Sunday, October 18, 2020

Parashat Bereshit: Divine Creativity

Divine Creativity

Thoughts on Parashat Bereshit 2020

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The Torah’s initial story of human engagement with God has long captured our minds and imaginations. Adam and Hava’s eating from the ess ha-da’at is consistently discussed in debates about human will, our tendencies and the nature of our relationships. Searching the Torah for contextual clues regarding the core lesson of this story, however, is somewhat puzzling. Immediately before it detailed their eating from the tree, the Torah referenced Adam and Hava’s unabashed nakedness (Bereshit 2:25). And just after their “eyes were opened” after consumption, it told how Adam and Hava were ashamed of their nakedness, sewing girdles to cover it (3:7). What is the relevance of nakedness and clothing to the Torah’s story about the folly of its first human beings?


Let us begin with the desire to eat from ess ha-da’at. The serpent revealed to Hava that by eating from the tree, “Your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as God, knowing good and evil” (3:5). God had already shown His way of determining “good” after each day of creation, when He consistently “saw that it was good.” And Hava likewise followed her desire to “be as God,” as she gazed at the tree and “saw that the tree was good for food” (3:6). Fundamentally, though, God’s determination of “good” after each of the first days represented His completed creation. And so too, then, Adam and Hava’s desire to “be like God” was, as Rashi wrote, “to craft worlds.”[1] It was a desire to create.


Ironically, the idyllic atmosphere of Gan Eden stunted the creative expressions of Adam and Hava. They dwelled in the tranquility of a perfect world which was in no need of human achievements. Adam and Hava were never confronted by challenge. But crafted in the “image of God” (1:27), they wanted to create.[2] And so, by determining the “goodness” of the tree, taking from its fruit to eat, they willingly entered into the divine realm of creation. 


And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves girdles. (3:7)

Predictably, Adam and Hava’s first action after eating from the tree was a creation. The purpose of that specific creation, though, was significant, as well. Nakedness is shameful in a world that seeks the challenge of creativity. “The primal experience of Adam and Eve was without time lag, in a direct spontaneous, and uninhibited mode of desire,” Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg wrote, “hence, the ‘shameless’ quality.”[3] The sheer revelation of one’s body to others is direct and poses no barriers of obstruction. It is antithetical to the life that Adam and Hava sought.  “Clothing, a human addition to nature, at first hides the sexual from view,” Leon Kass wrote, “An obstacle is symbolically presented to immediate gratification of lust.”[4] It is no wonder, then, that clothing was their first creation in that new world of creation.


Adam and Hava’s subsequent banishment from Gan Eden continued their journey to divine creativity. “A life of meaningfulness is marked by challenges and adversity,” R. Zvi Grumet wrote, “In the Garden there is fruit ready to eat and no need for shelter; outside the Garden people need to toil to produce food and find shelter for themselves.”[5] Outside of Eden, Adam and Hava were introduced to a world that was rich in challenge: “Thorn and thistle shall it [the ground] sprout for you” (3:18). Human beings were now faced with the task of creation “by the sweat of his brow” (3:19). And their partnership with God – as creators – had begun.


Indeed, the Rabbis taught that our partnership with God is manifested with the conception of babies – “There are three partners in [the creation of] a person – God, father and mother.”[6] And it is in that light, then, that we may understand the immediate response to banishment from the Garden: “And Adam knew Hava his wife; and she conceived and bore Cain, and said: I have gotten a man with God” (4:1)[7]


The story of Adam and Hava’s eating from ess ha-da’at teaches about the innermost drives of human beings. It reveals how each of us possesses an innate passion to create. Distracted by the trappings of comfort and complacency, we risk the surrender to a life a stagnancy and stunted growth. Properly focused, however, our will “to be like God” can drive us to the creative overcoming of one challenge after the next.

[1] Commentary of Rashi to Bereshit 3:5, s.v. ve-he’yitem.

[2] See, e.g., R. Hayyim of Volozhin, Nefesh HaHayim 1:1-3.

[3] Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconsciousness (New York, NY, 2009), pg. 15.

[4] Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (Chicago, IL 2003), pg. 109.

[5] R. Zvi Grumet, Genesis: From Creation to Covenant (New Milford, CT, 2017), pg. 54.

[6] Kiddushin 30b.

[7] Cf. Commentary of Radak ad loc. for an elaboration of this point.