Sex and the Single Man

We suspected it all along. But we are approaching certainty. Donald Trump will be impeached, even though he attacked Syria ostensibly to destroy some of the capacity of an evil regime which sacrifices its own nationals with chemical weapons in contravention of international treaties and the rules of war. Trump, reading from two prompters, gave his finest presidential speech ever in explaining what the U.S. and its allies were doing in their missile attack on Syria and why. Pat Robertson, the evangelical preacher, even interpreted Trump’s habit of sniffing while he reads a speech to be a sign that he was breathing in the breath of the Holy Spirit. However, the speech stank from insincerity. By sometime next year, if not earlier, Mike Pence will become president of the United States.

A reader of my blog sent me a very insightful article by Meghan O’Gieblyn in the May issue of Harpers Magazine called: “Exiled: Mike Pence and the evangelical fantasy of persecution.” The article not only paints a picture of the character of Pence’s Christian beliefs, but also provides insight into how he and other Christians could vote for and support Donald Trump no matter how much he lied, how much he fornicated with other women than his wife, how much he took to the media to berate and belittle his own appointees and government administrators. Mike Pence belongs to a branch of the Christian evangelical religion that takes its archetype for political involvement and activity from the story of Daniel and the emperor Cyrus.

In his 2016 book, God’s Chaos Candidate: Donald J. Trump and America’s Unraveling, Lance Wallau claimed that God spoke to him and revealed that candidate Trump was like the Persian King Cyrus cited in the Bible. Cyrus decreed that the Jews living in captivity in ancient Babylon could return to Israel and rebuild their temple. Voting for Trump entails a sacrifice to achieve a greater cause and objective.

First, the thesis presumes that Christians in America now live as aliens and a threatened minority in their own historic land. This is the same theses that Martin Luther King put forth in his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech fifty-five years ago on the Washington Mall on 28 August 1963: “the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land.” This is how Evangelical Christians, and Lance Wallau in particular, currently portray the current plight of Evangelical Christians in America. They are living as a persecuted minority as exiles in their own land.

Second, they will be redeemed, not through good works and social justice, but by getting in bed with a pagan who will serve as God’s means to deliver them once again to the Promised Land and their rightful home. They will return from exile and once again build a commonwealth based on strict Christian (priestly Jewish) teachings (a kingdom that never existed in history as much as some Jews tried to create one). The rule of a new High Priest would esteem purity and ban homosexuality, drive strangers out of the land and revere ethnic homogeneity. The Black narrative is first appropriated and then applied to themselves in a competition of imagined victimhood.

Could anything be more miraculous than the pagan Donald Trump rescuing Mike Spence from political decline and obscurity following the farce of the anti-gay legislation he introduced in Indiana? Could anyone imagine anything more miraculous than Donald Trump no sooner – or even before he won the presidency – proceeding headstrong towards self-destruction? Yes. The story of Daniel in the Torah is interpreted to mean that, “God’s people can survive in exile—even under the fist of a despotic ruler—so long as one of their own tribe advocates on their behalf in the corridors of power.” One can have faith and serve Babylon at one and the same time. Because Babylon with a pagan, tenacious and willful ruler unintentionally will serve as a mechanism of return as Isaiah foretold (45:1).

א  כֹּה-אָמַר יְהוָה, לִמְשִׁיחוֹ לְכוֹרֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר-הֶחֱזַקְתִּי בִימִינוֹ לְרַד-לְפָנָיו גּוֹיִם, וּמָתְנֵי מְלָכִים, אֲפַתֵּחַ–לִפְתֹּחַ לְפָנָיו דְּלָתַיִם, וּשְׁעָרִים לֹא יִסָּגֵרוּ. 1 Thus saith the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him, and to loose the loins of kings; to open the doors before him, and that the gates may not be shut:
ב  אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ אֵלֵךְ, וַהֲדוּרִים אושר (אֲיַשֵּׁר); דַּלְתוֹת נְחוּשָׁה אֲשַׁבֵּר, וּבְרִיחֵי בַרְזֶל אֲגַדֵּעַ. 2 I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the doors of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron;

Trump will be the wrecking ball to the spirit of political correctness and substitute religious correctness for Israel’s sake so that the nation can fulfill its divine assignment, and for America’s sake so that Christian nationalists can once again regain their proper place in the sun.

I had started to write this blog early Friday morning, but was sidetracked because of a request of one of my sons. I never got very far into it. On Friday evening when I was off to synagogue, at the corner of Nina and Bathurst Streets, I saw a vision. In the sky to the south at the bottom of the steep Bathurst Hill, there was a large hand in the sky. Beneath that sky, cars were driving towards the heavens and disappearing into the clouds. Of course, the huge hand in the sky was but a reflection in the misty late afternoon of the hand signal that warned pedestrians not to cross the street. The cars in the sky disappearing into the clouds were but reflections of the cars driving down the Bathurst Street hill. An unusual confluence of mist and air, and the sun remaining invisible, allowed what was on the ground to be reflected much larger than life in the sky. The heavens mirrored earth. It was an illusion.

Though this naturalistic explanation was correct, what I saw was a miracle nevertheless. It was a vision almost worthy of Daniel. God’s hand was so powerful that it could make cars and traffic disappear. Such is the power of God’s hand and His outstretched arm! Such is the willingness of humans to sacrifice their neighbours in the name of purification!

My theme in this series of blogs has been about etzem and how identity, or sameness, and independence can be reconciled. I wrote about Adam’s fantasy that woman was merely an extension and projection of man, woman more as possession than as objectification, though both misconceptions prove to be complementary. It is this tale of master and slave, of men as masters and women as their servants, that is even more fundamental than one ethnic group, one religious group or one race, subjecting another group to slavery.

כז  וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ:  זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, בָּרָא אֹתָם.
27 And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.

Even in Genesis I, when God created man and woman, only man was made in the image of God. That is why in man’s dream, in Adam’s dream, woman is viewed as created, not this time as an image of himself, but as a physical extension and projection of himself. Only man in the image of God can say and it will be. Only man can name and classify and bring the categories of thought into being. Woman is simply made as a physical help meet of man – at least as told in the Biblical narrative of the faulty path of human illusions.

The biblical narrative begins, not with human independence, but interdependence, with man dependent on God and woman dependent on man. It is an asymmetrical interdependence. Man is beholden to God, not simply for his life, but for being created in the first place and for being given the position in turn of master over the physical universe. Man is the surrogate of God. Woman, on the other hand, is viewed by that man as simply his physical extension in the original doctrine of possessive individualism. But just as God is dependent on man for being recognized as the creator and master of the universe – animals and plants certainly cannot do that job – man is dependent on woman for serving his physical needs.

However, there was a fundamental difference between man and God epitomized by the two trees that God planted in Eden. One was the Tree of Life. God was eternal. Man was not. And man would not eat of the Tree of Life even though man deluded himself initially to believe that his destiny was to have eternal life.  A second tree was the tree of knowledge of good and evil, of moral discernment. Here, man had it over God. Because God was not a physical being. God did not have a sexual partner. Man, on the other hand, could know woman, could have sex with a woman and thereby discover the foundations of a moral universe. If God brought humans into the world in this archetypal mythical tale, man and woman would bring morality into the world. It was not sufficient to recognize the good, to wonder at the beauty of creation. It was necessary to understand evil as well and its source. As you will see, it is not sex.

How? Because the two trees, the tree of life and thee tree of knowledge of good and evil were also interdependent. Man was warned that if he ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, if man knew woman, if the two had sex, they would know that they were mortal and were not like God, would know that one day they would surely die and that they never would be able to eat of the tree of eternal life.

The story of the second creation of Eve, the creation of Eve in the imagination of the male, is about an Eve who is but a physical extension of man, an Eve who exists simply because man is lonely and, further, because the man that is lonely does not even recognize that he needs Eve as his companion and, further, that being alone is “not good.”

Woman is “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” And the two become one flesh in reality when they mate. But they do not, simply thereby, become partners in life.  For man does not see woman as his equal, does not see woman as an independent self-conscious being with whom he must establish and build a relationship. Look at how the mating game begins in Genesis III.

א  וְהַנָּחָשׁ, הָיָה עָרוּם, מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים; וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה, אַף כִּי-אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּן. 1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman: ‘Yea, hath God said: Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?’
ב  וַתֹּאמֶר הָאִשָּׁה, אֶל-הַנָּחָשׁ:  מִפְּרִי עֵץ-הַגָּן, נֹאכֵל. 2 And the woman said unto the serpent: ‘Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat;
ג  וּמִפְּרִי הָעֵץ, אֲשֶׁר בְּתוֹךְ-הַגָּן–אָמַר אֱלֹהִים לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִמֶּנּוּ, וְלֹא תִגְּעוּ בּוֹ:  פֶּן-תְּמֻתוּן. 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said: Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.’
ד  וַיֹּאמֶר הַנָּחָשׁ, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה:  לֹא-מוֹת, תְּמֻתוּן. 4 And the serpent said unto the woman: ‘Ye shall not surely die;
ה  כִּי, יֹדֵעַ אֱלֹהִים, כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְכֶם מִמֶּנּוּ, וְנִפְקְחוּ עֵינֵיכֶם; וִהְיִיתֶם, כֵּאלֹהִים, יֹדְעֵי, טוֹב וָרָע. 5 for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.’
ו  וַתֵּרֶא הָאִשָּׁה כִּי טוֹב הָעֵץ לְמַאֲכָל וְכִי תַאֲוָה-הוּא לָעֵינַיִם, וְנֶחְמָד הָעֵץ לְהַשְׂכִּיל, וַתִּקַּח מִפִּרְיוֹ, וַתֹּאכַל; וַתִּתֵּן גַּם-לְאִישָׁהּ עִמָּהּ, וַיֹּאכַל. 6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.
ז  וַתִּפָּקַחְנָה, עֵינֵי שְׁנֵיהֶם, וַיֵּדְעוּ, כִּי עֵירֻמִּם הֵם; וַיִּתְפְּרוּ עֲלֵה תְאֵנָה, וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם חֲגֹרֹת. 7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves girdles.

What do we know about the serpent? We know it stood erect. We know that the serpent was subtle and devious. In fact, the serpent is an outright liar for he describes sex as a divine experience when that is precisely what a Hebrew divinity can never experience. God did recognize what is good and not good (loneliness for man); God had not yet come to recognize what is evil.

