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Her Ways Considered


Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8 )

by Rabbi Noson Weisz

One of the most intriguing aspects of the creation of the human being involves the separation of the sexes. Unlike the rest of the life forms God created, who were separated into male and female from the moment of their initial creation, the separation of human beings into males and females does not occur until Genesis 2. What is more, it comes about as a result of Adam's own desire.

YHVH God said, "It is not good that man be alone; I will make him a helper corresponding to him." Now, YHVH God had formed out of the ground every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the Adam to see what he would call each one; and whatever Adam called each living creature, that remained its name. And Adam assigned names to all the cattle and to the birds of the sky and to every beast of the field; but as for man, he did not find a helper corresponding to him. So YHVH God cast a deep sleep upon the man and he slept; and He took one of his sides and He filled flesh in its place. Then YHVH God fashioned the side that He had taken from Adam into a woman, and He brought her to the Adam. And Adam said, "This time is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This shall be called woman for from man was she taken." (Genesis 2:18-23)

This is a perplexing passage indeed!

  1. God had independently concluded that it was not good for man to be alone. Nachmonides explains (Genesis 1:4) that the word "good" has the connotation of everlasting. Thus the phrase 'God saw that it was good' which keeps cropping up in Genesis 1 means that after God brought things into being he bestowed upon His creatures the gift of everlasting existence, a separate aspect of their essential being. If so, God's statement that "it is not good for man to be alone" amounts to a judgment that man is not viable unless he is separated into male and female. If so, why didn't God create man that way in the first place?
  2. According to the commentators, [see Rashi] the incident involving the naming of living creatures is inserted between God's own conclusion that it was not good for man to be alone, and the actual creation of woman, because God wanted Adam himself to crave the companionship of a mate and to realize the necessity of her existence to his well being before He created her. For some reason, God was unwilling to proceed on the course that He knew was necessary without Adam's specific agreement. Why not? We do not find that He consulted man on other aspects of creation. Why was it necessary for man to provide the initial impetus for the actualization of this specific creation?
  3. How does this story square with the following verse: So God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them(Genesis, 1:27)? We will focus on the Midrashic explanation that Rashi brings. Initially God created man as a creature with the male and female aspects combined in a single corporate entity. The story in Genesis 2 quoted earlier is the description of the separation of Adam's male and female aspects into two separate beings capable of facing one another.

What does it mean that man originally had two aspects rolled into one?

Man Is Unlike Other Life Forms

The key to all this is the fact that the creation of man, unlike the creation of all other forms of life, takes place on several levels, since man is a composite creature. The Torah employs three different creation verbs to describe the process through which man was formed: the word Bara in Genesis 1, the word Vayizer in Genesis 2, and the word Vaya'as in Genesis 5.

According to Rabbi Chaim of Voloz'hin, the word Bara refers to man's neshama, what we call his soul, the word Vayizer refers to man's ruach, or the human spirit, while the word Vaya'as refers to man's physical life force.

Following the implications of this division, in terms of man's neshama, the creation word [Bara] used to describe him in Genesis 1, man remains undifferentiated and has a male-female aspect within a single entity. It is only from the realm of Yezira described in Genesis 2, which corresponds to the realm of the 'ruach', the human spirit and downwards that man is a separate male-female entity.

This crucial mental step allows us to understand why other species of life were created initially in male-female pairs whereas man was not. Man is essentially a spiritual being. Imagine that you were a pure spirit. You were neither tall nor short, dark nor light; you had no nose, eyes or mouth, no hands or feet. Could you then tell yourself apart from your fellow human beings? Not necessarily. Individual differences would have to be based on the much more subtle phenomena of personality: sense of humor, congeniality and the like; even the distinctions of I.Q., based as they are on physical brain power would disappear.

Maleness and Femaleness Are Spiritual Phenomena In Humans

But the Torah writes that even on this level there is already a male?female aspect to the human personality. Thus according to the Torah, maleness and femaleness as they manifest themselves in human beings are spiritual phenomena; their physical manifestation is not their essence.

What is more, the idea of reproduction is already part of God's design for humanity in Genesis 1, even though on the level discussed in this first chapter, the level of Briah, man remains undifferentiated in terms of male-female. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it....(1, 28)

Thus God can simultaneously declare at the end of the sixth day, And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good (1,31) and at the same time say in Genesis 2,18, It is not good that man be alone. In terms of man as a spiritual creature with the ability to survive permanently, he had all the necessary inputs that were required by the end of Genesis 1. He was both male and female, could reproduce and rule the rest of creation, could communicate with God. In terms of what is being referred to in Genesis 1, it was indeed true to say that man was 'very good'.

To isolate the area where separation was an issue, let us next take note of the fact that the other life forms besides man, which all exist on the level of Assiyah, or on the level of the physical only, all come fully separated into male and female forms. If we make the assumption that this ought to apply to man as well, then we see that the issue of separation exists solely on the level described by Genesis 2, the level of Yezirah, or 'ruach', which we have referred to as the human spirit.

The Issue Of Separation Must Be Understood In Terms Of Loneliness

The issue on this level is loneliness, not reproduction or survival.

To see this clearly, let us attempt to carefully analyze God's statement in Genesis 2,18, cited earlier, It is not good that man be alone; I will make him a helper corresponding to him.

