A Short Drash on Shabbat Bereshit: Exonerating Eve

"C'mon Adam, you know you want it. Take a bite!"

No biblical story has had a more significant effect on the real lives of women than the creation of woman (isha) in Genesis 2. We all know the story.

On the 6th day, God created Ha'Adam, the first human. God placed ha'Adam in the garden and then thought to himself, "Huh. It's not good for Ha'Adam to be alone. Let's get him a helpmate*!" I don't know what God was thinking at this point, but He created and paraded all the wild animals of the earth and sky before the man to name and, if he felt the urge, choose one as a helpmate.

He's this guy:

"You don't like the horse? No problem. I got a beauty of a water buffalo right over here that is perfect for you. Zero miles. Just created it myself...."

The man met and gave names to all the animals and birds, he didn't find any suitable to be his helpmate, his ezer k'negdo (עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ) -- his helpful counterpart, his co-warrior. You have to wonder if God knew what he was doing here, parading all of these unsuitable matches before Adam, so that the pinnacle of this event, this roll call, is disappointment. And then, to save the day, God created an ezer k'negdo just for him, from part of him. Flesh of his flesh. Bones of his bones.

Asked to recount from memory the process of this creation story, most people will say that God put Adam in a deep sleep, took out one of his ribs, closed the wound and made the woman from that rib. 

I've always preferred the translation that means "sides" instead of "rib". It's a perfectly legit translation, and I think it supports a more feminist reading of the text.

A woman made from a rib is a second-best effort made from a spare part, a part so unimportant that the man can easily live without it. He can say to the woman:
You were made from me.
You have no part in me. 
I will always have part of me in you.
Now imagine that first creation, that earth creature, a hermaphroditic, intersex, non-gendered creature, Ha'Adam, being cleaved in two, right down the middle. God has to "seal up the man's wound" by creating half a person, who, when whole, will become the ish, the man. 

God has to do the same amount of rebuilding and creating to fashion the woman, isha. Ish and Isha came equally from the first earth being, Ha'Adam. They are set above the animals on the earth and below God in the heavens, so they get each other in the middle. 

A step back. Before Ha'Adam was split into two, before ish and isha were created, God gave a warning. "Go ahead," he said. "Eat anything you want. It's all for you." 

"Except for that tree. 
Don't eat from that tree, or you're gonna die."

Right after saying this to Ha'Adam he knocks him out cold, cuts him in half, turns half of him into a man and the other half into a woman. They wake up "become one flesh," and go tromping off to live in the garden.

If you ask me, it would have been great for God to reiterate at this point his earlier warnings about the trees and the eating and the dying.

But no. Instead, he left the freshly-created Man and Woman to land out in the garden with "the most cunning" animal, the serpent. This is not the way to "set your kids up for success," God.

The serpent slithers up to Eve and asks her, "So, you can't eat any of the tree in the garden. Did God really say that?"
Eve corrects the serpent: "Oh, we can eat everything, except that one in the middle there. We can't eat it or even touch it or we will die"
"Is that so?" says the serpent. "You won't die. That's a God scare tactic. In fact, if you do eat it, you're eyes will be open and you'll be like gods. You'll know everything."

Oh, Eve.

One misunderstanding of what God said may have just cost you everything.

God did not say you could not touch the tree, He said you couldn't eat from it.

When Eve reached for the tree, one part of what she thought God said was proven wrong.

Imagine her revelation: "I can touch the tree, and I'm not dead! Maybe the serpent is right. Maybe we won't die, but we will know all things."

She's being rather logical, but her syllogism inputs are off:
God said eating or touching the tree = death
I touched the tree and didn't die
Therefore, I can eat of the tree and not die.

"Then she gave some to the man who was with her and he ate."

This is the big "Temptation of Adam" we have used to construct powerful social assumptions about men and women and who's at fault when a man does not control his own behavior.

Look at this painting again.

 Look at Adam, struggling to resist the forbidden fruit that Eve is offering him. He looks taught and tortured by his indecision. And she, pushing the apple forward, that pleading look on her face. He didn't want to eat it, but she... she tempted him and he could not resist, so he ate! And so the sin has fallen on Eve. 

My children and I have talked about why different versions of the story matter. What do women live with in 2017 that has been supported and perpetuated because of the belief that Eve was a temptress and Adam was hapless.

When God questions Eve, she said "The serpent tricked me!"
And the serpent was punished.
And Eve was punished: with hard labor and tough pregnancies. "And your desire shall be for your man and he will rule over you."
And you, Adam, your punishment is because you listened to her and ate. Good luck toiling that field.
Now, get out.

My child: "Why didn't Adam just not eat the apple? He knew what the consequences were."
My child: "Did they eat from the tree on purpose, to know more, to get out of the garden?"
My child: "Why was she punished for being tricked?"

All great questions that I'm not sure I have answers for. 

But I do have some.

As you study these books, my children, be aware of how these stories have made their way off the page and into our culture and society. Take a look at the headlines, the man sitting in the Oval office and ask:

Why are women blamed when men can't control their impulses?
Why is it important for a woman not to be a 'temptation' to a man.
Are men so easily tempted, distracted, and led off the path?

We discussed mechitza -- an idea based on the fact that women can be so distracting to a man that even just a peek, or being able to hear kol isha -- the voice of a woman -- can distract him from his prayers.

We talked about how people will say "she deserved it," when a woman wears a sexy outfit and a man "cannot" control his reaction.

We talked about all the ways the story of Adam and Eve has been used to sell a dangerous and distorted view of how men and woman can and should live together.

Eve was created as the ezer k'negdo and, after one transgression, demoted to someone Adam will "rule over".

In the end, my child and I concluded that you can't change the words of the Torah, but you can most certainly change how you read it, and better than that, everyone can look closer at how they act on it.

Eve was the victim of a trick.
Adam was a victim of his own inability to refuse to take something he wanted.

Eve deserves an exoneration.
Adam deserves a lesson in self-control.

And my students and my children will continue lessons in Torah with their feminist teacher guiding them. We will reclaim and rescue this Torah for them so that when they accept the responsibility of carrying it, they know where the real weight comes from.

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