Saturday, October 6, 2018

Parashat Bereshit: "Love is Separateness"

"Love is Separateness"
Thoughts on Bereshit 2018
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But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you (Kahlil Gibran)[1]

Shortly after their creation, Adam and Hava were punished for disobeying God’s command not to eat from the ess ha-da’at. Hava was cursed with a future of painful childbirths and subservience to her husband – “And for your man shall be your longing, and he shall rule over you” (3:16), and Adam was destined to a life of difficult labor – “Cursed be the soil for your sake…By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread” (3:18-19).

The central theme of their punishments is separation. The unity that Adam and Hava had previously shared with one another and with the ground of their origins was now shattered.  For inappropriately seeking to unify with God in their endeavor to be “as gods knowing good and evil” (3: 5), they were cursed with separation.

While Adam and Hava erred in their specific act against God’s word, their passion to connect with Him and to one another was seemingly positive. Indeed, Moshe later commanded us to connect to God – “For if you indeed keep all this command…to walk in His ways and to cleave to Him…” (Devarim 11:22). And after Hava’s creation the Torah declared, “Therefore does a man leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife and they become one flesh” (2:24). What, then, was God’s purpose in pronouncing upon them a future life of separation?

Psychologist and best-selling author M. Scott Peck wrote:
Although the act of nurturing another’s spiritual growth has the effect of nurturing one’s own, a major characteristic of genuine love is that the distinction between oneself and the other is always maintained and preserved. The genuine lover always perceives the beloved as someone who has a totally separate identity.
Peck noted the extraordinary narcissism inherent in perceiving the other as yourself. Preventing their individual growth and success, it rids them of self-value. In the political realm it would manifest in pure capitalism, which espouses the destiny of the individual even at the expense of society. It would suggest that starving widows and orphans shouldn’t prevent you from ever enjoying the fruits of your labor. Pure communism, in contrast, considers only the destiny of the state while that of the individual is of no consequence. Expressing that “love is separateness,” Peck wrote that healthy relationships and sustainable political frameworks must carefully balance a perspective of distinction within their context of communion. [2]

Consider, in this context, a remarkable Midrash. Whereas the first perek in Bereshit describes a separate creation of man and woman – “And God created the human in his image…male and female he created them” (1:27), the second perek tells that Hava was in fact formed from a rib of Adam (2:21-22). Rashi quoted the Hakhamim’s resolution: “God created man with two faces at the original creation and afterward divided him.”[3] Perhaps this “two-stage” creation teaches the lesson of ideal relationships. Although our shared love draws us to one another, the friendship must nonetheless progress with a mutual respect for the space and individuality of the other.

Indeed, God described His inspiration to create Hava for Adam as an ezer ke-negdo – “a helper against him” (2:18). Their bond was built upon this delicate coexistence of intimacy and distance.

Prior to eating from ess ha-da’at, Adam and Hava were inseparable. We are never told of any words spoken as Hava approached Adam with the fruit of the tree – “And she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave to her man, and he ate” – because there was no need for a conversation at that time. Once her decision was made, so too was Adam’s. If one of the partners partook in the fruit it was presumed that the other would as well. And it was in that very act that they sought full unity with God, as well. Outstretching their arms for the fruit on the tree they hoped to tear down the boundaries that existed between them and become “as gods.”

Confronted by God for their sin, Adam and Hava quickly learned about separateness. Adam spoke up: “The woman whom you gave by me, she gave me from the tree and I ate” (3:12). Deflecting the blame from himself, he pointed to Hava, whom he now described as apart from himself. And their ensuing punishments concretized this reality. Man was separated from his familiar origins – Adam from adamah, and the future of spousal relationships lost its balance – “And he shall rule over you.”

Adam and Hava then learned that genuine love respects the individuality of the other. They understood that “love is separateness.”

[1] The Prophet (New York, NY, 1951), pg. 15. Cited in M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled (New York, NY, 1978), pg. 168.
[2] The Road Less Traveled, pg. 160-9.
[3] Commentary of Rashi to Bereshit 1:27, s.v. zakhar.