I Now Pronounce You…Man and Woman

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

Aaaaand, we’re back to the beginning, where it all started.

Thousands of volumes have been written seeking to unlock the secrets of B’reisheit’s text; understanding that, for all of its cryptic quality, B’reisheit holds the recipe for creation, the world, and our relationships.

Traditionally, the Torah’s account of creation is known as Ma’aseh B’reishit, and it’s true meaning and interpretation, known to very few individuals, has been a closely-guarded secret. Maimonides explains that “the subject matter of Ma’aseh B’reishit . . are not taught publicly, because not every person has the vast knowledge necessary to grasp the interpretation and the explanation of these matters in a complete manner.” [1]

In fact, with respect to certain topics, Nachmanides states firmly: “Do not expect me to write anything about it, as the subject is one of the mysteries of the Torah . . . And to give the interpretation is forbidden even to those who know it, and so much the more to us.”

Nevertheless, there are many accessible truths that we can glean from B’reisheit’s description of the creation of man and woman, of their first coupling, of the dynamics reflected in their first mutual sin, and in the curse that followed.

There is not nearly enough room in this column to do any of these justice; nevertheless, it is worth touching upon several of them in summary fashion:

1. “And G-d created man in His image; in the image of G-d He created him; male and female He created them.” [2]

The Midrash explains the last segment of the verse: that G-d originally created man with two faces, two sides — male and female — and afterwards divided him.[3]

The psychological and sociological implications of this cannot be overstated. It means that man originally housed both a full masculine and a full feminine persona — the perfect human being. Afterwards, however, G-d said, “It is not good that man is alone; I shall make him a helpmate opposite him.” [4] In other words, G-d simultaneously realized that Man was his own best mate — which is why G-d didn’t create a new companion — but that Man needed someone separate from him, opposite him, in order for him to be both complete and not alone. Thus, G-d separated out Woman from Man, intending that they would then reunite as two individuals and merge into one flesh.

2. “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” [5]

Many details regarding sexual relationships are derived from this single verse. For one thing, the imperative that man “leave his father and his mother” is the source of the Noahide prohibition against incest. (There is certainly some irony in this — as there was no way for Adam and Eve’s children to reproduce without resorting to incest.) Nonetheless, this quasi-commandment directed man to leave his family behind in his quest for marital bliss.

Also recognized in this verse is the principle articulated in the Talmud: “It is the way of things for a man to pursue a woman, and it is not the way of things for a woman to pursue a man.” [6] It is noteworthy that it is the man who leaves his family to cleave to his wife; and not the woman who leaves her family to cleave to her husband.

This is also undoubtedly reflective of the shifting psychological and emotional relationship that a man has with his parents as he grows, leaves home, and marries – and the anticipated role that his wife will play in filling that void. Conversely, a woman, who is not instructed to go out on her own in search of a mate, leaving her family behind, may have a less dramatic shift in her relationship with her parents when she marries.

3. “Now they were both naked, the man and his wife, but they were not ashamed.” [7]

Sexual shame was a direct consequence of eating from the forbidden fruit. Most commentaries explain that “they did not know the way of modesty, to distinguish between good and evil.” [8] However, an overly-simplistic reading of this suggests that they were actually doing something wrong by being naked, they just didn’t know it; which perhaps makes eating from the Tree of Knowledge a good thing, because then they would know to stop doing the bad thing that they were doing.

Clearly, though, the Tree of Knowledge — though its impact on the world was inevitable — was set up to be a descent, to have a psychologically negative affect. And its very first casualty was the innocence with which we approach our bodies and sexuality.

4. “To the woman He said, ‘. . . And to your husband will be your desire, and he will rule over you.’ And to man He said, ‘Because you listened to your wife . . .’” [9]

Here we see a hint of how G-d viewed the male-female dynamic by the punishment that he leveled for failing to conform to these standards. Eve was punished by both needing and being dependent upon – yet being subjugated to – her husband. Had she been too free and independent? Was her dialogue with the snake the first example of extramarital straying?

Adam is punished for “listening to his wife,” and eating from the fruit. Was there something wrong with Adam adopting his wife’s counsel, and acceding to her requests? Or was man intended to exercise more independence? Later, Abraham is expressly told by G-d to listen to his wife; [10] so was Adam’s crime that he did not think for himself at all, but blindly obeyed Eve’s request that he, too, partake of the fruit? Did G-d perhaps feel that Eve had usurped G-d own position as the only one entitled to Adam’s obedience?

Interestingly, during Eve’s encounter with the snake, the text is silent as to where Adam was. In fact, it focuses so much on Eve, that we get tunnel vision, and we think she was the only person present in the story. We assume that Adam was elsewhere; and that it was only after Eve ate from the fruit that she went searching for him to share the fruit. The text, however, is clear that “she ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” [11] Could Adam have been there the entire time; a passive audience to Eve’s controversial conversation with the snake, and her ultimate decision to transgress G-d’s one and only commandment?

It certainly seems from G-d’s reaction that Eve was too independent, and too dominant, and Adam was too passive, dependent, and not dominant enough — and G-d’s punishment bears some signs of seeking to reverse this trend.

Yet, as we have discussed on previous occasions, a punishment is not the same thing as a commandment or a mitzvah. It does not establish an ideal standard or norm for our existence. Which means that perhaps the message of Genesis here is for us to find a balance in which man and woman are both independent and yet co-dependent; where each thinks for him or herself, yet consults and respects the advice and perspective of the other; and where the blending of the feminine and masculine perspectives creates a more perfect world.

Shabbat Shalom!

Works Cited

[1] Mishnah Torah, Yesodei HaTorah, 4:11.

[2] Ramban, Genesis 1:6.

[3] Genesis, 1:27.

[4] Genesis Rabbah 8:1, Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 61a, Eruvin 18a.

[5] Genesis, 2:18.

[6] Genesis, 2:24.

[7] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 58a.

[8] Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin, 2b

[9] Genesis, 2:25.

[10] See e.g. Rashi 3:16-17.

[11] Genesis, 21:12.

[12] Genesis, 3:6.