By Gloria Blum
Miki Raver wrote a wonderful book about the women in the Bible entitled, “Listen To Her.” I have taken the liberty of quoting her because she says exactly what I want to say as a preface to my drash.
“At first I felt guilty about applying my rebellious, contemporary perspective to the holy text. Now I know that I was creating midrash and following age-old tradition. Midrash is the interpretation and commentary that emerges from questioning what’s written in the Bible. It springs from the Hebrew word l’drash, meaning ‘to question.’ The Torah is layered with many levels of understanding, each word holding a vast number of meanings, all of which are true. The interpretive process is what gives the Bible its vitality and makes it a living, giving vessel. “For thousands of years, classic rabbinic midrash was created by men in study houses, while the women took care of the children and ran the family business. As a result, we have a highly respected body of interpretive literature that comes from an entirely male perspective, often reflecting a fear of the feminine and an investment in suppression of women. It was actually written in the Jerusalem Talmud that ‘the words of the Torah should be burnt rather than be taught to women.’ Blessedly, the golden age of feminism in the past three decades has brought a flourishing of midrash created by women. Women are adding compelling scholarly, psychological, and literary perspective to Torah. So long excluded, we are finally taking our place.”
Before embarking on the Creation of the Universe, I will share my modern day perspective of “The Creation of the Psyche,” based on the holiest of prayers, the Shema. My belief is that what is real is oneness and what is illusion is separateness. On the spiritual plane it has to be equal to be one.
In the beginning, the fetus knows no separation from its mother. When the mother feels anxious, the fetus feels anxious. When the mother feels content, the fetus feels content. After we are born, we know no separation from our mother. Her face, her breasts, her love and smiles are part of the baby’s presence with no awareness of separateness. As we grow up, we learn to differentiate ourselves from our environment. We begin to individuate and develop our own perspective and desires and will.
When we approach age two, we learn to speak and express our individuality by using the powerful word, “No!” we learned from our parents. We call this period the “terrible twos” because we are clearly separating ourselves from our parents. We are setting limits to our parents’ authority over us. By the way, wise parents will honor their child’s “no” if they want their son or daughter to become confident, independent and interdependent adults. As we grow up, we continue to individuate as we compete in school, make friends and select aspects of people’s personae to add to the creation of our personality choosing how to appear in society.
As we grow up, we continue to individuate seeking and creating identities which define us in our search for our self as we separate from others. We learn some skills and leave home to attend school or work where we judge ourselves and others, compete, experience a need for exclusivity, while we experience jealousy and failure as we compare ourselves to our peers often feeling alone, forsaken and left out of the flow of life. As the individual, we have become aware of a craving for the giving and receiving of love and oneness. As we grow spiritually, we begin to realize that the separation of trying to prove our individuality doesn’t feel good any more….in fact, it’s lonely and is no longer fulfilling.
We then begin to undo the patterns of individuation to come back to the oneness we crave which feels more genuine and comforting than separateness. We decide to stop competing to try to prove ourselves worthy of other’s approval, we deliberately stop judging others and ourselves, we take responsibility for uncomfortable feelings of separation such as jealousy and interpret it as a need to feel included and be part of the whole.
As we evolve back into the gift of oneness, the gift of Hashem, we accept our parents and incorporate within ourselves a beneficent mother and father that can be trusted to nourish the child within and we begin to feel whole and part of something greater than our small self. We feel part of our large Self exploring towards unconditional oneness with others and within the Self.
The Book of Genesis is God’s way of giving his children stories to read and tell and retell. In the retelling we gain, hopefully, insight into our personal story. As Jack Shuster reminds us,”Everything in the Torah is true and some of it might have even happened.”
I begin my drash-Midrash without further ado. In the beginning God gave birth to wondrous creation. The Holy One created water, light, the firmament (that which is firm), the planets, the fish, the animals and the birds and the insects. The Holy One created the miracle of life from nothing. And it was good. Yet, the Creator was not satisfied. This Supreme Being reflected… (imagine God reflecting!) “As full as I am is as empty as I feel… I will create human life in my own image … a special gift with potential beyond the animals and birds in my garden to be my children and to be my co-creators. Creation must ignite a sense of appreciation and inspire another life to create with me.”
The Bible has two versions of Eve’s creation. In chapter one of Genesis, woman was created simultaneously and equally with man, as the feminine half of an androgynous whole. In chapter two of Genesis, we find another description. Here the Creator made the human fall into a deep, trance-like sleep and built a woman from the side of the primordial being. Although the biological fact is that man comes from woman, the second version revised this truth to reinforce the supremacy of men.
