Rabanit Yafit Clymer
Board Member of the ‘Beit Hillel’ organisation, partner in the ‘Meshivat Nefesh’ initiative and speaker in various Batei Midrash
“Genesis” is the starting point, the beginning moment of the human story as told by the Creator of the world, not in order to inform us people of the reason for creation or to explain to us how the world was created, but rather to teach us what is the proper path to choose for life on this earth, how establish relationships to all aspects of creation: matter and vegetation, animal life and people. The whole story announces a new event in the world and mankind, the moment when the creator chooses from his own unknown reason to reveal himself and to establish a relationship with humans. It seems that the whole parasha deals with relations between man and G-d, man and his fellow man, man and the world, man and his family, man and himself. These are learned from trial and error, by setting limits and breaking them.
We learn of the first human unit of a man and a woman, Adam and Hava, and in particular of the tale of the forbidden eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It would seem that the excitement that gripped the first man when he saw the first woman, “This time a bone from my bones, and flesh from my flesh, this one I shall call woman,” and the deep understanding that “It is not good for man to be alone” are both put to the test. The question “Who is guilty?” hangs in the air, and the one blames the other. A careful reading reveals that the question of guilt does not interest the Creator at all. The Judge of all Land is more interested in their motivation and answers to his questions. This story initiates the first conversation between humans and G-d and among themselves. The full power of speech to create and to destroy had to be revealed to Adam and Hava. It is also important to note the distinction between this story and those of the Ancient Middle East. There is no one fleeing from an angry god who seeks to smite him. Here is instead a life lesson, instruction of Adam and Hava how to take account of their actions, improve them and move on. The G-d who speaks with them loves them and is connected to them, since they were formed in His image. The serpent is a trial, he represents the other voices within us which prevent us from hearting the voice of G-d. Healthy dialogue allows real discussion of mistakes. G-d’s question to man is clear and even rhetoric, “Have you eaten from the tree that I forbid you to eat from?” Man’s answer should have been short and simple—yes, I ate from it. Instead, he chooses to place the blame on the woman. G-d’s question to the woman is more interesting, as if he tries to understand her motivea “What is it that you have done? ” And she answers exactly what has happened, “The snake tempted me and I ate.” In G-d’s answer to her he does not relate to the action, only to its consequences. In his answer to the man, he addresses not only the punishment but also the sin itself, “Since you listened to the voice of your wife and ate from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from.” It seems that man’s eating is viewed as pointless and his response as avoidance.
In the end they are both sentenced to pain and suffering that will remind them of their actions, and the way the punishments are described seems to indicate that the motivation is also significant. What was the woman’s motivation? Was it healthy curiosity and a strong desire for enlightened life? It is interesting that she is called “the mother of all life’ by the man who recognizes in her a potential that he does not possess.
In any case, the story expresses the tension we felt a short time ago during the prayers of the High Holy Days between our ability to show the divine image with us, as the Psalmist says “and you will make him slightly less than G-d,”, and our ability to forget it and reach the level of “man is no better than an animal”. This tension follows us through life and challenges our choices. May we be worthy of the faith G-d has placed in us.