Parshat Bereishit: Happy Anniversary!

I, like most people in the world at this moment, am spending more time at home.  One of the things I’m doing is cleaning out closets and looking in old boxes that have been stored away.  In one of those boxes, I came across a gift I had given my husband on our first anniversary.  It was a mirror for his keychain.  One side had the mirror, but the other side had the gift: the message I wanted to communicate.  It said: “I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was going to blame you.” 

Over the anniversaries, I have continued to gift my husband little mementos of my ‘truths’.  For a few years he liked white chocolate, but I would buy him dark chocolate and leave it in his pocket with a note that white chocolate is really chocolate that is confused about its self-identity and I could not support such thinking.  He has since developed a taste for dark chocolate.

I also found a small wooden plaque in the box that says: “I love you more today than yesterday –yesterday you really ticked me off!’  I’m a strong believer in clear communication.

Anniversaries are often celebrated as milestones of past events, markers of history.  But, they can also be opportunities of focused growth and insight beyond what we thought we knew from before.  Reading the Torah every week is no different.

This Shabbat, we start reading the Torah again from the beginning with parshat Bereishit.  Genesis, the beginning, Adam, Eve, snake, trees, disobedience and accountability are all introduced to us as we learn of the human condition.  Yet, when we look closely at the text, we start to notice that certain details are missing that we all assumed were there.

We usually understand that God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.  Except, Eve wasn’t created when God forbid eating from that tree, only Adam was commanded not to do that.  Maybe, we assume, what’s commanded for one is commanded for all, except Jewish law doesn’t work that way.  Also, the commandment to be fruitful and multiply was given to Adam before Eve was created and Jewish law holds that for that reason men are commanded to have children while women are not.  That’s why the legal Jewish discussion surrounding birth control always asks whether we are discussing it for a man or for a woman, since they do not have equal obligation to that commandment.  In other words, if the commandments before Eve was created are only obligatory on Adam, why do we assume Eve broke a commandment by eating from the Tree of Knowledge?

We not only assume she broke the commandment, we go further and lay ALL the blame on her.  She brought death into the world, since God said that the day Adam eats from the Tree of Knowledge he will die.  Over time, this idea gets linked to a woman’s menstruation — she will have a monthly reminder that it is because of her that blood is shed in this world.  There are some communities that slap a young girl across the face when she has her first period.  Let me be clear, there is no justification for this within Judaism, but young girls have been slapped across the face globally, and within various faith and secular communities, for generations.  The shame of spilling blood has been branded onto the cheeks of girls in a horrible custom of blame.  

Interestingly, Adam was told that because he ate the fruit, he would have to toil the earth for food, but there’s no custom to hit a man in the face when he brings in his first harvest.  Somehow, Eve has been held as more accountable than Adam even though she never received that particular ‘thou shalt not’ in the first place.

The constant blame attached to the woman would lead us back into the text to see if, perhaps, Eve was as guilty as history has made her.  The Torah states that when God responded to Adam, Eve and the snake for what each had done, God is very specific with only Adam and the snake.  God tells the snake: “because you have done this thing”, and God tells Adam: “because you ate of the tree”, but when God addresses Eve, there is no mention of what exactly she has done.  There is no ‘because you…’ statement addressed to Eve, she is just told of the changes that will now occur.  It is informational not accusatory.  The Torah has neither obligated the woman, nor punished her, for anything specific that happened in the Garden, but throughout time, millions upon millions of girls are taught to pay Eve’s price and bear her shame. 

In fact, if we’re looking for who to blame for all of it, it seems no one is ready to accept accountability for anything.  When asked what happened, Eve tells God that the snake enticed her.  The snake isn’t asked anything, he’s already proved himself a liar, and you don’t ask a proven liar to testify to anything since you are setting them up to lie again–that’s on you.  When Adam is asked what happened, he tells God that ‘the woman YOU gave me…’ which is an incredibly bold way of saying that, in fact, the whole thing is God’s fault since it was God’s idea to create Eve, who was enticed by the snake, who was also God’s idea.  So, if God’s looking for someone to blame…

We thought we knew that story inside and out.  Adam and Eve eat, are punished, are exiled and we learn about sin, repentance and accountability for our actions from then on.  Except, the Torah never says they sinned, it isn’t blaming Eve for anything, no one is accepting any accountability and the only one humanity blames for anything is God.  Exactly which story did we think we knew?

We live in a world that fills us with ideas, traditions, artwork and ‘truths’ that claim to be from the Bible.  The first chapters of Genesis contain one of the most commonly known narratives in Torah and yet, on close reading, it might not be saying what we thought all along.  Starting to read the Torah from Genesis this Shabbat is the Jewish anniversary of our Torah study year.  It is not an anniversary where we hit ‘repeat’ to read it again, it is the anniversary to read it anew.

If you would like to learn more about this story in the Torah and Rachael’s commentary on what truly took place, consider taking The Garden of Eden: The Best of Times and The Worst fo Times. The next course begins Tuesday November 3rd. More information on our Learning Page.

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