Double Mitzvah – Bereishit

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Maya B. Alma. Maya B. Alma is Jewrotica’s new Double Mitzvah columnist!

Larry is a Rabbi at Temple Mount Sinai in El Paso, Texas. He was ordained a rabbi in 1998 at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. Larry is a practitioner and teacher of Jewish Mindfulness Meditation and an alumni of CLAL’s Rabbis Without Borders program. Larry and his wife Alanna have three wonderful daughters.

Check out last week’s column, Double Mitzvah – Yom Kippur.


Rated PG-13Baruch…shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higi’anu lazman hazeh! “Blessed is the One who animates us, sustains us, and brings us to this moment, and all moments.”

I feel blessed to be taking on Jewrotica’s “Double Mitzvah” column for Sefer Bereishit. From Creation to the Garden to the Deluge to the First Family of Judaism, the stories in the book of Genesis are filled with observations about human nature and human relationships. What fertile ground to work for a column at Jewrotica!

“A column at Jewrotica.” It’s perhaps a strange place for a pretty “mainstream” congregational rabbi to find himself writing, and is worth an explanation (for the folks I serve at Temple Mount Sinai, if nothing else!). I met Jewrotica’s intrepid founder, Ayo, when she came through El Paso a couple of years ago as a speaker on religion and state issues in Israel. I’ve been a friend and a fan ever since, and couldn’t really say “no” when she asked me to write for her current endeavor. I believe that our people’s foundational texts have a lot to say about nearly everything…and they certainly have a lot to say about gender and sexuality. Mining the texts for messages that support an ethical, honest, open and healthy approach to relationships, gender, and sexuality is important work, and I’m glad to have the chance to do it in this forum.

As I approach Parashat Bereishit (Gen 1:1-6:8), I feel a bit like a mosquito at a nudist colony: it’s obvious what needs to be done….but where to begin!? Our portion includes (and these are just a few highlights)…

  • the Torah’s first teaching on gender (Gen 1:27), which can be read as acknowledging a continuum of gender identity, God making the human being with both male and female characteristics;
  • the creation of Eve from Adam’s “rib” or “side,” and the subsequent relationship between the two human inhabitants of the garden;
  • a set of etiologies (“Just So Stories”) which explain the origins of sexual longing, pain in childbirth, and the enmity between people and snakes;
  • the origin of the nephilim (“fallen ones”), a race of demigods born of the union of “divine beings” and human women.

In short, Parashat Bereishit is a gold mine for thinking about relationships and sexuality!

In the midst of all that, the verse that really speaks to me, this year at least, is this one (Gen 2:18): “The Eternal God said, ‘It is not good for the human being to be by himself; I will make a fitting helper for him.” Upon saying this, God sets out creating the many and varied species of animals, none of which prove to be that “fitting helper.” Finally, God provides the human being (“Adam”) with a version of himself, created from his own bones, his own flesh.

While this text is often cited (wrongly, I’d maintain) as proof that God intended for us to be heterosexual, I believe the deeper and more enduring lesson is about the nature of a true partnership. Torah deems the absence of a partner as lo tov, “not good.” This, after all of creation has been described as tov m’od, “very good.” This judgment is powerful, and audacious, and worth exploring.

The Hebrew for “fitting helper,” ezer k’nedgo, is rendered most directly as “a helper across from him.” A good partner is one who “confronts.” Think about that word, “confront.” It means to be “front-to-front,” or to face one another (going back to the Latin, frons, it can be understood to be “forehead-to-forehead”). And while many of us bring negative connotations to the idea of a “confrontational” person, the fact is that being face-to-face with someone, talking to them directly, is much better than the alternatives. So Torah describes the first couple as k’neged, opposing and confronting, to remind us of the value of communicating, face-to-face, with our partners.

The first couple brought that sense of negdiut, oppositional energy, to their relationship; but God set out to create an ezer as well. A helper, a supporter. Our partners can challenge us like no one else can; at their best, they do it from a place of love and out of a desire to help us grow.

Whatever form our relationships take, may we be blessed to have ezrim k’negdeinu, “helpful people across from us,” caring about our hearts and souls, hold us with love and concern even as they challenge us to become the very best versions of ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom!

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