As we begin again the annual cycle of reading the Torah, we are reminded that our Torah, like much of the Jewish literary tradition, speaks in multiple voices. Already in the very beginning — that is, In the beginning… — we are presented with two very different versions of the world and perhaps even more important, two very different accounts of the creation of women.

The first of these versions (Gen. 1:1-2:4a) is the one with a description of what was created on each of the six days, and how God rested on the seventh day. In that tradition, at the very end of the sixth day, we read of Adam/humanity (Gen. 1:27):

We understand that Adam must refer to the human species because the text points out that both male and female were created. This text is wonderful for teaching the foundations of gender equality: Each and every human being, whether woman or man, was (and continues to
be) created in the image of God. Equally so.

But this first creation story is less helpful when it comes to developing healthy loving relationships between genders since it seems to focus solely on procreation (Gen. 1:28):

In the second rendition of the creation narrative (Gen. 2:4b025) however, the earth, still barren and without vegetation, needs rain, and someone to tend it. This presents the context in which the “Lord God” (as opposed to “God” in the first version) is motivated to create Adam/the man
(Gen. 2:7):

Once vegetation has been provided for the earth, the Lord God moves on to a new challenge:

Only after the Creator’s first attempt to make a fitting helper for Adam/the mans by producing a variety of animals from the earth, fails to solve the problem of Adam’s loneliness, does the Lord God try a different tactic:

Of course, this tradition troubles us with its chauvinistic claim that women are dependent upon men for their existence. For this reason, one might prefer the first creation story, with its message of gender equality. But that first story is equally challenging: it might lead to the
conclusion that men and women were created solely for the purpose of having babies together. But while both versions of humanity’s roots are problematic, they carry valuable messages of gender equality and companionship.

Avraham bar Ya’akov, Amsterdam, c.1700, Gross Family Collection, Tel Aviv

For the past 2,500 years these two opening chapters of the Hebrew Bible have taught us about interpersonal relationships. Procreation is indeed important, though not every couple is able, or even desires, to bring children into the world. And so, we are compelled to find other possible
interpretations of God’s commandment to be fruitful and multiply. Surrogacy, adoption might come to mind, but in truth, any kind of meaningful interaction with other human beings might lead to the growth of community, society and humankind. Likewise, as the second story teaches us, it is simply not good for Adam/any person to be alone. We all belong in social relationships – intimate or otherwise.

Shabbat Shalom

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