The attached blog is long, too long. It is really made up of several parts but I could not analyze the Exodus text without a lot of other analysis.
The beginning offers an explication of the commandment to recognize God as existing and as your Lord and the commandment of placing the responsibility of unity for God on ourselves. It is complicated, philosophical and heavy going with a comparison between Kant’s categorical imperatives and Biblical commandments. The blog gets somewhat lighter after a few pages when it discusses the issue of recognition in terms of taking your kid to play hockey but then returns to the description of man’s relationship with God as a balagan (an untidy chaotic mess, but perhaps that is a characteristic of my interpretation of the relationship). If you manage to get through the first quarter, the reading eases up considerably with a discussion of Love focused primarily on Simon May’s book, Love: A History as well as a number of personal anecdotes of my memory of Birkbeck College in London that have a more serious purpose of reflecting on the utility and value of recognition. This section even includes an attempt to tell a humorous story. In the second half of the blog I return to a more detailed but quite incomplete analysis and critique of Simon May’s thesis on love which, in the last quarter, challenge May’s interpretation of the Adam and Eve story. I then end with a brief explication of the commandment to love God as your Lord and the implications for interpreting the Exodus section on the relationship between an employer and his servants in Exodus 21.
Mishptim Exodus Chapter 21.1-24:18 10.02.13
Love and Lordship and Bondage
We are commanded to recognize God as a moral imperative as the a priori condition of all other commandments. Unlike Kant’s a priori proposition, this is not a transcendental condition of morality. Nor is it even universal. It is a condition for the Jewish people becoming a moral nation and a light unto other nations. But the condition cannot come from experience since God is not available to be seen or experienced in any normal way. The command cannot come from experience for a second reason – the commander cannot even be experienced. Third, the command is a necessary precondition for the Jewish people having any moral sense. In order to be moral, the Jewish people as a collectivity, and each Jew individually, has to commit to the very first commandment of the Mishneh Torah. So the condition is both logically and existentially prior to experience and is not derived from experience. But neither is it derived from either metaphysical or transcendental reasoning, via the latter establishing that without such a principle there would be no morality whatsoever.
The absence of a principle derived through a process of transcendental reasoning differentiates this Jewish account from Kant’s philosophical position. Second, for Kant, the imperative must be universal. But the two basic conditions of morality have one thing in common. For Kant, one must act according to the maxim whereby you can will that the imperative become a universal law. In the Jewish commandments, categorical imperatives are products of a covenant between a community, its representative and God, but imperatives only become active and operational if and when individual Jews commit themselves to follow the laws. In Kant, however, the act of willing is a theoretical possibility and condition built into the essence of the proposition. For Jews, the act of willing must be an existential reality. Further, in Kant the categorical imperative to treat all humans as ends and not as means only, is a condition of moral freedom and action. In Judaism, the maxim that requires humans to treat one another as ends and not as a means only is derivative. The precondition for that derivation is recognizing God, not as an equal Other, but as your master.
In another major difference, the Kantian principle that every other human must be treated as a free self-conscious individual, in his formulation, as an end in itself and never as a means only, is formulated as an abstraction, usually a utopian one in practice. The same requirement in Judaism is enacted by examining and/or enacting the principle in everyday life. The prime example, as we shall see, is when a relationship is not only based on use of an other, but on a contractual form of indenture for up to seven years. However, even in that situation, an individual with the lowest status must be treated as a free and rational agent and not simply as a submissive subordinate. One final major difference in the Judaic covenantal structure: there must be a prior commitment by the whole community even to be allowed to have the laws. Communitarianism is a precondition of autonomous freedom and any recognition of rights.
Since the recognition of God as existing and as one’s Lord is the primary principle, it is crucial that we unpack the meaning of that recognition. It is not the recognition of the Other as autonomous and free so that the individual made in the image of God can also be autonomous and free, for in such a conception one would clearly not have to recognize the other as one’s lord and master. On the other hand, the central issue is the possibility of freedom and its very nature. The complementary question is why acceptance of authority and dependence is a precondition for the realization of that freedom.