The serpent insists that if Eve eats of the tree of knowledge she will know good and evil and that will be like being a divine being who knows good and bad, good and evil. We know that the serpent spoke to woman. We can surmise that when first mentioned, serpent is a euphemism among a host of euphemisms in the Bible. We may currently give a penis a proper name – Peter or Oscar– or call it a boner. The biblical writers were prone to use a wide variety of euphemisms to refer to a penis, such as “basar,” “flesh” in Exodus 28:42, the same word that is used in Genesis 2:23: “flesh of my flesh,” בָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי. Woman then means bone of my bone, penis of my penis. Another euphemism for penis is erva עֶרְוָה or “nakedness,” as 3:7 above, עֵירֻמִּם.

Last night we went to hear The Hot Sardines at Koerner Hall, a terrific retro jazz band with superb musicians and even a tap dancer – see and hear them if they are in your neck of the woods – they play Vancouver at the Orpheum later this month and in Winnipeg in May – or if you go to New York, they perform at Joe’s pub. They put on a tremendous show. They are crisp and exacting musicians with a great horn and wood section. And they are funny in a sly and witty way, just as are some of the tunes they play from the days of dirty jazz in which all types of interactions with fruit were used to refer euphemistically to sex and passion.

Note the following about the biblical tale of the erect penis:

  1. Man objectifies his own penis and sees it as Other.
  2. That Other, unlike woman, is viewed as an entity with an independent being.
  3. That independent being, in contrast to the naïve Adam, obsessed with his naming ability and, thereby, bringing things into existence, is characterized by guile.
  4. Woman is seduced, not by a man, but by his penis, by woman discovering what a delight a penis is to the touch and the sight and the taking the penis in as food for the body and the spirit.
  5. Only in this way does Eve teach the blissfully unaware Adam, who does not even recognize Eve as an independent being but characterizes his penis as having independence from himself, that he too can take pleasure in his physical being.
  6. In discovering their nakedness, in discovering the penis, in discovering the wonders of sex, they are both ashamed.

Why do Adam and Eve feel shame? And what does sex and shame have to do with independence and autonomy?

To be continued.


With the help of Alex Zisman





Howard Adelman

“Bereshit” in the Torah means, “In the beginning.” This past Saturday we began the cycle of once again reading through the whole of Torah. The previous Saturday we had ended Deuteronomy with a discussion of the relationship between nature and nurture couched in terms of nature and spirit. The study text in Deuteronomy was posed indirectly by means of an essay by Jeremy Bernstein, a doctoral candidate in cultural anthropology at Hebrew University. The essay was entitled, “Nature vs. Torah” and began with a quote by a second century Jewish sage, Rabbi Ya’akov, who viewed the appreciation of nature as a distraction from Torah study. One knew immediately that this was a foil towards a very different position because Jeremy Bernstein was well-known as an environmentalist.

In his survey of a number of different positions on interpreting a piece of text discussing the relationship of nature and spirit, it became clear that Bernstein was also not in favour of the very opposite interpretation to the one expressed by Rabbi Ya’akov, a position often part of Zionist thought that also saw nature and religion as oppositional. That Zionsim favoured nature over spirit, physical labour on the earth in opposition to eyes directed towards heaven via detailed study of text. That position is akin to the underpinning of the bulletins I receive on “Environment and Climate in the Middle East” that can be found at For example, a recent study warned that the Mediterranean was warming fast with the consequence that one could forecast deserts spreading in Europe. Ignoring nature for the study of Torah may not only be an erroneous interpretation of Torah, but it could have drastic consequences.

Jeremy clearly wanted to adapt a both/and position rather than an either/or one of either pole. One of my former graduate students who lives in Michigan and serves as a spiritual leader in the U.S. engaged in the understanding of “what it means to co-create heaven and earth” is a strong advocate for one variation of Jeremy’s position of both/and as she tries to educate a broader audience on the responsibilities of becoming a global citizen. Thus, the positions are divided into three main groups: 1) spirit rules over nature; 2) nature has priority on our attention [1 & 2 both read text as dictating either/or positions], and 3) a both/and approach that tries to give due credence and attention to both spheres. For religious Jews, the premises of one’s interpretation depend on how we read the metaphysical foundations of Judaism that are compacted and read in Bereshit (Genesis 1.1 – 6.8), the first reading of Torah which was read this past Saturday.

[I intended to write a commentary prior to that date, but I was, and remain, very busy in my new position as a nurse’s aide.]

Bereshit is called Bereshit because it means, “In the beginning” and it is the first word in the Torah. The argument among Jews and others interpreting text begins over the words that immediately follow, בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים, variously translated with the first word “bereshit” as, In the beginning, God created…,“ or “When God began to create…,” or, thirdly, “In the beginning of God’s creating…,” or fourthly, and most literally, but also most radically, “In the beginning of created Elohim.” There is no dispute that what is being created is heaven and earth, however differently those two terms may be translated and interpreted, but the different interpretations of the verb, the action and the agent are crucial, not only to understanding this piece of text, but the foundation of the whole Torah.

If the text is translated as, “In the beginning, God created…,” as it is in the King James version of the Bible and many, if not most, Christian Protestant biblical texts, then it means that creation began at a certain point in time, an assertion which can be taken back to the Big Bang, but that would take away from the usual meaning that God created the world out of nothing, ex nihilo, or to a date just over five thousand years ago that ends up being contradicted by the discovery of evolution. Martin Luther – this is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting his ninety-five theses on the large door of the cathedral, a specific date used to mark the beginning of the Reformation – in his lectures on Genesis: Chapter 1-5, interpreted the text “literally” as he read it to mean that Genesis recorded the beginning of day one (not the first day) of six days in which God created the world in all its perfection. Similarly, in John Calvin’s version of the text, “In principio creavit Deus…,” the text is seen to read, “In the beginning, God created…” This interpretation of text was radically different than Saint Augustine’s allegorical treatment of the creation story in his least allegorical treatment in his volume, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, but these Protestant interpretations are consistent with St. Thomas Aquinas’s version, “In the beginning God created…” and his premise that God created the first principle from which all else that exists emanated.

However, if the second or third translations above are accepted – which are both truer to the Hebrew and which are used in both Chabad and Reform translations – the process of creation is already underway. There is no discussion of a beginning point to all that has come into being, but rather a discussion of God’s role in becoming. In the fourth and most radical interpretation, it is the story of God or Elohim becoming. God develops in partnership with man; it is not a one way revelation. In any of these other three versions, there is no trouble with 1:2 where it is stated that earth was unformed with the clear implication that God’s role was to give form to the chaos of a material world that already existed. We enter the story at the beginning of that process of giving form and order. Genesis does not start with cosmology, but with the creation of order in the world.

The first step in creating that order involves four entities plus God as Elohim:
1. An unformed and “void” earth – וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ; Earth
2. Darkness;
3. The deep which has a surface or face – a primordial ocean or Nun Water
4. A wind or ruach, God’s spirit which swept over the face of the water. Air

What is missing of the four ancient elements is fire that brings light into the darkness of the world.

In a dominant Protestant tradition, that of Restitution theory, the chaos and void were not what followed God’s creation, which is inherently perfect, but the actions of Satan, the fallen angel, who ruined God’s original and perfect creation. However, in the dynamic interpretation wherein the text is about Becoming and not about Being, what is described is God’s intervention in a barren world in which there were waters but nowhere to view one’s reflection because darkness prevailed. When God’s spirit swept over the face of the waters, and God said, “Let there be light, there was light as well as darkness, light by which the barrenness of the earth could be observed as well the coming to be of self-consciousness. Only with light could one see the face of God reflected. And so the text can also be read as a process of God’s self-development as God reflects on what He has wrought. The Torah then can be read as a history of the development of self-consciousness.

Clearly, this interpretation, ironically much closer to the literal Hebrew freed up from the imposition of Greek philosophy, is far closer to the allegorical interpretive tradition. As Rashi and many others have said, the text is not about cosmology but about a philosophical framework for the constitutional development of the Hebrew nation. After light arrives, enlightenment arrives and disjunctions arrive, the disjunction of heaven and earth and the disjunction of light and darkness. We have Day and Night, Dawn and Dusk even before we have the sun and the moon that make possible the morning and the evening. But the sun and the moon are both lights, the light that rules the day, consciousness, and the lesser light that rules the night, the unconscious, viewed as the fourth stage of creation.

What happens next after you have the creation of light in the midst of darkness and after the creation of two different realms from which enlightenment emerges? In 1.6, an expanse is created in the midst of the water that separates the water above and the water below, an expanse called heaven. This is a key stage in God’s creating heaven and earth. But what is that heaven? In Rabbi Plaut’s commentary, the expanse is considered the vault of the sky in which the lights of the sky, the stars, were implanted. On the other side lived the divine entities. Thus, the passage is simply an adaptation of pagan mythology.

But that does it an injustice. For the issue is not where an idea originated, but what the division means. In Greek mythology, the souls of the dead were ferried to another realm across the dark waters of the River Styx that separates the world of the living from that of the dead. In that mental framework, if the dead cross back over the River Styx, if the dead become the living dead of zombies, we have one kind of horror movie.

But in the Torah, the tension is not between the living and the dead, between humans and zombies, but between the pure fresh water, Apsu in Babylonian myth, the fresh clear water that brings rebirth, and Tiamat, salt water, the water that characterizes tears and grief. Heaven or the expanse is not above both but between them, between the strife and troubles on earth and the aspirations of purity that exist beyond the heavens that water the earth and bring forth the vegetation that supports life. So the conflict is not between the living and the dead, but between two forms of life, one open to growth and renewal and being showered by the pure waters coming from the other side of the vault of heaven, and the salt water tears of our grief and struggle on this earth. Ideals, aspirations, hope for renewal are necessary to watering life, but do not constitute the characteristics of life itself on this earth which itself is divided between the salt waters of the sea and the fresh water that falls and is needed to bring forth vegetation on the land.

The sixth day of creation is most interesting, for on that day after animate life arose, animate life proliferated into a plethora of species, but one stood out, humans made in the image of Elohim, God the creator. Humans, both men and women, also exist on earth to create. Accompanying that creativity will be the responsibility of ruling over both the world man inherits, nature (and which in turn and in some sense rule mankind as distinct from the self-legislated laws of the Torah), and the artifacts man brings into creation. God had finished His work and created the fundamental parameters for humans to continue the process of creation, a creation that was not just declared good, but very good.

Frameworks are dry and detached, formal and impersonal Now the more interesting part, the creation of the much more personal and human world and one which rewrites the story with humans at the centre even before there was vegetation, even when there was no rain falling from the heavens from the waters beyond the firmament, a firmament created and not something simply given form by God when He pronounces and says, “There is.” Man is created as a living being from the dust of the earth and God’s spirit that blew over the darkness and face of the waters is now blown into the nostrils of the human creature He has created. And the human as a man is planted in a garden called Eden where plants are provided for food except for two, the Tree of Life at the centre of the garden and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, which is not given a locale but is somewhere in the midst of the garden.

