Now Bereisheet, the very first chapter in the Torah, is an immensely deep and rich text, with many fascinating sub plots, and a correspondingly enormous amount of interpretation through the ages. But given the limited time, and in honour of the aufruf, I would like to focus today on the creation of man and woman, and the creation of marriage.
And it is very fitting that the Torah portion on their aufruf is Bereisheet.
Under the chuppah, the bride will circle the groom seven times, and some say it symbolizes the seven days of creation, because the bride and groom are creating a new world together.
And under the chuppah, there will be recited the sheva brachot, the seven blessings of marriage, also reflecting the seven days of creation. And in 5 of these blessings is the word Boreh, barah – “creation”, or Yotzer, or Yatzar, which also means “to create”.
And in the fifth blessing, it says: שמח תשמח רעים האהובים, כשמחך יצירך בגן עדן מקדם. ברוך אתה ה', משמח חתן וכלהSamech tisameach re’im ahuvim, k’samach’cha yitzirecha b’gan Eden M’kedem”. “Grant perfect joy to these loving companions, as you did your first creations in the Garden of Eden” [Blessed are You, LORD, who grants the joy of groom and bride]
So there is a very close connection between Jewish marriage, and the creation of humans, male and female, in the story of Bereisheet. So as these young people prepare to stand together under a chuppah, let us see what we can learn from our Torah narrative.
The first point to note is that the creation of marriage is intimately linked to the creation of humankind, and the creation of men and women. In the Torah, marriage makes its appearance, not as a law promulgated by Moses, or even as a commandment, but right from the very beginning, as a Divine blessing, part of the creation of humankind.
But when we read about the creation of humankind in Bereisheet, it is very noteworthy that there is not one account of the creation of humanity, but two.
In Bereisheet Chapter 1, we read, at Verse 26:And God said, "Let us make ha-Adam in our image, after our likeness, and they shall rule … over all the earth…
(27) And God created Adam in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them; But then, in Bereisheet, Chapter 2, beginning at Verse 7, we read:(7) And God formed man from the dust of the earth, and He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being…
(18) And the Lord God said, "It is not good that man is alone; I will make a fitting helper for him."
There is much commentary on these two different versions of the creation of humanity. The great modern Orthodox rabbi Soloveitchik (whose teachings I learned with Tamar when she was preparing for exams in Grade 12 at CHAT) has written extensively on these two versions of man, Adam 1 and Adam 2. To give a very succinct summary, Soloveitchik sees Adam 1 as creative, majestic, utilitarian man, gifted with dominion over the world, and this is the man that flies to the moon in a spaceship. But Adam 2 is the lonely man, who struggles to overcome a sense of incompleteness and inadequacy, a frail human adrift in the universe, in a quest for redemption.
But for our purposes today, the other distinction is this: when God first created Adam 1, “male and female He created them”, “… and he gave THEM dominion over the world, and he blessed THEM”. But in Adam 2, God created a single man, and then from the man, he creates woman. “And God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept, and He took one of his sides, and He closed the flesh in its place; And God built the side that He had taken from man into a woman, and He brought her to man.”
And our sages have struggled to address this apparent inconsistency in the story of human creation: Adam 1, male and female He created them; and Adam 2, God built the side that He had taken from man into a woman.
For Rashi, this is not a contradiction. In Rashi’s understanding, these are two sequential depictions of the same event. When God created Adam, male and female, they were actually two halves of a single body, Janus-like. Says Rashi: “They were created with two faces, two sides”. And then, in Adam 2, when God formed Woman from one of Adam’s “tzlaot”, Rashi interprets Tzela, which is sometimes translated as “a rib”, to be a side. Rashi quotes a proof text from Exodus, in which the SIDE of the Tabernacle is described as “Tzela haMishkan”. The original human had two faces, two sides; one became man, the other woman. Hence, man and woman were created as equal in stature.And Hazal (in Kiddushin) compare a man’s quest for a mate to that of one seeking a lost article. Marriage, and its sexual consummation, is seen as a restoration of a primordial state of oneness. Therefore, a person must seek wholeness not only through personal integration, but also through his or her relationship with a partner.And this understanding adds dimension to the very first utterance of Adam, which is the very first utterance of humanity, which is not a sentence, but a poem. A love poem of sorts. The Man says, of Woman: “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”.And if the marriage of man and woman is the reuniting of two halves of a whole, it also gives another dimension to the phrase in Verse 24, “and they shall become one flesh.”
Of course there are other interpretations of “Become one flesh”. For Rashi, it refers to another form of creation: a child. A child is formed by both the man and the woman, and in their child, their flesh becomes one flesh.
Clearly, the perpetuation of the species by sexual reproduction is necessary, and God, in Bereisheet, calls this creative fecundity “very good”.
But why was marriage created? All other animals perpetuate their species without getting married. And here, the Torah in Bereisheet gives a very simple, 5-word explanation: lo tov heyot ha-adam le’vado – it is not good for the human to be alone.Throughout the story of Creation in Bereisheet, God says that things are good. “God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. And God saw the light that it was good” and so on.And here, for the very first time, God says about something: it is NOT good. What is not good? For the human to be alone.Therefore, Bereisheet Chapter 2 concludes, “a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Of course, another interpretation of “become one flesh” is sexual intimacy. And there is debate among the sages whether eating of the tree of Knowledge refers to the end of sexual innocence. Some, like Rambam, say the Tree of Knowledge was “carnal knowledge”, and note that immediately after eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve become aware of their nakedness. And indeed, the Biblical Hebrew term for sex is “to know,” as in Chapter 4, after Adam and Eve had left the Garden of Eden, “And the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain”. But Rashi does not agree. He does an analysis of the Hebrew text (past perfect) to show that they were already having relations in the Garden of Eden, and they were happy. And this indeed is suggested in the Sheva Brachot, “Grant perfect joy to these loving companions, as you did to your first human creations in the Garden of Eden”. And indeed Judaism has no place for celibacy, and sees marriage as the proper state of being for men and women.
But there is a sense in which the tree of Knowledge, and knowing, does have a connection to intimacy:
Iggeret ha-Kodesh, a Kabalistic work written in the second half of the twelfth century, is based on the concept that marital intimacy is holy. And in the kabalistic view, there is an identification of male and female with the qualities of mind known respectively as hokhmah and binah, “Wisdom” and “Understanding”; the male quality of the mind is seen as Chochmah, or wisdom, the female quality of the mind is seen as Binah, or Understanding. And from a kabalistic perspective, sexual union, known as da’at, “knowledge”, is a merger or synthesis of these two kinds of knowing.
And so I say to the young couple, tomorrow, under the chuppah, as you circle, or are circled, seven times, as you hear the seven blessings of marriage, recalling creation, as you set off to build a Jewish home, as you combine your different ways of knowing, your wisdom and your understanding, know too that you are continuing in the great divine project of human creation October 18, 2014