Several days ago I was listening to a radio call-in show on CBC at noon. The topic was what hockey had meant to you. A Canadian mother with a Chinese accent told the story of taking her ten year old son and helping him dress (he was a goalie, and in hockey, if your son – in my case, my grandson, Micah – is a goalie, then there is a long ritual of helping him get on all the pads and skates). The son tolerated the embarrassment of having his mother help him get dressed to play, but only for as long as it took. Then he changed from the dependent child into the independent man who wanted to be with his buddies and listen to and follow the instructions of his coach independent of his mother. It was at that moment the mother recognized that hockey was making a man out of her son as he entered into the camaraderie of his fellows as heirs of a “long” tradition and into a fellowship that required loyalty to each and every other one of his teammates. Through that solidarity and esteem they received, the team could get on the ice and do battle.
The mother recognized a basic principle that is at the core of the Judaic normative structure. Recognition of the others on the team and their recognition of him provided the conditions for the possibility of the realization of his essential individuality – in Hegel, Einzelheit. Her son became an independent actor; as a goalie he carried an enormous responsibility on behalf of the team. It is not as if on stepping on the ice he became a free individual in the sense that he was freed up from the physical laws of motion and gravity. Quite the reverse! The more he comprehended those laws and made them part of his instinctual response, the more he could carry out the responsibility he had assumed. Freedom then is both a relationship and respect for others and, at the same time, a high sense of self-regard that permits actions to be undertaken in a highly skilled manner.
If we extrapolate backwards from this conception, then the covenant requires that an individual recognize that God is, that the God that is, is the One who commands that He be recognized and that he be recognized as Lord and Master. One enters into the covenantal relationship freely. One enters with only the faintest glimpse of what you are getting into. But at the very least, you know that you want to be yourself and, at the same time, be with that Other, in the case of a more mundane level, hockey, with those others, and to assume a responsibility for oneself and to that Other. In highly important situations like hockey, the responsibility is to those others.
Note, like that young hockey player, the individual entering into a covenantal relationship with God is temporarily removing himself from his prior dependencies but not denying them. On the earthly level, he is not denying prior socialization into a feeling for hockey or soccer or ballet or orchestral performance, for that socialization does not take away from his freedom but makes that freedom possible. Freedom becomes the realization of the possibility of aligning his genetically endowed capacities, his developing skills with his performance in serving a higher and collective purpose, and, in the case of Judaism, at the highest level serving the redemption of the Jewish people to enable them to serve as a moral light to others.
So God and man start off on a very uneasy relationship. They begin with a blind date, but a peculiar form of blind date in which the Other makes it a condition of your entering the process of developing your freedom that you recognize that the Other exists before you ever encounter Him, but that He exists as your Lord and you become His bondsman. This is the first thing one learns upon entering into this relationship!!! You learn that you will never come to really know the Other as Other. More significantly, the Other lacks a coherent identity and the development of that coherent identity is your responsibility. What a balagan! (an untidy chaotic mess in Hebrew/Yiddish, a monster in Pashtun, an old rickety shed in Russian and chaos in Turkic and Pharsi)
How then does a process aiming at the mutuality of equals and the freedom of each individual begin with subjecting oneself to the will of an Other? Only if that Other cannot become what He is to be (I shall be He who I shall be, not I am what I am) without you taking on the responsibility of making Himself one. We learn freedom and initially gain recognition by actively joining a community and serving a collective purpose. That does not mean surrendering your individuality. It means developing that individuality by recognizing as accurately and profoundly as possible the conditions in which one finds oneself, the norms under which you are operating — whether they are the rules of hockey or the religious rules or the laws of the state in which one lives — the goals of any action you are considering, your motives and reasons for action and your assessment of the anticipated results. And each individual must take responsibility for that assessment and be accountable for the actions that follow in the sense of being willing to explain the reasons for his or her actions in precisely such terms. Further, each individual must regard each and every other being as rational beings responsible for their own assessments in precisely the same terms and accountable for the actions that follow from those assessments.