We are now reading a record of a male dream that can be viewed literally as a night mare, of a vision of creation that comes in the night as opposed to the story that comes with the creation of light. The key clue is that man alone is created, and not in the image of God, but formed solely out of the dust of the earth. The male is created as a creature formed entirely out of nature without the spirit of God. Creativity, in a male’s consciousness, brings forth from his own flesh a living creature. Creativity in a context of womb envy does not require women. In fact, women will be regarded as an objectification of and for man, but this in a minute.

First, we must deal with the four rivers that water Eden and flow forth into four branches, Pishon, Gihon, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Only the latter two refer to real rivers. There have been many attempts to locate the Pishon and Gihon rivers as geographical locales as well. Josephus claimed the Pishon was the Ganges. Others say it is the Indus. Rashi claimed it was the Nile. Other scholars claimed it to be a cluster of springs (פוץ, after all, means overflowing) and still others the long wadi running from the Hijaz mountains to Kuwait.

But there is no known river to which the Pishon (פִּישׁוֹן‎‎ Pîšōn) can be connected. In the Torah (2.11), the Pishon encircles the golden land of Havilah. Further,פִּישׁ means to be scattered in the sense of being distributed to the four corners of the earth, to being cast out and exiled, one version of the exile. Pishon is the imaginative river which will take us in exile from Eden into the four corners of the earth, for Pishon is the river which circles the earth. In contrast, Gihon or, more properly, Giħôn, גיחון means bursting forth or gushing forth. Gihon is the river that encircles just Cush, but all of Cush. Like the Pishon, there have been a plethora of efforts to link the Gihon with various different rivers, but it too is best viewed as an allegorical river, like the River Styx.

On the other hand, the land of Cush itself is real and the people of Cush are generally thought of as Ethiopian Jews or as the Tutsi of the Great Lakes region of Africa, including Rwanda, Burundi, the Congo and Uganda. Without concerning ourselves at this point with any precise correspondence, two alternative visions are adumbrated for leaving Eden – forced into exile and scattered to the far ends of the earth, presumably for being wicked and giving way to temptation. But where do we go but to Trumpland, a place of precious metals. Alternatively, the exodus from Eden can be conceived as a gushing forth and relocation to a specific locale where one can shepherd cattle and goats. The emphasis is not on either place as the Promised Land, but on the process. One is a forced dispersion. The second is a gushing forth and a welcome relocation. The first is a story of refugees. The second is a story of immigrants.

However, both the Pishon and the Gihon flow south-west. In the Torah going west is equated with escaping family and social responsibilities, with the frontier, with innovation, but also with encounters with enormous challenges. In contrast to this romanticism, the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers flow south-east from the mountains of Turkey, the latter from the confluence of the Murat Su and Kara Su Rivers in eastern Turkey before the Euphrates joins the over one thousand mile long Tigris River that has on its banks the city of Mosul, so much in the news these days, through to Baghdad to form the Shatt al-Arab and flow into the Persian Gulf. Nineveh, the great Assyrian city to which Jonah was instructed to travel to rescue civilization from its immorality, was also located in Upper Mesopotamia in modern Iraq on the east back of the Tigris River. The two rivers make the areas of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria into the fertile crescent, the cradle of civilization where both animal domestication and agriculture, writing and the wheel, were all invented.

With the cosmology and geography of the imagination set, the drama now begins with Act II in chapter 2 of Genesis. Verse 2.5 describes the situation very differently than the one left at the end of chapter 1. There are no trees or herbs growing. Chapter 2.5 does not describe a fertile crescent, for the earth was barren and there was neither rain to bring growth nor humans to till the soil and bring forth crops. Water came first as a mist and man came formed out of the dust. God blew air into the nostrils of man to make him a living soul. (2.7) So water, earth and air came together to form man. Where was the fire? Where was light? In this version of creation, there is no light. It is a dream.

We now know we are reading of the creation of man in the male imagination, for man does not spring forth from woman. In the male imagination, man comes prior to woman as an independent being. In the east, God planted the Garden of Eden and placed man in that garden where man was given responsibility for working it (who said that there was no labour required to maintain the garden?) and to protect or guard that garden. (2.15) [From what???] But there were two trees planted in the garden, the Tree of Life in the centre, the vision of possessing divine immortality (which man made in the image of God believed he already possessed), and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the other core foundation for the imagination and human life, but grounded in the flesh rather than in fantasy, grounded in sex and, hence, procreation. Man was instructed NOT to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil lest he die.

God said that something still was not good – who said that God had created a perfect world after six days? Man was alone. He needed a help meet. What was man doing in the interim? He was engaged in taxonomy, in naming different classes of things, the foundation stone of science and objective knowledge. But all the naming did not help him find a help meet. In fact, man did not even recognize that he needed one so caught up was he in his nerdy existence. God put Adam to sleep and in Adam’s imagination, the creation of life is reversed and woman is made from man rather than man emerging from woman. Further, to demonstrate his detachment, man will leave his parents and cleave to his wife, “and they shall become one flesh.” They will have sex and become intimate.

But did not God command man not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Yes and no. God warned man that if he did eat of that tree, if he knew another being carnally, he would recognize that he would know that he would die, and, therefore, might want to eat of the Tree of Life to retain the immortality that he had. So if he had sex, he would have to leave the garden lest he really seek immortality, seek to become a God.

In chapter 3 we are presented with a man and a woman naked in the garden. A third agent is introduced – a snake, an erect snake, and a snake that speaks, and a snake that is cunning. Who is that snake? (וְהַנָּחָשׁ) Recall that Adam is a nerd who walks around thinking he is immortal and, like God, names things and, thereby, brings them into being in his cognitive consciousness. But he knows nothing about his body. He knows nothing about his feelings. He does not even know he feels lonely and needs someone else. God has to tell him. So when his penis becomes erect and has a non-cognitive voice of its own, Adam others it. Like teenagers in the locker room, the penis becomes Oscar or Peter or … – an independent being with its own voice.

The snake-penis queries Eve and Eve says God told then not only not to eat of the tree but not even to touch it. “You won’t die,” says the snake. But our eyes will be open and we will recognize what is good and what is evil. How prescient! And God is surely right for Adam and Eve are until then clueless. Eve agreed with the snake that sex was good so she ate and he ate. End of innocence. Both knew shame. It could have been written that then the man turned over and went back to sleep.

God then asked – where are you, not physically. What head space are you in now that you have had sex, now that you feel ashamed of what you did? After all, I warned you. I told you what would happen if you ate that fruit. And lo and behold, Adam says, “It wasn’t really me. She did it. She offered me the fruit.” Eve said, “I didn’t do it. It was the serpent. It was the snake that tempted me.” So the erection became limp and would henceforth be hidden and live a life in the dirt and the dust. Further, as much as lust will drive you towards woman, God will ensure that enmity will also exist between the two of you.
As far as Adam is concerned, the penis, the snake, will crush your head, will undermine you as a cognitive and thinking person and you, in turn, “will bite his heel,” his עָקֵב, will greet nightfall or twilight or the end of the day, the loss of light with fanged teeth. You will always be forced to turn backwards and tear apart the tracks that you have covered, to indulge in second-guessing. Women will bear children in pain and men will no longer merely work the garden and protect it, but will toil on earth with the sweat of their brow. And, in the subconscious account, the two were forced to leave the garden and travel to the River Pishon in search of their fortunes at the ends of the earth.

On a totally other level, Adam and Even gush forth from the garden, freed up from their ignorance and their repression to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh and what it means to take responsibility. No longer unaware, they can reflect on themselves and one another. The cost is great, but has it not been worth it? They go to Gush via the Gihon and escape the prison of innocence for a rich world of wonders, for the pleasures of nature and for self-reflection and responsibility for themselves and the world.

The implications:
1. The Garden of Eden is not an allegorical ideal but an infantilizing of humans.
2. Man has a consciousness of the world of objects and believes that is what it is like to be God, to name and order the world.
3. Man (not women) inherently constructs a division between mind and body, between spirit and nature.
4. Man initially does not take responsibility for the actions of his body.
5. Man objectifies his own body driven by passions and will also objectify women.
6. Man in his fantasy world sees woman as an extension of his body and, hence, without a thought of her own.
7. When woman responds to the attractions of the flesh, it is she who seduces him, not he her.
8. The beginning of self-consciousness starts with humans recognizing their actions BUT refusing to take responsibility for those actions.
9. The Torah story will be primarily about humans and the Israelites learning to assume that responsibility.
10. Finally, though God creates the opportunities to learn, God plays the role of the trickster that makes God appear as if He is on the side of holding men and women back. From the very initial story and onwards, God will play the role of the reactionary provocateur.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Beasts and Humans: Genesis Chapter 3

Beasts and Humans: Genesis Chapter 3


Howard Adelman

This week’s parshat, Lech-Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27), is one of the most well-known stories in the Torah. It is a tale of an immigrant, Abram, who travels with his nephew, Lot, wife, Sarai, his servants and herds from his native land to the new promised-land of Canaan occupied by the Canaanites. There he is to found a great, blessed and famous nation that is to be a light unto the world. Rather than a land abundant in food, after building several altars to the Lord at different locations, he encountered a famine and went onto Egypt.

Before entering Egypt, the first event took place. Sarai was beautiful. Abram feared he would be killed if the Egyptians knew she was his wife so he told Sarai to say that she was his sister. Sarai attracted the attention of the Pharaoh and, “because of her,” Abram acquired sheep, oxen, asses, camels, male and female slaves. But, as a result, not Abram, but the Pharaoh and his whole household were afflicted with the plague. The Pharaoh learned that Sarai was really Abram’s wife and he asked Abram why he had lied and said that she was his sister. Abram offers no explanation, but presumably to lift the scourge of the plague, Abram was allowed to return to the Negev with all his possessions, including the slaves he had acquired.

Then the second event occurred. The herdsmen of Abram and Lot quarreled. Lest enmity result between Abram and Lot, they parted ways, Lot settling in the Jordan valley near Sodom, a city of wicked sinners against the Lord, and Abram remained in the land of Canaan settling near Hebron where he built another altar. In the meanwhile, the Jordan Valley was rife with the War of the Nine Kings that lasted fourteen years, possibly a conflict over oil in the Valley of Siddum. As a result of the war and Lot being found on the losing side, Lot not only lost all his possessions to the victorious invaders, but was taken captive and enslaved. But Abram with 318 men went to his rescue. After a daring and surprise night raid, and after the defeat of Lot’s captors, Lot returned to Soddom with all his wealth and animals.

I will not go on to relay the rest of the events, including the anticipatory nightmare of 400 years of enslavement in Egypt followed by freedom and escape with great wealth, birth of his children, first Ishmael by way of his concubine, Hagar, and then finally Isaac to the previously barren Sarai after Abram was renamed Abraham and Sarai was named Sarah. The story went on to tell of the covenant of the circumcision when an infant is eight days old.

