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B'reishit for Tweens: Two Adams

  • B'reishit for Tweens: Two Adams

    B'reishit, Genesis 1:1−6:8

In the biblical view, creation and history belong together. Creation is the foundation of a covenantal relationship between God and world and, in a specific and important sense, between God and Israel (Plaut, 23).

This parashah contains the story of the creation of the world, the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve's transgression and punishment, as well as Cain and Abel. The parashah swiftly recounts the passage of time, listing ten generations between Adam and Noah and then sets the stage for the flood by describing God's "heartsickness" at the wickedness of humanity.

Second Aliyah: Genesis 2:4-19

This aliyah is the first segment of the story of the Garden of Eden. After placing Adam in the garden and instructing him not to eat from the Tree of All Knowledge,

Then God Eternal considered, "It is not good that the man be aloneI will make him a help-mate" (2:18).

The second aliyah, which takes place in the Garden of Eden and differs from the first account in several ways, including:

  • Order: the earth and all that is in it, concluding with human beings vs. one human and then a garden and rivers
  • Language: the name of God is different in each story (Elohim is used in the first, whereas Adonai/Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey Elohim is used in the second)
  • Method: Male and female are created simultaneously vs. one human created from the earth and then a female counterpart is created out of Adam's rib.

The harmonization of these two stories constitutes an enormous challenge for students of Torah. Rabbi Ishmael outlined 13 principles for interpreting the biblical text, one of them being miklal ufrat, meaning moving from the general to the particular. Applying this principle to the stories of Creation, the following explanation emerges: the story in the garden is a "zooming in" on the particulars of the sixth day of Creation, described in Genesis 1:24-31.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soleveitchik, in his justifiably famous essay The Lonely Man of Faith, proposes a different explanation:

"The answer lies not in an alleged dual tradition but in dual man, not in an imaginary contradiction between two versions but in a real contradiction in the nature of man" (10).

Soleveitchik goes on to describe Adam the first and Adam the second as two types:

The first, "overwhelmed by one quest, namely, to harness and dominate the elemental natural forces and to put them at his disposal" (14); the second "wants to know: 'Why is it?' 'What is it?' Who is it?'" (21).

He explains that Adam the first is necessarily a member of community and is therefore created with a female counterpart, never alone. But the help-mate that Adam the second requires is different; "His quest is for a new kind of fellowship, which one finds in the existential community" (41), a spiritual community that searches for meaning together.

Rav Soleveitchik's complicated understanding of this parashah comes from an embracing of contradictions in the text, not a seeking for one answer in consistency. Biblical scholar Robert Alter warns us,

"If…we can escape the modern provincialism of assuming that ancient writers must be simple because they are ancient, it may be possible to see that the Genesis author chose to combine these two versions of creation precisely because he understood that his subject was essentially contradictory, essentially resistant to consistent linear formulation, and that this was his way of giving it the most adequate literary expression" (The Art of Biblical Narrative, 145).

Indeed, whose perspective on Creation, ancient or post-modern, is more sophisticated and instructive? We tend to look for a quick fix or a simple solution. We may think we have converted the opposition by silencing it. Again, Robert Alter:

"The biblical outlook is informed, I think, by a sense of stubborn contradiction, or a profound and ineradicable untidiness in the nature of things…" (154).

As we proceed to study Torah this year, let us search for questions more than answers, and find meaning in the lifelong discipline that involves accepting contradictions and embracing complexity.

To Talk About

  1. What are some big questions you wonder about?
  2. Each of us experiences the world in our own way. Look at a picture with a family member. Have each person write down what s/he thinks is happening in the picture and compare.
  3. When do you feel lonely, and what helps you feel less so?

To Do

There is often more than one way of telling a story, and each way teaches something different. Choose a story from the news and find different accounts of it, or choose two versions of the same fairy tale. Compare the stories and what each one teaches. Can both be "true"?

Reference Materials: 

B’reishit, Genesis 1:1-6:8 
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 18-55; Revised Edition, pp. 17-50; 
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 3-34

When do we read B'reishit

2020, October 17
29 Tishri, 5781
2021, October 2
26 Tishri, 5782
2022, October 22
27 Tishri, 5783
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