This does not mean that caprice does not play a role. The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley. Freedom means not allowing oneself to be determined by chance and circumstance. On the same CBC program referred to above, one of the calls that came in was from a hockey player who had lost his legs and now played on a handicapped team. He perhaps got even more out of the game, out of the camaraderie and fellowship and mutual recognition, than players playing with full human capacities. You are free to the extent that you develop your natural capacities and, at the same time, do not allow your given incapacities to hold you back. That which is merely given by nature and/or society should not be allowed to determine who you become, but you cannot become that person without paying homage to what you have been given.
But God gives. He is not given. He is not of nature. That is why the realization of freedom depends on us. There is only self-determination when there is the negation and transformation to a higher level of what we have inherited. In the process we can come to recognize and know God as we re-cognize in the sense of recalling and seeing once again what has been seen by others, and allowing God to see while He does not allow Himself to be seen. In the process of re-cognition, we ourselves are granted recognition as someone with rights and a potential that can someday receive recognition of a very different order, and be cognized as someone of worth or who has produced something of worth. Thereby, we become partners of God so that He can become One.
How do the commandments to recognize God as existing and as your Lord, and to make God one, relate to the commandment to love God, your Lord? If you are to recognize that God exists as Lord and Master, if you are to take on the task of giving unity to the manifold that is God, you must love God. What does it mean to love God?
Instead of starting with the ancient world and its biblical scriptures, we can begin with the form of secular love that Simon May claims is the contemporary earthly distillation of the biblical conception. My daughter, Rachel, whom I have mentioned in an earlier blog who teaches biblical studies at a rabbinical college in Boston, occasionally works with Simon May and recommended his book to me. I highly recommend his 2011 book as well – Love: A History (Yale University Press). Thanks to the miracle of Amazon and kindle, I could get it instantly. I have not yet been able to read the book properly let alone study it carefully, but from dipping into the volume, it looks like a brilliant book. (If my interpretation of his thesis is out of line, please send me corrections.)
I had not read or encountered Simon May before even though he is also a philosopher who focussed on German idealism and ethics, though his concern is exclusively individual ethics while I have written mostly on international ethics. However, my MA thesis was on Hegel and Nietzsche. May in 2011 not only published Love: A History, he edited a volume on Nietzsche, Nietzsche’s ‘On the Genealogy of Morality’: A Critical Guide (Cambridge University Press). He is a visiting professor at both King’s College and Birkbeck College in London.
In the late 1960s, I too was a Visiting Professor at Birkbeck, but just for one month in the spring semester when we had already finished our teaching at York. I taught at Atkinson College which had been modelled on Birkbeck as a college dedicated to the teaching of evening and part-time students. I was invited to Birkbeck as the college’s resident “radical”. I had been honoured to accept the invitation to a college with a history of eminent radicals. Karl Marx and Hugh Gaitskell had taught at Birkbeck. So had C.E.M. Joad. I would have loved to have met the latter for he had been a pacifist, as I was at the time. Etched into my brain was the story of Joad leading the debating team at the Oxford Union and winning a stupendous victory in 1933 for the proposition “That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country”, thereby establishing the prototype for Britain as a country supporting appeasement. Who says scholars cannot be influential! C.E.M. Joad had been one of the first celebrity public intellectuals who based at Birkbeck, but he had already died more than a decade before my visit.
Julia Bell, the famous researcher and pioneer in medical genetics and its impact on inherited disease, whom I had read when I was in medical school, would not see me. The person who answered the phone informed me that she was old and had to protect her time. I presume she did not recognize me as being someone worth spending her scarce time meeting, and she was surely correct.
The most important scholar I looked forward to meeting was Eric Hobsbawm whose three volume history of the nineteenth century left (The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789-1848; The Age of Capital: 1848-1875; The Age of Empire: 1875-1914) I read and still have on my book shelves. But I never did meet him. He was, I believe, abroad as a visiting professor at Stanford at the time. I was less interested in talking to him about his historiography than trying to learn why he remained a member of and dogmatic defender of the Communist Party and the USSR even after the invasion of Hungary in1956. In fact, he stayed a member of the party until the end of the Cold War.