Instead, I want to connect the first tale of Abram’s deceit in telling everyone, including the Pharaoh, that his beautiful wife Sarai was his sister, as a result of which Abram’s life was saved and presumably Sarai became the Pharaoh’s concubine and Abram became very wealthy in the process. Abram repeated the lie in Genesis 20:1-18, except then we learn that it was not quite a lie since Sarah was really his half-sister – same father, different mothers. What relationship does the lie have to Genesis 3 in the story leading to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden? Who deceives whom? And why?

One clue is that Abraham never takes responsibility for the lie for, literally, he was not lying. More importantly, Abraham blamed God for having had to tell a lie because, as Abraham said, it was God who sent him on his perilous journey, as if that excused his actions. And in those two ways, the Abraham story is a repetition of the Adam and Eve story. Both stories are about deceit, telling half truths, and about not taking responsibility for your actions. Abraham blames God. Adam blames Eve who, in turn, blames Adam’s penis.

That story starts with the cunning serpent who asks the woman in the Garden of Eden, “Did God indeed say, ‘You shall not eat of any of the trees of the garden?’” The woman answers that God said that you should not eat of the tree in the midst of the garden or, she adds, even touch it lest you die.” The serpent responds that you will certainly not die. What will happen is that when you eat, your eyes will be open?  And you will know good and evil.

So who is lying? Or is anyone? Is this akin to the misleading statement that Abram told the Egyptians that Sarai was his sister and deliberately omitting to say that Sarai was his wife? God had warned – not commanded – that if you eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil death will be certain. The serpent had said that if you eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil you will be like the angels knowing good and evil. Both are half-truths and, therefore, deceptions. Neither is a lie. For if you eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, you will both know good and evil and you will also know that death is even more certain than taxes. When the woman tells God that the serpent deceived (הִשִּׁיאַנִי) her, she is really saying that she was tricked because the serpent never spelled out the consequences in full. But neither did God!

An aside. Last night I saw an excellent 2015 six million dollar netflix movie called Beasts of No Nation that surprisingly did not get a general release, evidently because the major movie chains boycotted the film because Netflix released it without waiting the normal 90 days after its general release. It was about the capture and conversion of a boy into becoming a child soldier in West Africa. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and adopted from a 2005 novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala, the movie won the Marcello Mastroianni Award at the Venice International Film Festival and had a special presentation in Toronto at TIFF. Abraham Attah as Agu, the innocent, playful child who is made into a murderous child soldier and Idris Elba, the cunning Commandant who seduces Agu into becoming a murderer and, it is implied, physically as well, were both superb.

At one point in the story, the Commandant promises his boy soldiers that when they capture the next town, they will be rewarded with women who will really make their “soldiers” stand up. And that is the core of the movie. Children being seduced into both evil as well as strict and unquestioning obedience, and having their soldiers erect, though the former precedes the latter in the movie. In the Garden of Eden, the erect serpent, “the soldier” referred to in the movie, seduces Eve and says to her that she will be like the angels knowing evil versus good if she eats of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Abu was coerced and he became a “beast of no nation.” The woman in the Garden of Eden was seduced for she had a choice. She did not have to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But she saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food, that the tree itself was a delight to her eyes. Further, she was promised that wisdom would result. So she took of the fruit and ate. The woman added, she touched it as well. After all, Go had only warned her about eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. She played with that tree. She ate of its fruit. As did her husband. So unlike Rashi, I do not see that the problem was that they had intercourse in public (ועוסקים בתשמיש לעין כל ונתאוה לה), and certainly not that they had intercourse at all. Sex in itself is no problem. Taking responsibility for it is, or at least blaming what happens on another. The feeling ashamed and engaging in a cover-up.

Note that in both the movie and the Genesis story, the erect serpent and the soldier are perceived as independent characters. So there are three characters in the story – the woman who would become Eve, the man who would become Adam, and the erect serpent soldier. However, unlike the soldiers in Beast with No Nation, it was a soldier not indoctrinated to unquestioning obedience. The serpent itself was cunning. It was the seducer, but as in the movie, as in most locker rooms across the world, whether called Oscar or Peter or a soldier, it was given a mind of its own. Which means that, like Abram, the would-be Adam took no responsibility for the actions of his soldier.

Then we have the birth of a culture of shame. Instead of owning up to what they did, they blamed others from When God called out, the man, instead of saying,                                                         הנה אניHine ani,” “I am here,” answered by saying that he was afraid to expose himself because he was naked. So he hid. God immediately knew he had eaten of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil for how else would would-be Adam be conscious that he was naked? God insisted that what he had issued was a commandment and not just a warning. The man then blamed his disobedience on woman for it was she who insisted that the fruit of the tree was worth eating.

As we all know, the consequences befall all three: the serpent becomes flaccid instead of erect and is even beneath the beasts of the field. Further, in addition to the politics of shame, the politics of denial and failure to take responsibility, the politics of resentment, are also born. The penis, instead of joining man and woman, instead of the seed of the man simply inseminating the egg of the woman, the penis becomes a bone of contention between them. It will become the Achilles’ heel of the man, and woman will nip away at that weakness. In turn, the male as a penis, but not yet an asshole, will, in revenge, try to continuously bite the head off the woman and turn her into thing of only flesh and blood. Childbirth will be painful, and not just in the physical sense. The husband will become the ruler and master in the relationship.

Together, they will travel on the historical road of responsibility and accountability.

Commentary on Bereshit 2

Commentary on Bereshit 2


Howard Adelman

In my comment on commentary last week, I set out a few of the premises of MY reading of the Torah:

  1. I believe in doing what commentators have done over the centuries, retelling the story in my own words.
  2. The story is about creation, about coming to be, about the beginning of that process through the interaction of God and earthlings.
  3. I pick up on one stream of interpretation that sees this creative activity, once nature has been organized, as the result of a partnership of a non-material Being and earthlings: “Let us create…” The process of creation is the story of the creation of two worlds, heaven and earth.
  4. I then take from this stream another even rarer stream – that the story is about God becoming; God not only creates history in partnership with man, but creates Himself in the process. God is
  5. Though I told the tale as if God is characterized as masculine without explication, this is also a premise that will be developed and explicated.
  6. I am fully within the tradition in seeing the narrative as being about tov and ra, goodness and evil.
  7. Then I became really idiosyncratic in depicting the character of God, for, in my understanding, God has the hubris to congratulate himself on what he does as Good, and in the case of creating human beings, as “very good,” a pronouncement that will soon prove to be not only very incorrect, but the first lesson: Let others pronounce and recognize the quality of what you do. It is not only a curse to make that pronouncement oneself, but it is itself a moral failing.
  8. So as I read the story, God in the process of co-creation has to also create the moral world and to make Himself as a moral being who has faith and compassion and a capacity for respect and reverence for the sanctity of life.
  9. But as I will again try to show, He only does so primarily through the mistakes of humans living in history as embodied creatures.
  10. God begins the process of creation by giving order to chaos; since humans are made in the image of God, they too have a responsibility to give order to chaos.

Ironically, as I will try to show, chaos and order turn out to be, not polar opposites which admit of degrees, but a process whereby chaos follows from order as well as precedes it. Put simply, as soon as we think we are on the verge of creating a new world order, beware for we will be introduced to a new type of chaos. This interpretation is offered, not because I have mastered Hebrew and Aramaic, know the Torah intimately and have thoroughly studied the commentators. It should be very evident that I do not write this commentary as a result of any claim to be an expert on either the text or previous commentators, but it is the way I find coherence and meaning in the text as well as a correspondence between what I read and how I interpret it.

The narrative does not move forward because men have an inherent propensity towards evil in the most customary interpretation. The new chaos emerges out of the limitations of what has previously been created. But, as in most traditional interpretations, it is about responsibility, beginning with God assuming all responsibility for what happens and assuming, because He is the creator, it must be good. Human beings initially assume none of the moral responsibility, but also assume that because God was the creator, what takes place must be good. Both have to learn that the true source of evil lies within this nearsightedness, this myopic view of the world.

So how do we reconcile Chapter 1 and chapter 2, for as everyone knows who reads the text, they appear to be contradictory? Chapter 2 begins with the consecration of the seventh day as a day of rest. The whole text is a process of embedding in the repetition of time, in embodied existence, the metaphor of the Torah story. But look how it starts, in complete contradiction to what I just wrote. Instead of a dynamic story about creation, that process is said to be finished; the heavens and earth were a totally completed product. The Torah is then not a tale of a process of both Heaven and Earth coming to be, but of what has been completed. Further, instead of worshiping and celebrating that dynamic process, the most celebrated day of the week emerges, shabat, the day that is said to be about rest. Further, it is rest, not creativity, that is made holy.

But read the text again. On shabat, God “rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Not from the process. It was a day to look back, to reflect, to analyze what had just been completed. As we shall see, this applies to every new lesson and is why we read and re-read the text in an annual cycle. It is that reflection, that evaluation, which is holy. For it is a very different order of creativity, not one which ends as each of the first six days did in dogmatic conviction, but one which will challenge those dogmatic convictions in the most fundamental way. And the challenge is not one which proceeds sequentially – He created this, then He created that. Rather, it is about subordination rather than conjunction. Instead of this and that, we find: when this then that.  Each action has consequences.

Further, the Creator has a new name, Yahweh rather than just Elohim, the Lord God and not just God. He has a name with two yuds and two hehs, a God that doubles up on Himself, a world which is abbreviated and to the point as a yud, and open to interpretation as a heh. Instead of a story of coming into being, of creation, of bara, it is a story of fashioning, of constructing, of yatsar, in fact, of reconstructing. Words do not bring the world of material being into existence. Rather, through massaging words themselves, existence is given form and order. We are presented with a moral rather than a material order, the world of adam and not just adamah. The action, the verb is followed by its noun form. To die – a process – is followed by death, a final state. Ironically, that very fixed state will be the source of a new stage of creativity.

In reflection, as in commentary, the same story must be re-told, but now from a retrospective perspective. That retrospective focused on the last day of creation after God turned a planet into a thriving greenhouse from a moonscape. But suddenly instead of simple interpretation, we get a midrash, a story about the original story. In this version, God hives off a Garden called the Garden of Eden, seemingly rich and perfect in every way – most perfect because there is no apparent death, no awareness of death, just the richness of nature.

Second, instead of this day of rest being about a celebration about what had been created, God continues to create, but what God creates on the day of rest, on the day of reflection, on the day of re-examination, are not dichotomies and opposites, but particulars: the Garden of Eden first, then soon two unique and very different trees. But first the creation of earthlings is re-envisioned.

