Bereishis – Eve Wasn’t Adam’s Rib — By Ben

Though by no means a Torah appropriate film, the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch features a song the Origins of Love. Despite the song’s incompatibility with Torah Judaism, the ballad’s main idea is rooted in some of the most esoteric understandings of the book of Genesis.

Folks roamed the earth like big rolling kegs
They had two sets of arms
They had two sets of legs
They had two faces peering
Out of one giant head
.

So they could watch all around them
As they talked; while they read
And they never knew nothing of love
It was before the origin of love

The song goes on to tell how the gods like Zeus and Thor split up the beings into two bodies with an eternal longing to find their lost other half.

The traditional understanding of the Garden of Eden story features God molding Adam from the dust of the earth, then blowing a soul into Adam, bringing him to life. Then subsequently Adam asks God for a mate, so God puts Adam to sleep, removes a rib and turns it into a woman, Eve. However, upon closer reading of the story, we start to get a different picture.

Bereishis/Genesis 2:21 reads:

“And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon man, and he slept, and He took one of his מִצַּלְעֹתָ֔יו , and He closed the flesh in its place.”

מִצַּלְעֹתָ֔יו is the word that is usually translated as rib. However, Rashi as well as the Talmud comments that the word literally means from his side. The Midrash expounds on this word commenting, “Adam was created with two faces [i.e. male and female persons combined.]” So very much like in the Origin of Love, man and woman resembled a conjoined twin. When we say we’ve found our spouse, quite literally that person would be our soulmate and our other half.

More than the Sum of Your Parts

Finding our literal other half to the magnitude of a physically joined body is a potent metaphor of our desire to find love. However, the Torah is communicating an idea about love that’s a little deeper. If we were literally to be joined at the hip, how long would it take for a relationship to get uncomfortable? We happen to live in the year 2020 and prologued quarantines have tested marriages in almost this exact way. How have they held up? Well, my friend who is a divorce lawyer says business is booming.

To live with that much tethering is bound to create problems. However literal conjoined twins do live that way. They have to. What makes it work? Other than necessity. The answer would be compromise.

Two Kinds of Compromise

Compromise has been defined as, “When you don’t get your way and I don’t get my way and no one’s happy.” A middle road as it were, where parties find a way to function despite their differences. At best, the parties might participate in a reciprocity. You get your way this time so I get my way next time. Tit for tat. So two people can function in a partnership. 1+1=2

A marriage on the other hand isn’t just a partnership, it’s a unity. When a person enters into a marriage their perspective should be not, “What can I get?”, but instead, “What can I give?” Your pleasure is my pleasure. When a couple reaches that level of synthesis, they aren’t 1+1=2, they’re 0.5+0.5=1.

Enduring Unity

Perkei Avos 5:19 says the following:

Any love that is dependent upon a specific cause, if that cause is nullified, that love is nullified. But the love that is not dependent on a specific cause is not nullified ever.

People get married for all sorts of reasons. Unfortunately, many of those are superficial. Looks, money, to prove something, or you were both just really into Marvel movies. Once the looks start to go or the Marvel movies start being as good as the DC movies, that marriage probably won’t last. So what should you do?

You could find love that’s based on a cause that will never end. Deeper things like family, values, sharing a culture — those causes, as long as you’re both passionate about them, should last you a life time. What is love that isn’t dependent on a specific cause? Commentary on the Mishnah refers to a sort of unconditional love. The way a parent is to their child. It’s the love of the person’s being.

How do you attain that? One way is to identify and focus on the positive attributes of the other person. When we are infatuated, we bend over backwards to be blind to a person’s faults because the positives are all we think about. But once infatuation fizzles if we make the choice to focus on the positive attributes and have gratitude for them, it’s a life saver.

The other way is outlined by Rev Eliyahu Dessler. In his book Strive for Truth, he makes a direct correlation between giving and love. “That which a person gives to another is never lost. It is an extension of his own being. He can see a part of himself in the person to whom he has given. This is the attachment between one man and another to which we give the name ‘love’.”

He goes on to say, “Why do we find so often that husband-wife-affection does not seem to last? The answer is simple. People are generally ‘takers,’ not ‘givers.’ When their biological instincts gain the upper hand they become ‘givers’ and ‘lovers.’ But before very long nature relaxes its grip and they relapse into a state of ‘taking’ as before… From now on they are ‘takers’ once again and each begins to demand from the other the fulfillment of his or her obligations. When demands begin, love departs.”

Bringing It All Together

However the most glaring question should be, what did Adam and Eve gain from the split? If they were so intimately close that we have this burning desire today to reforge that connection, what was the benefit of God’s action? To this Ramban says, “He, saw that it was good that “the help” [Eve] stand facing him [Adam] and that he should see and be separated from it.

It’s a funny thing that we can’t see our own face without the help of a reflection. If your soulmate’s face was growing out of the back of your head, you’d need two mirrors to see them. Though that might be helpful in stopping someone from sneaking up on you, I think the, “that he should see and be separated from it,” has grander benefit than getting to marvel at the person you’re attracted to. Two separate people by definition would have a separate perspective. Eve is referred to as an ezer kenegdo or the helper who is opposite. The function of a spouse is to help but also challenge. Through challenge, a person grows. For growth a fresh perspective is crucial. At that point 0.5+0.5= 1+.

The mistranslations of מִצַּלְעֹתָ֔יו as rib, implies that Adam had something taken from him which bore Eve, as if she should be grateful to him for life because of his sacrifice. And though clearly a person must make sacrifice in order to sustain a healthy marriage, the implication that one owes the other for the sacrifice is at best petty and at worst very destructive. But when we understand מִצַּלְעֹתָ֔יו as side, then the birth of Eve means that Eve sacrificed as much for the partnership as Adam. With that in mind, we should strive to make our spouses happy at all cost. Their pleasure is your pleasure, their suffering is your suffering.

One response to “Bereishis – Eve Wasn’t Adam’s Rib — By Ben

  1. Hello Ben, you never mention it but the idea that men/women were initially bound to each other is found in Plato’s “Symposium”, where guests at a banquet share their vision of love and its mythological origins.

    What’s interesting is that the view of Rev Eliyahu Dessler that one needs an “other one” to properly look at oneself is also present in another book from Plato. In the first “Alcibiades”, Socrates tells Alcibiades that just like an eye needs another eye to look at itself (the eye acting like a mirror), a soul needs another soul to know itself, and concludes by adding that the one who can see in others the part of divine in them is getting closer to understanding the part of divine in himself/herself.

    Greek and Jewish philosophy sometimes strike the same chord, and I find it fascinating.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Like

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