I also wanted to meet James Lovelock even though I really did not recognize at the time how important a scientist and inventor he was (the microwave oven and the atmospheric ozone detector that provided the early warning of the depletion of the ozone layer and its causes just to mention two). I just knew him as the inventor of the recently minted Gaia Hypothesis and the image of the earth as a balanced ecological system that could sustain life as long as the balance had been kept and not become a dead planet like Mars with an atmosphere with a superabundance of carbon dioxide. I never did manage to meet him and I cannot remember why. If I had I possibly might have devoted part of my life to being a crusading environmentalist. Such is the result of caprice.
I also remember never getting to see the Pablo Picasso mural at Birkbeck, but again I cannot remember why. I did meet anther communist, the famous and brilliant physicist, John Bernal, whom I recall being very old at the time and perhaps showing the strains of his commitment to the war effort. (I believe he died not long after I met him.) I had just read his recent book, The Origin of Life, but I recall being too embarrassed and tongue-tied to discuss it with him. We did have some discussion about the peace movement but I recall being very disappointed to learn that he was still active in the World Peace Congress which, if I recall, had failed to denounce the Soviet Union for its invasion of Hungary.
I mention these brief encounters and non-encounters not simply as asides but to help understand that they are about love and recognition. I wanted to meet people whom I really knew nothing about but who had reputations. I knew them as most of those know God, as individuals with enormous reputations. I recognized them even though I did not know them. And in one case I should have known far more about them in order to get something out of the meeting with them. How much more important is this when you have to prepare to meet God who is essentially unknowable.
Further, I wanted these encounters because they were expressions of my love for the intellectual life and all the dilemmas and both positive and negative aspects of public activism. Love is not restricted and perhaps not even mainly about a dimension of sexual passion, a point Simon May makes so clearly in his book. There is one other story of recognition I want to tell, a more humorous one.
The student body, at least the ones I met, were overwhelmingly active new leftists. As it turns out, I was there at the time of the annual chancellor’s dinner and, as a guest of the college, I was invited. They had arranged for me to be seated at high table with the Chancellor. The Chancellor was the Queen Mother. Since dinners were a formal affair, they said they would rent a tuxedo for me.
I informed them that wearing tuxedos was against my principles. They were both symbols of class and luxurious waste. They never questioned how not wearing a tuxedo could be a matter of such high principle and believed that I was sincere. They went into a real sweat. I could not be disinvited as that would be an insult to the Queen Mother. At the same time, they could not sit me beside the Queen Mother if I was not properly dressed for that would be an even greater insult. So they set out on an assiduous program of trying to get me to go and get me fitted for a tuxedo. As they reasoned and argued with me and as my own arguments became even more wild and absurd, I began to think I had become a sadist since they had become so worried, but I took such pleasure in their discomfort as I accused them of being ersatz radicals and hypocrites, married to obeisance to formal rules which reinforced a hierarchical and status burdened class system while professing a commitment to equality. I wish now that I had a cell phone then that could take pictures (though I suspect I would have messed it up given my terrible record as a photographer). The expression of relief, glee and absolute joy on their faces when I showed up at the reception prior to the dinner wearing proper formal attire (I had secretly gone to get fitted) remains only in my head as a faded memory. The experience taught me first hand the importance of recognition and the accoutrements of recognition and their value independent of and often in opposition to ideology.
For Simon May’s thesis on love you can get a brief introduction by reading his interview online with John Allemang of The Globe and Mail on 11 August 2011 and his own on-line article, “Rethinking our Fascination with Love” where he writes of the vision of romantic love in which, “love can be a cocoon of perfection: it can make us feel totally secure, wanted, and respected in all our individuality; it can redeem the brevity and imperfections of life; it can give meaning and purpose where nothing else can; it can protect us from every abyss.” Love of another has become “a democracy of salvation open to all” and a replacement for a love of God as our divine protector.