It is a very specific process: “the Lord God formed a man[c] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” It is also self-evidently a different process. First, man is formed, that is fashioned and shaped rather than brought into being through words, So the dichotomy of male and female become a story of priority and subordination. Because we are now in the realm of reflection, in the realm of historical reconstruction of what has already taken place, in the realm of midrash, Second, instead of apparent dichotomy, it is our reconstruction of original creation that is taking place. Equality is transformed into a moral hierarchy through a different kind of temporal ordering such as occurs in dreams as well as nightmares. Third, the dichotomy is internalized, for instead of two from one, we have one out of two, man made from shaping his earthliness at the same time as he is infused with God’s spirit. This will be a story not about the coming to be of a natural creature alongside all the other animals, but of a unique being, about what it is like to be made in the image of God.

But first the two trees, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil, two unique trees among all those that were created. Then the Garden of Eden is described as having four headwaters of one river. And we should recognize that we are being introduced to the four orders of interpretation, the four lenses through which the recreation of what has come about materially can be understood on the reflective plain. They are the headwaters of creative reflection:

  1. Havilah – gold, but also the precious onyx and aromatic resin – interpretation must be rich; it must smell right and sensible; it must pass the smell test;
  2. Gihon – comprehensiveness;
  3. Tigris – the boundary river for interpretation is not arbitrary, but has limits and is an example of order itself, not of sequential order but of framing;
  4. Euphrates – the longest of the rivers in Western Asia, u-fra’-tez, “the good and aboundingriver and, together with the Tigris, the defining river.

So in addition to interpretation being rich and sensible, in addition to it being comprehensive, it must have an order in space, a frame clearly defining an area of reflection, but, as well, an unfolding in time that goes on and on, an openness, a heh and not just a yud. We are now in a specific location of earth, in western Asia, but boundaried on the east to define the world of the Middle East.

We have our frame. What happens? Man is placed in the garden. Though resting from making the world, it is clearly a garden of enormous richness. The conversion of the natural world into a civilized and ordered one must be reconsidered, must be reflected upon, for that is the work of Eden. That is the work of shabat. But in doing this work, man is given a very specific warning – not a command. “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (TKGE), for when you eat from it, you will surely die.” But, of course, as in all such narratives, a warning is merely a prediction of what is to come.

Then we have a sudden disjunction, or, at least, the appearance of one. God discovers everything is not very good. For, as He observes, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helpmeet suitable for him.” Adam does not seem to feel he is alone. God recognizes it. But why is woman characterized as a helpmeet, an ezer to and for him? Does this simply mean she is a helper, or does it mean she is someone who will help him meet both himself as an other, both to see himself as an object of reflection and not just an agent, and the other as an agent and not just an objectification of himself? If eating of the TKGE means having sex, why is there a warning of the great risk of sex?

Suddenly another switch. We are back in the natural world of the garden. Or so it appears. Adam is doing his proper work, giving order to the world in terms of language. He is a botanist and zoologist naming the various species of plants and animals. Using language, he is re-creating the world as experienced in front of us into an intellectual order, into a taxonomy. But he is a nerd who does not even have the sense to know he is alone. But his dreams tell him. In his dreams, God took one of his ribs and made woman. Woman is made from tsela, from man’s protective but fragile shield, from that which gives the body its structure, from that which embodies flesh and internal organs. Woman was seen and imagined as a projection of one side of man. Which side? Surely not consciousness, not the scientific side that went around the garden naming the animals and plants. Not the conscious side that saw the world as objects needing to be ordered. It must be the side of which he himself was not conscious, the protected side, the hidden side, the side that he did not recognize, the side that felt but was not even recognized by the other side. Adam did not even know he felt lonely.

So in his dreams, Eve was projected to be a person of feeling, an .objectification of a side of himself that he did not recognize. Eve was feeling; he was thought. In his objectification, Eve was not recognized as a subject, an agent in her own right. And he did not recognize himself as having feelings, as having passions, as a man who would leave home and marry and thereby make himself whole again. Man, not woman, is a bifurcated being, a being with no intercommunication between his right side and his left side, a being who does not know he has desires, but in his conscious life thinks that he is only a scientist who gives order to the world by means of language.

As an arrogant aside, when I read the Talmudic commentaries, it seems that virtually all the commentators are as pedantic and nerdy and oblivious to the plain meaning of the text as Adam was to his own feelings. This is not entirely accurate. Many of the commentators do note specific technicalities of the text which have a mine of revelations. For example, Rabbi Eliezer, the son of Rabi Jose the Galilean, noted the rhythm within chapter two moving back and forth between what he thought was generality and particularity, much as I described the shift from chapter one to chapter two. Where I described disjunctions, he noted connections. And there are connections, but not simply a connection between generality and particularity, but between a depiction of a state of being and the content of that state.

For example, verse 6 described a mist or fog rising from the earth and watering the whole garden while verse 7 moves to God forming man out of the dust of that same earth. I read this as first offering a clue that this is a dream sequence – we are in a fog. In the content of that dream sequence, God is seen as making man alone, not man and woman, and in the dream, man is an earthling into whom the breath of the holy spirit must be breathed. That breath gives life to the “dead” being that Adam has thus far revealed himself to be. In the dream, there is the world that the conscious self does not recognize, his embodied being, his being as a man of desire and passions, a being when the air and the earth combined to form fire, to form what can never be given form, fire and passion, a world that is first glimpsed in the fog of dreams.

In this type of pilpul of literalness, of the detailed analysis of the bark and the leaves of each individual tree, we do miss the forest for a tree. We miss the sweep and scope of the tale, the richness, and sensuousness, is missed, the real understanding of the headwaters of the long river of life are be missed. It begins with the period before the conjoining of man and woman when both, not just Adam lacked any shame.

So sex, pain, temptation, desire and most of all death – not the objects of consciousness but the subjective state of experience – now has to be brought forth.

Next week: Sex and the Origin of Shame

A Comment on Commentary

A Comment on Commentary


Howard Adelman

This past shabat we began again in the annual cycle of re-reading Torah. So we begin at the beginning which is about beginning. But it is an odd beginning because it is a repetition of what happened last year and the year before that and for over two millennia previously. To prove that, we discussed commentators from the last two millennia.

We could have discussed whether God created everything or just every thing, that is gave identity to that which was created, gave order. Genesis is not about the coming-into-being of the universe or even possibly many universes, but bringing order, understanding and even purpose, especially purpose to that material universe. So the issue is not about the material universe, that out of which something is created, but what was the motive or purpose or intent (each with slightly different meanings) of that creative activity. If the explicit question is about purpose, the implicit question is according to what principles or norms? For in articulating a focus on purpose, the emphasis is being placed on the normative rather than descriptive order of the universe, therefore “our” universe”, the universe experienced by man and in accordance with which humans lead their lives. Further, given an interpretation of that purpose and some understanding of those norms and principles, what can be anticipated?

Rabbi Splansky discussed a number of midrashim explicating possible understandings of that creation, in particular, why God suddenly refers to the plural, “Let us create earthlings …” In the Torah study group, the gentleman to rabbi’s right introduced another midrash, namely, that when God said, “Let us create man…” in the first use of the plural, the reference was not to his group of assistants – the angels – nor to a royal we, but to God and Man. God was addressing the being he was bringing into being as a partner in creation. Splansky had opined the evening before that man was the junior partner. So, in this interpretation, the “us” then is man plus the creature created who shall henceforth have some responsibility for creation.

In what sense is man the partner of God in creation? It is clearly a question that exercised most commentators. The answers varied, but no commentator takes seriously the option that creation did not have a purpose. In fact, Berkovits argues that, by definition creation entails purpose. Science is about causality, not creation. Science is about knowing and understanding the laws and causes in terms of which a previous state is transformed into a new state. Creation is, by definition, about purpose. So the disagreements among commentators are about those different purposes.

The Gaon, after dismissing arbitrariness as both contrary to the whole exercise and our understanding of Torah, defines two alternative purposes:

  1. sharing in God’s wisdom and thereby sharing in an appreciation of the mighty acts, the glory and the majesty of God’s kingdom with the consequence of inspiring awe in mortals;
  2. creating an incentive to obey God via an appeal to self-interest that can also serve a higher purpose; the emphasis then is on deeds rather than thoughts, on what humans can and should do versus the implied passivity of standing before God in awe.

This does not mean that if one chooses understanding creation in terms of purpose, the role of standing in awe before the wonders of creation itself is ruled out. It only means that the primary focus of the text is about figuring out the norms in accordance with which we are to govern our conduct and our lives. Moses Chaim Luzzatto, an eighteenth century member of an extended famous family of Italian Talmudists and himself a famous poet and dramatist, and, as well, a student of Kabala, also stressed that the purpose of creation was ethical, but ethics was defined as the search for perfection, very much in the Greek and Christian mould. The root of and the route for gaining perfection is service to God, defined as the only true good. The sole purpose of life is to rejoice in God’s perfection and to derive pleasure from God’s presence. The consequence of this surrender will be serenity in this world and entry into the world to come. But again deeds not just awe are involved, for to stand in awe before God’s perfection entails dedicating oneself to creating mitzvoth. The enemy to that quest for perfection and doing good deeds are desires which we must struggle to overcome. If this sounds akin somewhat to being born again in the blood of Christ, it is no accident.

Kaufmann Kohler, in contrast, is a rationalist and one of the early nineteenth century leaders of Reform Judaism. This is very evident in the selection from his works which begins with man rather than God. The stress is on self-determination and choosing one’s own destiny rather than following in the footsteps of God towards perfection or aligning one’s self interest with God’s purpose à la Gaon. The ideal is not a given, not planted in our nature, but that which must be discovered and defined by our actions. The voice of God is in our implanted conscience. There are no mystical visitations or hearing God directly. God is simply the ideal and we are commanded to walk with God who is righteous and just. But each individual has the responsibility of determining what God expects of him or her and how a self-chosen destiny is to be realized and enhanced.

Obviously as we trace through the positions of the commentators, they are all founded on understanding God’s behaviour as a well intended effort to lead a willing embodied partner on a righteous path. Ibn Gabirol was an eleventh century Spanish commentator and a poet like Luzzatto, but unlike him, he was on the side of rationalists. Rationalist moral thinkers saw the path of success through thinking rather than mystical revelation. For Ibn Gabriol, knowledge continued in the soul even after one died.

So in the ways of popular learning in the twenty-first century, those who wanted to study Torah are offered a smorgasbord of commentators to choose one’s own preference according to one’s taste. There was no effort to distil a set of coherent rules of interpretation of the Torah itself. For example, even though two of the commentators offered as food for thought were poets, there was no effort to uncover the poetic structure of the section. Instead, we are presented with a number of choices, but presented at random rather than in an organized offering. All commentators seemed to agree that creation was about purpose, was about finding meaning in existence. But what was the state of mind that best brought that about – rigorous study of minutiae or opening oneself to inspiration directly from God? Was the wisdom available for the improvement of man or simply to have a servant to give witness to God’s glory, to give God pleasure in the surrender of one’s will and in publicizing God’s role in the world.

