B'reshit 3:5

Shabbat B'reshit
October 28, 2000
Newton Centre Minyan


... And You Shall Be As God ... (B'reshit 3:5)

Drash by Janna Kaplan.

"We live in the second creation story, dreaming of inhabiting the first. We live in a world man enters alone, where woman is still a part taken from the whole of him. But all of us -- men and women can dream of paradise, of a universe where God creates a person first, in the divine image, and only then, and only equally, (...) gives gender, blesses us, and sees that all is very, very good." [i] This quotation is from Nessa Rapoport. I find it very relevant to my today's drash. And while I am in the 'acknowledgements' mood, I would also like to say that some of the insights which I will share with you emerged from the discussions in my Torah Study Group, and from the workshop, of which the name I don't remember, with Alan Dershowitz last summer. And now, lets get back to the parsha B'reshit.

The fact that there are two creation stories in this parsha is very important. Depending on which story we emphasize, our interpretation of the rest of B'reshit, and of the rest of our human history, may change dramatically.

In B'reshit 1:26-31 we read [ii]: "And God said: 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . And God created man in God's own image, in the image of God God created him; male and female created God them. And God blessed them; and God said into them" 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth'." God then gives them a rather detailed itinerary of what is going to be available to them on earth. No mention of the trees of life and knowledge is made; no prohibition against touching anything is given. Instead, the blessing bestowed on them here is extraordinarily plentiful, for in order to "be fruitful and multiply" in an intentional and responsible way, people have to have health, and sustenance, and general well-being. Far from forbidding, exactly the opposite is true: encompassing, all-including words God uses here for the very entities which just a few passages later would be so complexly prohibited: "See, - says God - I give you every seed-bearing plant (kol-e'sev) that is upon all the earth (kol-ha'etz), and every tree (kol ha'?tz) that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food." (B'reshit 1:29-31. Emphasis mine.) The quotation ends in this glorious way: "... And God saw every thing that God had made, and, behold, it was very good (tov meod). And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day."

Thus culminated, and completed, God's work of creation. On the seventh day God rested. After that, one would think, God would occupy God-self with repairing the world, fixing things, making matches. Well, not so fast. Bizarre events start happening on day eight. Second creation story takes place amidst most dramatic and mysterious mist and glow.

As B'reshit 2:7-9 tells us: "Then ... God formed man of the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Here, no mention is given of man being created in the divine image. No affirmation that the result of this second creation is good. No blessing follows. The quote continues: "... And ... God planted a garden eastward, in Eden; and there God put the man whom God had formed. And out of the ground made God grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.".

What an incredible ambiguity! God planted the garden eastward. Eastward of what? In the middle of the garden God planted the tree of life. And the tree of knowledge. What is the middle of a garden? In our quest for precision, can we describe the X, Y, and Z of that location? And how can two trees occupy this one precious spot, the middle? Then comes the prohibition: "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." "Thou shalt surely die" is hard to take so early in the creation, at the "mysterious beginning" [iii]. That the first and most awesome gift of God to man, the "breath of life", (nishmat chaim) can be taken away, almost immediately, and by the same power that gave it in the first place! Should God have taken "Parenting 101" before having children, to learn that when you give presents, give only such presents, and in such a way that you should never have to take them away!

Let us especially notice that the woman in this second creation story at this time has not been created yet; thus, no prohibition was ever given to her directly. The woman gets surgically created afterwards, and when Adam comes out of the anesthesia, everything is already in place for him: the flora, the fauna, and the wife. There is just one more sentence remaining in this passage, B'reshit 2, the one in the second creation story which moves me the most: "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed."

Then comes the serpent, and asks the woman about the prohibition. I want to remind you that the woman only knows about it from some very secondary sources. Her understanding of the prohibition is rather different from the original: "Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said: Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest ye die." (3:3) Which tree in the middle? There were two of them! This is so astonishingly vague for any instruction! How much so for a definition of a capital crime! Crime for which the beloved, blessed creations of God, made in God's own image and likeness, "would surely die!" Serpent further convinces the woman by promising her that "... you shall be as God, knowing good and evil." (3:5) Another inconsistency: they are already as God: they were created in God's image and likeness!

Yet, something does happen, when she eats, and shares with her husband, the fruit from the tree of knowledge. Their eyes, "... the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves girdles." (3:7) They achieved a truer likeness of God by exercising their God-given free will, and yet, becoming less perfect precisely because of that; they acquired the capacity for being flawed, and the insight to know that. This is what their nakedness represents to them now. For in this most exalted moment of being face to face with God, they experienced no joy, no sense of wonder, but only shame; what they wanted the most is to hide, to disappear, to run away as far and as fast as possible. Paradise got instantly devalued by the humiliation of their nakedness before someone in position of such power over them. And why do they even think that they are naked? After all, they are naked no more: they made themselves clothes of fig-leaves! Yet they perceive themselves as naked, for they realize the extent of their infancy, of their ignorance, their vulnerability in front of this awesome power which let them down!