The thesis itself is not very complex for May has undertaken his historiography of love to set forth a polemical contention. May claims, and probably correctly, that the contemporary romantic view of love as unconditional and selfless, a sincere commitment by both parties to a relationship totally and unconditionally accepting of the other, is a delusion and a fraud, rooted in the history of thought and of religion. About the same time as humans entered the modern industrial world and redefined themselves as material possessive individualists, and, according to Professor Frank Griffith on Friday at his talk at Massey College, when the process of global warming as a result of human activity began, that is, in the mid seventeenth century just before Kant was defining the foundation of morality in terms of pure practical reason, the view that God is love was inverted into love is God.
For May, the contemporary notion of romantic love has become the secular religion of the modern age without any knowledge of its religious origins. May has written a polemical screed in a cool rational voice against an unrealistic utopian conception that he argues ruins relationships with its set of deluded expectations. What was once an ideal of pure unrequited love in the medieval period has come down to earth and been merged with sexual passion to forge this modern conception of romantic love. As a result, the conception of love as an eternal ideal has become ossified and turned into a material idol of worship. What divine love was once supposed to achieve has now been placed on the shoulders of contemporary romantic love. The notion is too fragile, too weak to carry such a heavy historical burden.
I have the impression that he roots this notion in 1800 rather than 1750, in Novalis’ Hymns to the Night, for Novalis adopted Spinoza’s vision of nature as one unified whole but infused it with “an immanent metaphysical reality which manifests itself in everything.” There was no need to participate in making the One; it was present in all its glory to be revealed and experienced through the beloved other. Acquiring that experience was “central, urgent and redemptive”. Sophie in the poem, who is sketched as an unreal phantasm, inspired precisely such a love for through the cloud he saw “the glorified face of my beloved”. The transcendent value of love merged divine and the embodied human and stood in stark contrast to wretched ordinariness.
As I wrote in my review of the film, Anna Karenina, as she came under the spell of romantic love, Anna played by Keira Knightly “metamorphosed from a beautiful and idealist saint of forgiveness into a woman driven mad and increasingly paranoid and possessive through passionate love and the sacrifice of her marriage. Devoted to love as she once was to goodness and forgiveness, her intimate connection with her son, her social standing and friendships are all lost along with the disintegration of her marriage and split from a dedicated and loving but very cold husband who idealistically dedicated his life and service in turn to mother Russia.” Anna surrendered to that transcendent yearning and suffered the consequences when it came face to face with reality.
The movie Amour, that I also wrote about, was not a story of romantic love. In it, we find the opposite, a very grounded tale of a couple who had been in love for half a century, who had built a home which is in May’s sense a sacred ground where each finds in the other someone who in day to day life affirms the existence and value of the other. The yearning for what May calls “ontological rootedness” seems to have been found – that is, until they are struck with the hubris of caprice. For even that very solid love is shattered as it encounters the vicissitudes of the world, as an Anne rather than an Anna has a stroke, loses her memory and faculties. The two gradually become strangers to one another as her husband is reduced to playing only the role of the servant and caretaker whose love cannot be reciprocated by the acknowledgement and recognition by the other. If true and grounded love that is truly solid and real, especially when it is atomized into nuclear units in the modern world, cannot withstand the blows that reality sometimes delivers, cannot be a bulwark against suffering and loss, what chance does contemporary romantic love have?
If Novalis wrote his poem Hymns to the Night in Prussia as a reaction “to the irretrievable loss of a divine world-order and the firm moorings it afforded”, he helped plant the seeds for the globalization in the contemporary world of romantic love fused with eros as the spiritual foundation for modernity, but a notion not rooted in reality but in the ephemeral. They are words expressed over and over again in the personal ads of the New York Review of Books (cf. Paul Hollander’s “Extravagant Expectations”) — and, as documented in the Canadian writer, Lisa Appignanesi’s, All About Love: Anatomy of an Unruly Emotion, in an experience that “confronts us with the height and depths of our being”. If our environmental crisis is, as Frank Griffiths contended, an effort to steal the secret of fire from the gods by exploiting the reserves of fossil fuel and for which we are about to be punished, according to May, on the more personal level, “the divinization of love as the latest attempt by human beings to steal the powers of god…is [also] doomed to end badly.”