Given that this was a Reform congregation and not a Hasidic study group, the latter option was unlikely to be taken up by anyone. In any case, the manner of study was unlikely to induce accepting such a purpose. Rather, like Berkowits, the inclination was likely to stress finding meaning and purpose in an otherwise material world of natural laws and probabilities so that even in defining that purpose, humans are partners of God. Holy Blossomers are hardly likely to surrender their secular faith in absolute self-determination, though quite willing to invert the master-servant relationship and assign God the role of a tour guide in a moral minefield. In that case, meaning itself is not found but intended and willed. As in the tradition of Immanuel Kant, we will ends in accordance with transcendental ethical laws, but ones which we find and create rather than ones that are the universal condition of having any morality whatsoever. The world of meaning is one in which we find meaning in our actions that are about the realization of a lofty goal.

It’s possible. But is that what the first two chapters of Genesis suggest?First, we begin with a paradox. The Hebrew suggests not a point of beginning – “In the beginning, God created…” nor even, as translated by Gunther Plaut, a reference to the moment before creation – “In the beginning as God was about to create…,” but as a progressive effort: “In the beginning of God’s creating.” We enter not at the very beginning point but into an action already in progress. The progress was about creating the world of heaven and the world of earth. And we are first told little about this fundamental dichotomy and the nature of heaven. The earth, we read, was however both empty and lacked any form. There was water but no light. The spirit of God hovered over the waters.

Now one can take this as a literal interpretation of the making of the material universe, as evangelical Christians usually interpret the text, or as about the nature of creativity itself and about the normative rather than the material world. Heaven is not the trillions of solar systems, the billions of galaxies with multiple solar systems, or even about the possibility of multiple universes. The heavens are not about the sun and the stars and the moon, but about that which is above, that to which we aspire, that associated with the basic character of air as opposed to earth and water. The heavens are about spiritual vitality. The first act of creation is allowing light to permeate the darkness over the face of the deep, not as a replacement for darkness, but as an alternate to it. So the first day of understanding creation is to comprehend the difference between day and night, light and darkness. It is to understand that the objective of creation if for humanity to lead an earth-bound life and to be a vehicle for God to live in the lower realm.

Is this a cognitive difference between knowledge and ignorance, between enlightenment and superstition? Or is it a differentiation between the act of discovery when one sees the light, when one breaks through a blindness and a blockage when mindblindness turns into insight? Or it a reference to both. At the very least there is the suggestion that knowledge, even if insufficient, will be a necessary foundation for what follows. Further, this knowledge is given a moral quality. If knowledge is good then ignorance is not bliss but is bad.

On the second day when the water below is divided from the water above, what can the metaphor mean, assuming we are all in agreement to reading the text as a grand metaphor. It is one that is hard for contemporaries to grasp since the image of the sky as a vault is not part of our experience where water seeps from above through the vault to form clouds and rain to fall down on the earth and waters below. But as a statement of meaning rather than as a depiction of a natural phenomenon, what is the meaning of separating the waters above and below? Are the waters from above the source of God’s tears when He will cry and cry out at the waywardness of the humans created? This is suggested in the previous verse which describes God moving over the face of the waters, not simply a movement, but a slight trembling and fluttering (m’rahaphet).  But it also suggests a hovering as a mother does over a newborn when the foetus will be separated out from the waters within and live outside of water in the open air and on solid ground. God hovers in anticipation. The tears shed are then tears of pure joy. Tears of joy pour forth when there is a horizontal separation and humans themselves participate in the act of creation. Tears of despair flood the world from above when humans participate in destructive behaviour. Hasidim celebrate to bring joy to God. That joy may be needed to bring some relief to God’s pain. But on the third day, the horizontal separation occurs when an infant is born and leaves its dark watery habitat to prepare for his life on earth. The waters first break, then there is the pain and then a very different kind of joy. It is the pleasure of fertility, of flowers growing and trees bearing fruit. What about the reference to light, to knowledge? The light is then divided itself into lights that serve to mark the separation of day and night, of knowledge and ignorance, so that even darkness has a light lest we live in the blackness of depression where we cannot glimpse an exit. Those lights mark out sacred days, those days that commemorate momentous steps in our collective coming to self-realization.  On the fifth day, the world of plants and animals is created, the world of instinct and natural propensities. It is on the sixth day that God creates man. And instead of saying, let water teem, let the land produce, let there be lights in the sky, let there be light itself, let there be a vault, we leave the world of letting be and enter the human world: “let us make earthlings in our image…” What is that imitation? It is to take custody and to govern the world that has been made. To keep it, to maintain it, to improve it. God created men and women to assume the responsibility of governing the world. So humans are created with an ethical and political responsibility and not just to “let there be.”  Why “us”? I have already suggested that this was because it was a collective responsibility, one which belonged to both God and humans. What was the division of responsibility? Were humans only responsible as helpmeets of God. Or was God in the position of a guide to the perplexed? Or did God have a greater responsibility in providing leadership. But if God knew the way, in what sense did the followers have any responsibility?

In Rabbi Splansky’s sermon on the previous evening, she had offered a midrash on the debate between Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel. Not the one over whether the earth or the heavens were primary in the order of creation. (One answer: heaven is first in the normative world; earth is first in the descriptive or scientific world.) The biggest moral question of all was over whether it was worth it at all to have created humankind. The school of Shammai said that, “It is better for man not to have been created than to have been created.” The school of Hillel said, “It is better for man to have been created than not to have been created.” After first getting over my confusion in thinking the question about how I would vote in the current Canadian election, when I thought about whether I think  it would have been preferable for humans not to have been created as the debaters concluded after two-and-a-half years of debate, I, at first flippantly, decided that asking one to choose between a critical and depressed view of the creation of humans and one with an agreement with God that the creation was not just good, but very good, I wanted initially to side with God and take Shammai to task for conflicting with God on this conclusion and with Hillel for being weak in defending the counter position. Except that I am of the school that finds that God, most of the time, has bad judgement. So I should agree with Shammai.

I don’t and I did not. For I found the question a foolish one. Speculation about possible worlds belongs to fiction, belongs to the imagination. However, in ethics the goal is to use facts and science in combination with norms and guides of responsibility to make specific choices. It is not to pronounce on the character of human creation in general. That is a question we not only cannot answer, but we should not try to answer unless we are writing fiction. God’s basic propensity is revealed in verse 1. He wants to make moral pronouncements first, about the natural world, and then about the world as a whole. But if creativity is a process, if it is about developing a sense of care and responsibility, then premature moral pronouncements are distinctly unhelpful if not actually bad and harmful. In the Netflix series, “The Happy Valley,” the leading character, the policewoman, tells her junior officer: the worst mistake in policing is to make moral judgements before you have collected the clues and analyzed the case. Humans made in the image of God have this propensity, to generalize when generalization is neither demanded nor required, to draw conclusions prematurely, to evaluate and offer opinions that are self-referential, revealing more about oneself than about the matter-at-hand. In reality, it is one of the most basic acts of ignorance and lack of proper discernment. And God is the first to demonstrate it.

All this is but a prolegomena.

Next Comment: Verse 2

Circumcision and Nobel Prizes

Parashat Lech Lecha: Genesis 12:1-17:27


Howard Adelman

When God instructs Abram and Sarai to go to a new land that God will show them and promises them that they will give birth to a great nation which will be aggrandized, note that “aggrandized’ has two very different meanings: 1) an increase in power, wealth or authority, and 2) an enhanced reputation incongruent with empirical reality. The first has sometimes been true for small golden ages of Jewish history. The latter, in contrast, has been a constant of that same history.

This week, two of the three Nobel prize winners for medicine were Jews, one of the two winners of the Nobel prize for physics was Jewish, three of the three Nobel prize winners for chemistry were Jewish (two were Israelis). (The literature Nobel prize went to a marvellous Canadian writer, Alice Monroe. The previous writer to win, ostensibly from Canada, was a Canadian-born Jewish American, Saul Bellow in 1976.) Jews, constituting, not 2%, but .2%, of the world’s population have clearly won a very disproportionate share of Nobel prizes. The number of awards and the numbers in that population are just so out of whack that Jews can be considered aggrandized in the second sense above. But from this aggrandizement, all the families of the earth are blessed by all those who win Nobel prizes.

However, how Jews got from the original promise to the here and now has been very twisted. Abram and Sarai take their nephew, Lot, along to travel to the promised land. The promised land, when they get there, is not so promising; there is a famine, So they go onto Egypt. A very strange thing happens. Abram anticipates Egyptians coveting his wife because she is a very attractive woman. So he tells Sarai to say she is his sister. Why this will protect her any better is not clear. What is clear is that Abram does not have her protection foremost in mind but his own. For if Sarai is his wife, Egyptians will feel the need to kill him in order to take Sarai as a bondswoman. If Abram is her brother, then they will spare Abram in order to bargain for the favours of Sarai. Quite an ignominious beginning to a nation that will be aggrandized! For when Sarai finds favour in the Pharoah’s eyes, Abram’s life is not only spared, but he is rewarded with herds of animals and lots of servants. The nation begins with Abram pimping for his supposed sister who is really his wife.

When Egypt suffers a host of plagues, the Pharaoh somehow learns that the woman Abram gave for his favour was his wife, not his sister. To get rid of the plagues, he orders Abram to take Sarai, whom Pharaoh had married, and leave Egypt with all his flocks and servants. Lot, who has also grown wealthy alongside his uncle, also leaves. When they return to Canaan, Abram and his nephew are no longer getting along. They part ways. Lot chooses to go to Jordan, making his base in Sodom, an evil and licentious city, while Abram settled in Canaan. God reiterates his promise that Abram will father a great nation and this land of Canaan will belong to Abram and his descendents.

Then chapter 14 tells of an interval of politics and warfare whereby one alliance of kings conquers the land and cities where Lot lived and took Lot captive. Then Abram with 318 of his men conquered the conquerors, freed Lot and allowed the kings who survived to resume their rule. The King of Sodom offered to reward him. While Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre were allowed to take their share, Abram replied: “Neither from a thread to a shoe strap, nor will I take from whatever is yours, that you should not say, ‘I have made Abram wealthy.'”  Abram did not seem to have the same inhibitions when dealing with Pharaoh.

However, Abram and Sarai remained childless and Abram wanted an heir. God swore to him that he would not only have an heir, but his offspring would be like the stars in heaven. Abram makes a sacrifice as surety for the promise and then, exhausted, falls asleep. God appears in his dream and very tersely foretells the four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. “You shall surely know that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and oppress them, for four hundred years. And also the nation that they will serve will I judge, and afterwards they will go forth with great possessions.” God then goes beyond just a promise and makes the famous covenant with Abram.

