Beasts and Humans: Genesis Chapter 3
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.