If we now return to Deuteronomy, love of God and love identified with God was first made the supreme value according to May before it was bestowed on humans as a divine gift to share with one another. Then earth and nature also became worthy objects of love before the crucial link with the divine source was severed in the modern world. Can we now get a better insight into the commandment to love God, your Lord and Master? In its Christian version as Judaism was merged with Platonic love, and through which framework the ancient texts were interpreted, love was associated with devotion and unconditional selflessness, with love of the transcendent rather than with that which provides a grounding to allow us to feel at home with ourselves, with one another and with the world.
May’s version tries to escape from the secularized Christian notion. Finding in one’s selfless love for the divine and opening oneself to God’s divine presence within us and His ultimate sacrifice for us, where God’s complete dedicated selflessness is to be reciprocated by our own corresponding commitment, and from which we could achieve a much richer and more eternal absolute intensity of feeling, s now transferred to and promised by romantic love. Romantic love is now given a capacity for redemption and regeneration but romantic love could aspire to, but never come near, divine love. Romantic love could not, in the end, achieve immoral life.
In contrast to divine love and especially romantic love, for May, love is pragmatic, a conditional contract of mutuality best freed of romantic notions. Nevertheless, it remains “the rapture we feel for people who (or things that) inspire in us the experience or hope of ontological rootedness – a rapture that triggers and sustains the long search for a vital relationship between our being and theirs”. This notion still appears entrapped in romanticism, granted a very different and more grounded version, but one that nevertheless elevates the couple in Amour into a heavenly pantheon without taking note of their social atomization and severance from an extended community, even the community of their very small family. Further, May’s notion remains a far cry from Jewish notions as articulated in different ways by Emmanuel Levinas and Martin Buber. For we neither have to sore heavenwards in romantic love nor seek solid ground in pragmatic love, but can find a horizontal mutuality in one another. However, that requires going back earlier to a very different understanding of the commandment to love God as your Lord and a different understanding of the Christian version of the Adam and Eve story that May offers.
What then is the Jewish notion of the commandment to love God as your Lord? It is not the Christian commandment to love God with all one’s heart that will in the end provide a the template for mediaeval unrequited love and contemporary romantic love in search of an ideal human relationship in which our “flourishing is founded upon a lifelong search for a powerful relationship to the ground of our being.” It is the demand that any expression of absolute devotion can never have a human as the recipient but must always be directed to God. Further, since God is unknown and unknowable and since the creation of God’s unity depends on us, then to the extent we express that love that is the extent that God can manifest it. Further, since God’s love in Judaism is always conditional, conditional for Jews on following His commandments, the love can never be absolute on our part either. It too must be conditional. If God commands something that crosses the line, that obliges an immoral act, we are commanded out of love not to obey. We are commanded to challenge and question and stay committed to the relationship but not to accept and surrender to an illusion of absolute perfection and truth.
For Lisa Appignanesi in her stories of love, reduced to a self-regarding sentimental amorous feeling, the expectation can and should be much more mundane, looking towards “a predictable steadfastness” in the beloved. The love that sees us through life “is a gift freely given by the other, not a form of enslavement”. However, in the Judaic version, this is only possible if the propensity for sacrificial love, for total commitment of oneself to the other, is restricted to God whose love is always conditional and, thereby, determines that ours must be as well. Otherwise the trap that was set for Anna Karenina to fall under the spell of the absolute and its extravagant expectations will remain an ever-present danger.
The injunction in Judaism is the command to love your neighbour and you should love God as your neighbour and not as your intimate Other. God will not provide the insights into either Truth or Beauty for we are charged with finding and creating the unity that is God’s. The reason for this can be found in the story of Adam and Eve, but not the common Christian version.