Still no child! So Sarai offers Abram her handmaid, Hagar. Hagar not only gets pregnant, but also evidently gets snooty with Sarai. Sarai beat her and drove her out of the camp. The angel of the Lord appears to Hagar, convinces her to return to camp even though she will be mistreated by Sarai, instructs her to name her son Ishmael and promises that his descendents will be abundant beyond belief. Ishmael was born when Abram was 86 years old.

Five years later, when Abram is ninety-one, God reiterates and renews his covenant with Abram and renames him Abraham. Sarai becomes Sarah. Circumcision of his offspring on the eighth day will provide the evidence of the children of Abraham to uphold that covenant. “My covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant.” God reiterates his promise of a child who shall be called Isaac. Eight years later, Abraham at ninety-nine takes every member of his household, including his young son Ishmael, and they are all circumcised. Ishmael is 13 years old.

My weird question is: does circumcising a child at eight days old have anything to do with winning a Nobel prize? On 25 September, two right wing Members of the Swedish Parliament introduced a motion to ban non-medically related circumcision on young children. The same Parliament awards the Nobel prizes through a series of Nobel prise committees. Surely there can be no connection between Jews being circumcised and winning Nobel prizes in science, or between Sweden awarding such prizes and Sweden being a leading country opposing circumcision. I want to make a circumstantial argument for just such a connection.

First, let me take up the medical opposition to religious circumcision of male children. The opposition is not rooted in science. After all, in 2012, the AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics (AAP) argued that the preventive health benefits of newborn circumcision outweighed the risks as long as that circumcision was performed by trained professionals under sterile conditions with appropriate pain management. Medical benefits included prevention of urinary tract infection, genital carcinoma, reduced transmission of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, reductions in rates of phimosis, paraphimosis, pseudophimosis, balanistis. Genital carcinoma is the top ranked cancer among Swedish males. Yet Dutch, British as well as Scandinavian pediatricians were not convinced of the benefits of circumcision as a routine practice. Further, in 2002, Sweden introduced restrictive legislation on male circumcision and, subsequently, the Swedish Pediatric Society called for a complete ban on ritual circumcision.

However, I do not want to enter into the fray of the scientific evidence for and against the circumcision of male infants at 8 days old. Instead, though I believe the opposition to ritual circumcision is rooted more in non-science, so, I believe, is the defence. Further, what I claim is the real underlying reason for infant male circumcision, I believe, can be circumstantially related to Jews winning a disproportionate share of Nobel prizes. What is that underlying reason?

Let us admit the following. Circumcision is observably painful. Further, there is psychological evidence of long term emotional effects. Circumcision of an infant at eight days old does violate a child. Maimonides (the Rambam) argued that the bodily pain caused to that member is the real purpose of circumcision. I agree. Further, he argued that the bodily pain inflicted upon an infant had a moral purpose. Here, I also agree. However, the Rambam also argued that the moral purpose was a weakened sexual satisfaction and lessened lust. I disagree. I have seen no scientific evidence for weakened lust among Jewish males and Philip Roth will one day win a Nobel prize for demonstrating precisely that.

The moral purpose is not some puritanical assault on the passions but teaching Jewish males distrust or scepticism. After all, if your father could do that to you at eight days old, if the father of your people could listen to God and be willing to kill his long-promised son, then a child who grows up has to be very wary about those around him. Faith and trust in others is not a lesson of Judaism, even faith in God. In fact, as the arguments with God over the ages attest, one perhaps has to be most wary of God. Judaism does not teach faith or love – agape – but hesed, faithfulness. You must be faithful to your father and to God, but you do not have to have faith in either one. They may or may not deliver on their promises.

That is the moral lesson that is slit into every Jewish male’s penis. Be wary. Be sceptical. Even those closest to you can harm you. That moral lesson is translated into a general inquisitorial stance that teaches Jews to query everything and not take received wisdom on authority. Even the ultra-orthodox are taught to query and probe the meaning of text.

“My covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant.” It is a valuable lesson and well worth the pain inflicted on an eight day old male baby. After all, someday he might win a Nobel prize.

Commentary on the first six books of Genesis

Parashat Bereshit (Genesis 1.2-6:8)


Howard Adelman

This week Jews (and some others) begin the annual re-reading of the Torah. And the beginning is my very favourite part. Why? Because it is about what we are given as gender beings and how that forms the foundation of our ethics. We are born equal, man and woman; God created men and women as equals. But not in man’s head. Man has the delusion that he was born first and that woman is but a physical extension of a man. While man does not take responsibility for his own penis and sexual drives, he presumes woman is merely an appendage and physical extension of himself to serve him. This inversion of how man regards his own body and how he regards a woman’s body are the foundation of ethics and what it means to say a man is born in sin. It not because he is sexually driven; rather, it is because he does not take responsibility for his sexual drives, for his embodiment. Further, he turns a woman, not into an object, but into an extension of his own agency and does not respect her as an agent in her own right.

Take the issue of revelation which supposedly divides the Orthodox – or, at least, most of them – from the non-Orthodox in a debate over whether the Torah as written is the word of God transcribed on the page or the collation of a number of writers over years when the importance of the Torah is that, as one reads and examines the text, the text reveals to us profound truths, beginning with the roots of sin and the need for ethical norms and their compass. The usual division of Bereshit starts with the first seven days (1:1-2:2) and then moves to the Garden of Eden Story (2:3-3:23), then to the story of Cain and Abel (4:1-4:26) and ends with the prelude to flood (5:1-6:8). I want to cover all four sections in one commentary.

Though the narrative begins in cosmology in the discussions of light emerging from darkness, the emergence of the sky, the earth and the heavenly bodies, and then the creation of the fish of the sea, the birds in the air and the animals on earth and finally, the relatively new species, human beings, the significance of the story has nothing to say about how the world was created. Rather, it is a set up. Nature is good. God says it over and over again. Then God created humans and, understandably, needed a day of rest.  

When we throw light on nature, when we separate the darkness and allow light to bathe over not only the earth but even the deep depths of the ocean floor, one has to be amazed. Just watch an episode of National Geographic or the BBC series on deep water exploration. What a fantastic place we live on! It is truly a wonder to behold. By the fourth day, we have a cosmos that gives us our days and nights, our weeks and our years, the rhythms of time in accordance with which we live. And even when monsters and wild beasts came into being; it was all perceived as good.

And then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” (verse 27)  So begins the problem and the paradoxes. Man is created in God’s image even though God has no visible presence. But what is clear is that he created both male and female. (verse 28) And then we have the first blessing and the first commandment: “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.” Being created in God’s image is not about physical appearances but about the human role as an agent – a creator AND a ruler. “And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (verse 32) In ch.2:3, God rested and blessed the 7th day as He looked with satisfaction on what He created. 

But not for long! Then the dissolution set in. God discovers for the first time, and it will not be the last time, that He made a mistake. For what he thought of and pronounced as good was no such thing. Why? 

We then move onto the second segment and read the second story of man’s and woman’s creation, and in this story they are not created equal. For this is the story as the male imagines it. Man is the product, not of a virgin birth, but of a femaleless birth. He is made sui generis out of earth and water and air that is used to inflate him. And then God created the Garden of Eden with all kinds of trees, but two special trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is a huge garden fed by four great rivers: the Tigris, Euphrates, Pishon (where the wealth of the earth’s resources, especially gold and precious gems, can be found) and the Gibon (the Nile ?) that runs through the Cush. The Garden extends from Babylon or Iraq down through the Arabian Peninsula where Noah’s son, Shem, and his son, Joktan (the Ishmaelites) (Genesis 25:18) will settle, down into East Africa where Noah’s descendent, Cush, the son of Ham, will settle. 

God issues the second commandment, not to eat and enjoy, but rather not to eat, specifically not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If man eats thereof he will realize that, unlike God in whose image he is made, man will know that death is certain. Further, man in the Garden of Eden did not recognize he was lonely; God observes that. God pronounces that as not good. In the second imaginative version of creating woman, woman is fashioned out of Adam’s rib, but for a specific function, to be man’s helper and aide de camp. Rulership is perceived as extending over women. Third, man is given a job. He becomes a biological taxonomist giving names to the different species of animals and fish and birds and perhaps even the insects in the billions. Perhaps this was the reason he did not even recognize his emotional need for a woman – he was so caught up in his mental work of naming and imitating God as a creator. Finally, it was observed that man and woman were together and were naked and were not ashamed.

Chapter 3 tells the story of what is often called “The Fall”, on the supposition that until this moment Man and Woman lived in a state of grace. But if in man’s imagination he was born not from woman, that woman was created as a projection of himself, and in service to himself, then the seeds of trouble had already been planted. We are introduced to the Serpent, a new character in the story. Who is the Serpent? He is shrewd. He is a wild beast. He is erect. Unlike other animals, he speaks. He is masculine. And who does the Serpent talk to? Not man, but woman. And what does he say? He does not behave like man walking around the Garden as a biologist naming everything and therefore serving as a surrogate in bringing things into being in the realm of knowledge. Instead, he behave like Socrates sceptically asks a question. 

 “Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” 2 The woman replied to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden. 3 It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said: ‘You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die.'” 4 And the serpent said to the woman, “You are not going to die, 5 but God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who knows good and bad.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked; and they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths.


Why were they embarrassed? What were they ashamed of? They had disobeyed a commandment. But the disobedience had been very pleasurable. Further, they became wiser in some sense in taking pleasure from themselves as sexual beings. The serpent had been correct. They did not die from eating the fruit. Only their innocence died. They became ashamed of their bodies. Why? Because, commandments and ethics did not determine what they did; their bodily desires did. So they recognized who the serpent was. This erect figure, this male penis, was not an independent voice, but the voice of male desire for which the man did not take responsibility. Just as the woman was seen as an extension of his own body, the penis became an independent agency for which man did not take responsibility.


Both were internally conflicted, each torn inside and confused. When God sought them out, they hid. God clued in. He immediately knew that they had eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God knew that they had the sexual relations, those relations that Bill Clinton denied he had had with Monica Lewis. God asked, “Did you eat of the fruit that I had forbidden you to eat? The gender wars were now on. The male said, “She did it. She put me up to it.” So really, God, it is not only her fault. It is Your fault. For you created her as company for me. The woman was not much better in refusing to take responsibility. The serpent, his penis, tricked me, she said. So God addressed the penis directly and said that henceforth, the penis would no longer stand erect but crawl on the belly of man. Henceforth, this now shrivelled and wrinkled piece of flesh would be the source of enmity between man and woman and the male and female children of man and woman that will spout from their loins. She will strike at the head of man, at man who attempts to rule over woman by guile and rational cleverness. Man will strike back, nip at her heel and forever undermine her as he attempts to seduce her and then rule over her. In spite of that, her desire will be directed towards him. As a result, she will have children, but bring them forth only in pain, and not simply physical pain.