What does the Torah mean by describing the female as a helper? The question is deliberately put in terms of female in the abstract rather than in human terms; it isn't only woman who is described as a helper; when Adam named the life forms brought before him by God, the Torah remarks; but as for man he did not find a helper corresponding to him. (2,20)

Helpers are not individuals of secondary importance, as the surface impression of the description would imply. God Himself is described as a helper ― we end the first blessing of the Amida singing the praises of God by declaring that God is a Helper, a Savior, and a Shield. Without help, man is totally unable to actualize his plans and designs in the real world.

The process of the transformation of a potential into a reality has two distinct elements. Firstly you must have an understanding of what it is that you desire to actualize. Secondly you must have an understanding of how to fit the proposed object of your dreams into the actual reality of the outside world. Just as we describe God as our Helper because we require His direct assistance in order to be able to actualize anything at all, the female is described as a helper in this same sense ― without her contribution we could not actualize any portion of our human potential.

In terms of the lower forms of life this helper concept boils down to the element of self-perpetuation in terms of reproduction, but in terms of human beings the matter is much more complex. Human beings not only produce children; they also actualize ideas and transform plans into realities. Indeed, even their children are raised to be extensions of their spirits. The properly reared human child is infinitely more than a biological continuation of his or her parents. Humans need help to express their spirits as well as their bodies. The power to transform any type of potential into reality, without which man would be totally impotent, is described by the Torah as female.

Females Have The Skill Of Transforming The Potential Into The Actual

Clearly, without a female aspect, man is not a viable proposition. If we now sum up the two extreme aspects of man's being in terms of the relation between male and female we get the following result. In terms of man's neshama, or soul, which exists on the level of beriah described in Genesis 1, there is no need for the differentiation of the male and female aspects of man into separate parts. In terms of man's physical animal aspect, referred to in Genesis 5, there is no reason to think that man should be any different than other forms of life. It would make sense to separate his male and female aspect into separate parts.

It is from this standpoint that we should approach the situation presented to us in Genesis 2, which deals with what we call the ruach, or the human spirit.

We explained at length in last year's essay on Bereishit, The Determinism of Free Will, that it is in the human spirit that the capacity for free will is located. Man's neshama, his soul aspect is created by God holy and pure and draws man toward the spiritual and the selfless; man's physical aspect was created by God as self-centered and materialistic and automatically draws man toward the physical and the egotistical; what is up for grabs is man's 'ruach', his human spirit, located midway between the two.

Inasmuch as this is the area that touches upon man's free will, anything in this area that depends on considerations of judgment rather than necessity is left up to man to decide. The issue of confronting loneliness is exactly such a consideration. Man is already a viable proposition as a neshama in which the male and female aspects of his being remain integrated and as a physically corporate being with a separated male and female aspect akin to other life forms. Whether there should be a separation on the level of the human spirit between male and female is the sole decision that requires a judgment call.

Separation as a Judgment Call

On the one hand all the beauty of personal relationships and the love that is associated with them originates in the bond between husband and wife, but on the other hand all the strife and the discord and the misunderstanding in the world also originates in this relationship.

To understand what is involved in the separation on this level, let us closely examine the first sin. The snake approached the woman, not the man.

And the woman perceived that the tree was good for eating and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a means to wisdom, and she took of its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her and he ate. (Genesis 3,6)

He approached her because she was the one in charge. What to eat or not to eat involves interaction with the outside world and belongs to the realm of the actualization of ideas ― the domain of the female. Having weighed and considered, she made her decision and her husband followed her. After all, she was the expert on what to take from the outside world and what to reject, not he. On being confronted by God, his instinctive reaction was to say, "The woman whom You gave to be with me?she gave me of the tree and I ate."

In other words, the story tells us that had there been no separation between the male and female aspect of man on the spiritual level the sin would not have occurred. Rolled into a single entity the balance between the body and the soul would have enabled man to resist the temptation offered by the snake.

Areas Of Specialization Following Separation

In the division on the level of the human spirit, the female half of man, in charge of actualizing ideas in the real world, was given a relatively stronger attachment and a better understanding of how this real world actually operates and what is possible within the context of this type of reality and the things that ought to be avoided. On the other hand, the male half of man was given a relative preponderance of a bent towards the accumulation of abstract ideas and the mustering of the energy that is required in the actualization process.

The completeness of the human spirit requires both. The original plan was to place the woman in charge of employing the accumulated energy to actualize man's abstract ideas and bring them down to reality and that is why she made the first crucial decision in human history. She did not lose her expertise in the area of actualization, but forfeited her leadership role as a consequence of having made the wrong leadership decision.

At issue in Genesis 2, was the decision whether to separate the male from the female on the level of decision-making, where free will issues are involved. Because this is the level on which decisions are taken, this is the level on which mistakes are made and consequently it is the origin of all disharmony and discord.

The Loneliness Of Responsibility

But it is also the level where man is most vulnerable to the angst of human loneliness. It is in the area of responsibility where we must bear the burden of our choices that we feel the great weight of our isolation and loneliness.

God knew that the human spirit could not survive this existential loneliness. He saw that for man to be alone was 'not good.' Nevertheless on the level of the human spirit all the decisions must be made by man. This is the area of his free will. It is only after man chose to have his 'helper' become a separate being whom he could confront instead of being an adjunct of himself that God implemented the step that He in His wisdom felt all along was necessary.

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