May portrays the Garden of Eden as an idyllic place, one “in which there is no want”. If love is as Socrates depicted it something which “originates in lack” as the child of Poverty, poor, weather-beaten, shoeless and homeless, yet a scheming lover of wisdom nonetheless with a surfeit of resources, then love could not arise in the Garden of Eden. There could be plenitude but not want. Yet the relationship between Adam and Eve is portrayed as the Platonic one of two halves of an original creation seeking to reclaim their lost other, looking for and desiring that which they do not have. So there is lack. Love as the desire to possess absolute goodness and beauty perpetually cannot arise in the Garden of Eden because the requisite precondition of want is lacking according to the depiction of the Garden as without want. That love could arise if indeed want was the essential characteristic of the relationship between Adam and Eve. Can a self-contradictory story offer an accurate interpretation?
There is a different version. “The LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (2:7) Adam lives alone tending the Garden. Out of the blue he is given what is usually translated as a commandment but is in realty an entreaty. “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (2:16-17) In this version of the story, at the point it is offered, this is not a command but a warning. I advise you not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil for the result will be certain death.
This is a puzzling warning in at least three respects. Why is the tree of life, of immortality, in the garden if the implication is that Adam would live forever if he does not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Second, what is the relationship between carnal knowledge and good and evil? Third, the warning is given before Eve is there, so if the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is about carnal knowledge and a warning not to partake, why offer the warning when there is no possibility of normal heterosexual activity?
Immediately after the warning God thought to himself, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helpmeet suitable for him.” (2:18) Not a partner but explicitly a helper, presumably someone who can also work and care for the garden. But what has creating a helper have to do with God’s sensitivity to Adam’s loneliness? And why is it that Adam does not even think about being alone? The answer is offered in the next verse. Adam is too busy being a nerd and giving names to everything as God’s partner. Just as God created tangible things, Adam creates them for consciousness by designating and differentiating. And no suitable helper could be found.
So God hypnotizes Adam or puts him to sleep in some other way. In his sleep, god cuts Adam open, removes one of his ribs, sews him up again, and uses the rib to make woman, she who was taken out of man. More puzzling still! Why create woman when man is asleep? Why create woman from a part of man when God supposedly already created man and woman from the dust of the earth? Then comes the supposed hermaphrodite verse that suggests that until then, what was a Garden without want became suffused with want, for in creating woman from man, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (2:24)
In the hermaphrodite interpretation, the man and the woman are just two parts of one whole. Woman is part of man, an essential complement to man, not as a servant or minion for azer k’negdo in the Torah refers to an appropriate dominant force (Deuteronomy 33:7′ Exodus 18:14), a potent presence that will stir the desires of man and induce him to leave his family and make a life with a woman. The story of the serpent that follows certainly suggests a contrasting but complementary presence.
Working backwards, if Adam is alone but does not recognize it, if Adam has a conception in his imagination of the other, the woman, as just an extension of his own flesh without his mental powers and mission to name things, of woman as a lesser creature driven by estrogen hormones with one less carbon molecule that testerone, but in reality she is a complementary forceful presence, then this might explain what happens in chapter 3. But we have to notice one more ingredient. Once Adam was alone, he did not recognize he was alone. He was too busy being a biologist. Adam does not even seem to recognize he has a body with desires and passions. Woman made for man seems to have the same characteristic. But as the story unfolds, the woman has a keener sense of observation than the Great Namer.
If in Chapter 2 of Genesis, an other is brought into being as merely an extension of his own body, it also seems clear that his own body is objectified as other as well. For Adam and Eve are together in the garden but neither even recognizes that they are naked, A very different erect figure appears on the scene in chapter 3, one not driven by a passion to be a scientist, but full of guile. This erect cunning character at least talks to the woman. Adam ignores her. The erect figure queries, are you sure God told you not to eat from any tree? The woman corrects him. Not any tree. Just one tree! And she clearly displays a case of broken telephone for God never talked to her. God enjoined Adam before Eve came on the scene. The woman responds that, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (Genesis 2:2-3)
Note that there are at least two differences between the woman’s hearsay version and the original. Not content to simply relay the instruction word for word, she adds her own bit. Not only can you not eat from the tree; you cannot even touch it. Further what first appeared to be just a warning about the consequences of taking a course of action is now clearly interpreted as an injunction.
