles may have been originally intended, how they have evolved, and what they should be.