As for man, no more would he simply be the biologist and taxonomist, but he would, like his scrawny shrivelled penis, be cursed and henceforth survive only through physical toil in an earth no longer bountiful but full of thorns and thistles. Man would have to become a farmer and a herdsman and work all his life by the sweat of his brow. You thought you were made from dust so to dust shall you be returned. And Man named his wife Eve – no longer a generic name but a particular name, but as a generic name in a different sense than as a class term, the mother of all of humanity and even of everything that lives. Woman would henceforth be Gaia. And man would henceforth not be allowed a life of leisure, simply living off the fruit of the land.


The third segment of Bereshit begins with Chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel. For if the story of cosmology is a tale of awe and wonder and the beauty and bounty of nature, and if the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is the story of the inner conflict within each between Desire and Life and between not only the two of them and between Desire and Life, but between Desire that envisions man as God living off the earth and ruling over that bounty and Desire for Woman and becoming one flesh, and between Life that aspires to immortality and Life that simply endures the hardship of survival, the story of Cain and Abel moves into a new struggle, the struggle for recognition between two alpha males and between two different ways of life bequeathed to humans who no longer live in the Garden of Eden. It is the story of emerging from the second stage of what began to be called in modern political theory, ‘the state of nature’.


Cain, the eldest was a farmer. Abel was a shepherd, a herdsman. But the cowboy and the farmer could not be friends. Each wanted exclusive recognition of his rights. For their ways of life were pretty incompatible. One needed fences. The other needed open pasture. One life meant being on the move. The other meant settled life. Each offered the best of what he produced as a sacrifice to seek recognition for his way of life at the same time demonstrating that they were still above the work of mere survival and wanted divine recognition. God gave it to the shepherd, not the farmer.


God had said that the farmer could do fine without recognition as the superior way of life, as the way of life worthy of divine sanction, but the farmer did not want to live on the margins of a pastureland, as in the pampas of Argentina, or to lose the status as God’s chosen imitator. It was not the man dedicated to domesticated animal husbandry who killed the farmer, as one might imagine, but the farmer who killed the peaceful shepherd. Farming became the dominant mode of earning a living and herding animals and sheep or camels was thrust off into the margins. Agriculture became the central route to building civilization and cities. When God asked Cain where his brother was, Cain, unlike his parents, did not seek to hide but replied equivocally: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”


Ironically, his smart-assed reply revealed the very core of the ethical code necessary to avoid murder and mayhem. As punishment, the man of the soil who only wanted to settle in one place, was made a nomad, driven to seeking more fertile soil always elsewhere. He became the unsettled settler, the migrant par excellence and not just a nomad. He went to live in the Land of Nod (ארץ נוד), East of Eden, the land of wanderers, for “nod” is the root of the Hebrew word, “to wander” ((לנדוד). Ironically, the desire and need to wander would become, not so much the source of agricultural settlements, but the foundation of cities where man lives uprooted from the soil as neither a farmer nor a herdsman.


What is the mark of Cain that God put on him to protect him from murder? Cain was made into a fugitive and wanderer alienated from nature and destined to live in cities. To live in a city, man requires protection. No more could a man be recognized for what he did and how he brought forth the means of survival by his labour. The mark of Cain is recognition that man must be a citizen of a polity to be protected; he can no longer rely on his own devices; he must have membership in a political collectivity. This is his mark of Cain. He can enjoy no freedom without such a membership. So in the fight for recognition of one way of life over another, neither wins. A new form of polity centred on the city and civilization comes into being where man must be recognized as a member of a people and ruled by a government in order to survive. Ironically, the mark of Cain is citizenship. It is the mark that means man has totally left the state of nature and entered into the world of polities. So Cain and His wife bore a son, Enoch, who founded a city. And another son born of Adam and Eve, Seth, gave birth to another line of humanity.


And so humanity grew and multiplied and settled the world until Noah and his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth came along. The fourth segment of Bereshit is told following the alienation from the wonder and awe of the beauty of nature, following the discovery of treachery and duplicity rooted in a failure to take responsibility for ourselves as embodied creatures, and then following the war between different ways of life and the search for recognition of the superiority of one over the other only to end up with murder and the emergence of a new way of life, living in cities and a polity where each carries a mark of identification, the artifact of citizenship, as the means of protection. But civilization will breed classes, those who sacrifice themselves for the future and develop their capacities and means of sustenance, and those who look sceptically upon the whole effort of service and duty to family and nation and country and simply want to get satisfaction from life.


Then who were the Nephilim, divine beings, the heroes of old, men of renown, who cohabited with the daughters of men and who made wickedness the prevailing mode of life on earth, and who made God regret that he had created life on earth altogether so that he wanted to start all over again to correct his mistake and decide to bring forth the flood? The Nephilim are neither those who achieve mastery over men and themselves nor those who are self indulgent. Why are these Nephilim equated with those who fell who are associated with wickedness, children of God and fallen angels, or, alternatively, those who cause others to fall, giant Samurai, heroic warriors of a bygone age worshipped in epic tales?


The Nephilim are both. They are the knights of the roundtable, chivalrous men whom women idolize. They are gods and God Himself becomes God si love. True love becomes amor where the new ethical basis is between the idealistic knights who dedicate their might to an abstract ideal and the ladies who worship those knights. Knights were not wicked in the sense of bestial, lewd beings in pursuit of the satisfaction of a night of passion. Rather, they were the epitome of courage and valour, of honesty and integrity, loyalty and fealty and dedicated in a totally pure way to the women to whom they gave their troth. Women were not perceived as physical extensions of man but as a source of inspiration. They are put on a pedestal and, in turn, appreciated as an ideal. Life itself becomes etherealized. And man is no longer in bondage to man but in bondage to a heaven-sent partnership that has nothing to do with the passions of the flesh and everything to do with mutual recognition, with grace, with mutual protection and mutual fulfillment in an ideal conception of life.


Why would God see this as wickedness? Why are heroic fearsome giants (Numbers 13:32-33) viewed as a source of distress and discomfort? Because in a land of heroes and romanticism, in a land built on the premise of romantic love as the source of ethics, in a land built on an ideal of purity and perfection as the fullest expression of life, that land devours its inhabitants. That is not a land rooted in the family and in children, but in ethereal passion and self-sacrifice for abstract ideals. These children of God become the real source of the virus of wickedness and repression. And ordinary humans are seen as grasshoppers or cockroaches, inyenzi, insects to be exterminated where the rule of law and of civilized men is sacrificed in service to an abstract ideal and dream of perfection.


So God will strike first and drown all but the select few.


So it is no surprise that the Haftorah reading comes from Isaiah, for Ashkenazim, Isaiah 42:5-43:10. God opts for nationhood and not heroism, for enlightenment and not self-repression in stark opposition to idolatry of any kind. God becomes dedicated to innovation and not nostalgia where the citizens of cities will lift up their voices. The warriors will not be knights of the roundtable but, rather, the Lord will go forth like a warrior, raising a war cry and prevailing against idolatry. And so we are given an apocalyptic vision of a God in labour giving birth to the new:


  הֶחֱשֵׁיתִי, מֵעוֹלָם–אַחֲרִישׁ, אֶתְאַפָּק; כַּיּוֹלֵדָה אֶפְעֶה, אֶשֹּׁם וְאֶשְׁאַף יָחַד.

14 I have long time held My peace, I have been still, and refrained Myself; now will I cry like a travailing woman, gasping and panting at once.

טו  אַחֲרִיב הָרִים וּגְבָעוֹת, וְכָל-עֶשְׂבָּם אוֹבִישׁ; וְשַׂמְתִּי נְהָרוֹת לָאִיִּים, וַאֲגַמִּים אוֹבִישׁ.

15 I will make waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbs; and I will make the rivers islands, and will dry up the pools.

טז  וְהוֹלַכְתִּי עִוְרִים, בְּדֶרֶךְ לֹא יָדָעוּ–בִּנְתִיבוֹת לֹא-יָדְעוּ, אַדְרִיכֵם; אָשִׂים מַחְשָׁךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם לָאוֹר, וּמַעֲקַשִּׁים לְמִישׁוֹר–אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, עֲשִׂיתִם וְלֹא עֲזַבְתִּים.

16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not, in paths that they knew not will I lead them; I will make darkness light before them, and rugged places plain. These things will I do, and I will not leave them undone.

יז  נָסֹגוּ אָחוֹר יֵבֹשׁוּ בֹשֶׁת, הַבֹּטְחִים בַּפָּסֶל; הָאֹמְרִים לְמַסֵּכָה, אַתֶּם אֱלֹהֵינוּ.  {פ}

17 They shall be turned back, greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say unto molten images: ‘Ye are our gods.’ {P}

יח  הַחֵרְשִׁים, שְׁמָעוּ; וְהַעִוְרִים, הַבִּיטוּ לִרְאוֹת.

18 Hear, ye deaf, and look, ye blind, that ye may see.

יט  מִי עִוֵּר כִּי אִם-עַבְדִּי, וְחֵרֵשׁ כְּמַלְאָכִי אֶשְׁלָח; מִי עִוֵּר כִּמְשֻׁלָּם, וְעִוֵּר כְּעֶבֶד יְהוָה.

19 Who is blind, but My servant? Or deaf, as My messenger that I send? Who is blind as he that is wholehearted, and blind as the LORD’S servant?

כ  ראית (רָאוֹת) רַבּוֹת, וְלֹא תִשְׁמֹר; פָּקוֹחַ אָזְנַיִם, וְלֹא יִשְׁמָע.

20 Seeing many things, thou observest not; opening the ears, he heareth not.

כא  יְהוָה חָפֵץ, לְמַעַן צִדְקוֹ; יַגְדִּיל תּוֹרָה, וְיַאְדִּיר.

21 The LORD was pleased, for His righteousness’ sake, to make the teaching great and glorious.

כב  וְהוּא, עַם-בָּזוּז וְשָׁסוּי, הָפֵחַ בַּחוּרִים כֻּלָּם, וּבְבָתֵּי כְלָאִים הָחְבָּאוּ; הָיוּ לָבַז וְאֵין מַצִּיל, מְשִׁסָּה וְאֵין-אֹמֵר הָשַׁב.

22 But this is a people robbed and spoiled, they are all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison-houses; they are for a prey, and none delivereth, for a spoil, and   none saith: ‘Restore.’

(Hebrew-English Bible/Mechon-Mamre)


But they can and will be redeemed.