“And both of them were naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed.”
This verse is foreshadowing what will come afterwards. At this point of the story, Adam & Eve remained naked and their nudity did not cause them any shame. Afterwards, they would learn to dress and then nudity would cause them embarrassment and humiliation. We will immediately learn that this revolutionary transition occurred after Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. At that point, they became removed from the animal kingdom and started to act in a way that is human. They wore clothing and no longer walked around naked like all the animals.
This change did not only affect Adam and his wife but this became the nature of humanity forever. From Adam and Eve onwards, man is no longer just another beast of the field but must act according to human convention and etiquette. We all wear clothing and that is a good accepted norm for mankind.
However, the second part of the verse is more complex; Adam and Eve were naked and that state did not cause them shame. When the transition occurred and man wore clothing, nudity became something shameful. This is the translation of the King James Bible, which is one of the most accepted translations of the Bible into English.
This choice of translation of the Hebrew word “yitboshashu” from the root “bushah” is significant, and conveys an entire world view on the body and intimacy. While the translation is not wrong it implies that nudity is shameful and shame is associated with something that is wrong. One who does the right thing need not feel shame. Shame is felt when we do what we know to be wrong.
Thus, the change that was brought on by consuming the fruit of knowledge was that to be naked is a bad thing. It may be necessary in certain circumstances but that does not detract from the essential evil nature of nudity and the shame of the human body. While Adam and Eve were not embarrassed of their naked bodies, we should be.
This Christian view of human sexuality, intimacy and the body has permeated the Western view of these matters. Catholic priests are to remain celibate their entire lives and the message is clear; while the populace are permitted to be involved in matters of the flesh, anyone who wants to be holy and close to God needs to shy away from all involvement in physical pleasure especially in connection to intimacy.
Judaism has a very different approach. The Cohen Gadol has to be married to serve in this function. The Talmud even suggests that prior to Yom Kippur they should select a stand-in wife lest the Cohen Gadol’s wife dies and he would be disqualified for the job. Even though he is holy he needs to be involved in the pleasures of this world, or maybe, because he is holy. Our holiness is expressed through eating on Shabbat or the festivals, or through partnering with God in the creation of life. The holy days are celebrated through physical pleasure, and are considered days where intimacy and sexual activity are encouraged when possible and permitted.
This flies in the face of the verse “And both of them were naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed.” Rabbi Soloveitchik translated the word “yitboshashu” in a different way. He read it to mean “And both of them were naked, the man and his wife, and they were not shy.” The Hebrew word “bushah” can mean shy and bashful. Adam and Eve were not shy of their nudity, we are.
But what is the difference between shame and shyness?
More on this next week.