Ignoring the hyperbole and the interpretation as a commandment, this beguiling presence slips rightly by and goes to the heart of the matter and, in effect, calls God a liar. You’re not going to die. Quite the opposite! Your eyes will be opened and you will now know good from evil. Then you will be truly like God and not just made in His image. (Genesis 3:4-5) He could have added that Adam only knows potatoes from turnips. You have a chance to know the difference between good and evil and become divine.
Adam sees himself as fulfilling his divine mission by bringing things into being by naming them. The slinky slippery but still erect one tells Eve she too can be divine by discerning moral differences and not just making taxonomic distinctions. In effect he challenges her: You’re not going to die. You are going to acquire a godlike quality, the ability to pronounce what is good and what is bad and not just which tree is an elm and which is an oak. Adam is there throughout the whole process of seduction but taking no responsibility for it. For Adam has defined himself as the detached observer and not an embodied individual driven by passions. He is a repressed voyeur.
Convinced by the moral argument and her own aesthetic observations and driven by a different route to gaining wisdom and not just knowledge, she took up the erect one’s offer, took the fruit of the tree and ate it. “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her.” (Genesis 3:6) So ends the porno movie. The consequences follow.
The first consequence is that, in contrast to a porno movie, they become self-conscious and embarrassed about their naked bodies. Instead of feeling really satisfied, they both feel humiliated and ashamed and enter into cover-up mode. It is not as if God walked in on them and caught them in a carnal act of oral sex. They are ashamed first and are found later. And Adam gives the game away by telling a white lie: I hid because I was ashamed of my nakedness. God then knew (so much for the omniscience of the divine) that they had eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. I warned you, God said. The consequences of eating and partaking in carnal knowledge is that you felt ashamed and felt like dying and hid yourselves for you could not even be master of your own flesh. Then Adam commits his sin. “I didn’t do it. She did. At least, she made me do it. She induced me.” When God confronts the woman, she says the erect one did it. He seduced me. Both refused to take responsibility for their actions.
If you think shame and humiliation and feeling like dying were the consequences, “you ain’t seen nothing yet!” The erect one will suffer the most and eat dust, condemned to being responsible for the war between men and women and within man, for man will not just try to control you the slippery slithery one but to crush you. But you will bite his Achilles heel. The indifference of Adam to his own body and passions now means open warfare. For Adam experienced his erect penis as a separate entity with a mind of its own led by desire for the other rather than the job of cognizing and naming. The woman will suffer labour pains but even worse, your husband will rule over you. The consequences of such actions and failing to take responsibility and trying to cover up flouting my warnings is that you will become like God, but instead of respect between Lord and bondsman, there will be war between you and within you. The issue in the garden is neither sufficiency nor surplus re wants, but desire and taking responsibility for that desire.
What does this say about the commandment to love God as your Lord? The only way to minimize the state of endless enmity within and between self and other is not to love anyone as Lord and Master except God. Do not idolize another person of flesh and blood as a transcendent being. Reserve that kind of love for God.
So in Exodus 21 you are commanded not to base the relationship between a man and a woman as if it were one between God and his servant, for whether male or female such a relationship of service can never be a relationship of slavery. You shall not be enslaved to your own passions. But you must always regard the other individual who works for you as a free individual, free to choose at the end of the contract whether to continue or not that work. Even a maid servant will be eligible to marry your sons and there shall be no wall between a commoner and a member of the aristocracy. People with servants are employers, not lords and masters. Respect for the other must define human relations. And love of the other as an absolute, as total surrender must be reserved for your Lord and only your Lord.
[Keys: recognition, lordship and bondage, love]
Tomorrow: Obama as a Black and White President