And here, God finally acts responsibly, and does the right thing. God accepts their awareness, their perception of themselves, validates it by making for them "... garments of skin", clothing them, and giving them names, identifiers which make them unique, like God. (3:21)

The concept of "creation in the image and likeness of God" is an extraordinary concept. Judaism is not an anthropomorphic religion. So, what is the image of God? It cannot refer to the features of face and body. The likeness can only refer to the inner image, to the character, the soul, the life of the mind and spirit. To the creative potential. To the capacity to acquire knowledge in depth and scope. To distinguish good from evil. To be capable of an insight, of an inspiration. The meaning of us, people, having eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and not of the tree of life, is that we do have all these potentials, like God. What we do not have is the immortality, the eternity of time to achieve the full, absolute knowledge and wisdom. Only God has that.

Or does He (or She)? By the reciprocal logic of this biblical formula, creation in the image and likeness of God, one could infer that God Thyself is flawed, like even the best of us, that God is not perfect, and is still learning about us, and about the world. And that the responsibility for the events of our lives, and for the events of the human history, lies not in God's favor or neglect of us, nor in our own imperfections or talents, but in the balance of our combined efforts, human and divine together.

I would like to end with a brief story, something that happened to me in my refusenik's days and gave me a very personal insight into the events of B'reshit. It took place on that very Shabbat HaGadol about which I gave a drash some time ago. As you can see, it was a very loaded Shabbat HaGadol! That particular year, 1981, it fall on April 19, which, being so close to Lenin's birthday of April 22, was designated to be "Lenin's Saturday." What this means is the following. In the Soviet Union, ever since Lenin's days, the government required all people to volunteer to the state a whole day of unpaid work. Such day was scheduled yearly on the Saturday before Lenin's birthday. Naturally, since my becoming a refusenik I would not take part in that.

Yet, that year, in 1981, the lab decided to do a major cleaning of our decrepit, flee- and rat-infested sub-basement facility, and I felt compelled to participate. After work, being totally filthy, dirty, itchy and scratchy, and not having access to the shower at home (I only could use the shower at home on Tuesdays, it being a communal flat with 17 people from 5 different unrelated families living in 5 rooms with one shower, toilet, and gas range), I went to a public bath house. After staying in line for two hours, my turn has come, and I got in. So there I was, in a huge, steamy, noisy space filled with about a hundred of naked women, cacophony of yelling, running water, clinging of buckets and tubs, swooshing of birch bunches. But I rather enjoyed it, the heat of the water and steam, and especially the anticipation of the blessed state of becoming clean. There was certain freedom, certain solitude, certain privacy in being so unrecognizable in this huge and naked crowd.

This all suddenly changed when I heard a woman's voice calling me in a very formal way, with my name and patronymic. Just to explain, in Russia, a formal way of addressing an adult is by pronouncing the full first name, in my case Yevgeniya (not the nickname, Janna) and then a declination of the father's name, in my case Emmanuel. I must say that in my 27 years of life by then, I may have been called that three or four times at the most. It startled me. I looked around, desperately trying to figure our who would call for me like that. Everyone around me was wet and naked, and looked alike. And the voice kept calling: "Yevgeniya Emmanuilovna, come here, come closer to me. I want to talk to you." Completely stunned, I finally discerned, in the mist, a woman, fully dressed, who was standing near the open entrance door into the women's bath chamber. She was by then the first in line, to be admitted next, and so was able to see the whole space from her strategic location. She recognized me: she has been my caseworker at the Emigration Service for the last three years. Completely naked, I approached her, fully dressed. She told me to report to her office first thing in the morning on Monday. She just got news that I was finally given an exit visa, a permission to leave Russia. She knew how much I have suffered as a refusenik, and how much it would mean to me. Indeed, the timeliness of that exit visa probably saved my life. She thought that she was doing me a favor. Yet, I felt no relief, no joy that I would finally have a future, that my life would now be sustained. All I felt was the profound misery and humiliation of being naked in front of someone in position of power over me. I did not think of her kindness, or of my radiant future. At that moment, all I wanted was to hide, to disappear, to escape, to run away as far as possible from this situation, from this indescribable vulnerability. I still feel shivers of that memory. Every time when I read B'reshit, I imagine what Adam and Eve must have felt when they were called to appear before God, naked. I think, they must have felt what I did, which is to be as far away from this place, this Garden of Eden, as humanly and divinely possible. And that was exactly what they got!

Shabbat Shalom.


i. "Dreams of Paradise: Learning in God's Image." © By Nessa Rapoport. Plenary Address at the Conference, Gender Issues in Jewish Day Schools. Brandeis University, February 1996. Published in 1997. © by The Women's Studies Program, Brandeis University. Janna Kaplan and Shulamit Reinharz, editors.
ii. All biblical quotations are from the JPS translation.
iii. Nessa Rapoport, ibid.