God equally created man – Adam, and woman – Lilith, from the same flesh. Adam fought to control the wild impulsive, passionate, free-spirit of Lilith but she fought back with equal fervor with her strength and will. They fought about everything from independent free time exploring to Lilith insisting that when they make love, that she be on top so that she would be closer to God.
Things got out of Adam’s control and Lilith decided that she could and would not live in the Garden of Eden with Adam except on her terms: equality, respect and freedom. Adam refused her terms and she left the Garden to pursue her path.
Adam felt lonely and incomplete. He longed for her, his playmate, his equal. God intervened and sent three angels Senoy, Sansenoy and Smangelop to the Sea of Reeds to convince Lilith to return to Adam.
Lilith sent the messengers back with her reply, “I will return only with agreement on the terms of: equality, respect and freedom.”
Adam refused her terms and sulked as he became lonely and unhappy in God’s paradise. God had rachmonus/compassion for him as a parent would for their child and as Adam slept, God created another companion from Adam’s rib with the hope that Adam would be happy with his woman, Eve, at his side. The name Eve, is also Chava from chai, which means life source of spiritual being.
Adam awoke the next morning with Eve sleeping at his side. He was in shock! Who was this strange ugly creature? Initially, he was repelled by her appearance after comparing her to the only woman he ever knew: a seductive willful Lilith who lived for herself and her instincts… without him.
Eventually, Adam got used to Eve and began to appreciate her. Adam found it easier to control Eve; she was in awe of him and did as he said without question, which made Adam feel powerful and made life easier for Adam but, truthfully, less satisfying. In spite of himself, he missed Lilith and her contrary ways. In anger, he vowed to himself that she must suffer consequences for her independent action… as did the Torah scholars who wrote Lilith out of the Genesis story, to prevent her from influencing future generations of potentially independent females. These men created horror stories about Lilith so that she and her attributes of equality, passion, independence, impulsive and unpredictable behavior would be blotted out or prevented in future generations. The men were frightened to allow women power over them or themselves.
Women were lowly possessions to be controlled with no rights, no influence, no education and no say. Stories were spread to demonize Lilith as a baby killer or the curse of pain during menses and birth. Men were terrified to fall asleep with all the horror stories about this seductive shedemon pouncing on them while they were defenseless. It was whispered that she would entice them to experience forbidden sexual pleasure only to awaken alone, terrified and wet as she flew off to raise seductive havoc with other men vulnerably asleep. The horror stories were embellished for everyone to believe and fear and push Lilith away like the devil Satan.
So, here’s Lilith getting a bad rap while she’s living a solo free life and Adam is back in the Garden of Eden with Eve. Life is divine for Adam. He has a good-enough playmate who doesn’t challenge him, it’s safe in his Father’s garden of perfection and he’s happy enough until… Eve has been thinking… this tree… this kapu/forbidden tree… oh hum… I’m feeling bored in this
Garden… it’s always the same-same here… I want something different… something new. Adam hears her but doesn’t pay much attention as she rambles on. Eventually, Adam nudges Eve with his elbow, “Stop thinking so much. Stop talking so much. Same-same is all there is, Eve.”
Eve ponders and responds, “I don’t know… I want more, don’t you, Adam?” Irritated, Adam shouts at her, “There is no more. We have everything right here in our Father’s garden. Eve
brightens up, “Well, if we have EVERYTHING in our Father’s garden, what about this tree with red fruit which you named apple? I’ll have that!” Adam came to full attention. “Everything BUT that tree, Eve!”
“Why?” she asked. “Because…” he tentatively replied. “Because why?” she bravely asked. “Because He said so!,” he nodded with finality. “Well,” she asserted, “I don’t find that answer satisfying and I want to either know why I shouldn’t taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge or I want to know the taste of something new and something… forbidden. Adam, haven’t you longed for something new and unknown? I feel excited by the prospect of knowing something different something unpredictable… I want to know more… this hunger I feel… Couldn’t it be a good thing? Just the thought excites me to see, taste and know more. I sense there’s more than we have here. I have this closed-in feeling that we are locked up in half of our lives never moving ahead…
In a stand-still, same-same everyday, every minute of our lives. I want to know how that apple will feel in my hand, how my teeth and tongue will feel as I bite into its substance as I chew it and feel its texture and taste the juice in my mouth… to feel it slide down my throat into my waiting belly… Adam, would you like to know more? Feel more? See and hear and smell more?”
Adam, for the first time, felt mesmerized by her sensuous vision but then he was reminded of Lilith and how she left looking for more. He blurted out, “No!” But it was too late, her teeth bit into the apple, tongue slurping the juices, her eyes opening in surprise and delight. Her face transformed into an expression of ecstatic pleasure as she appeared to Adam that she had become bigger and brighter. She handed him her apple to share. “It’s divine, have a taste.” Still mesmerized by this new entry into the unknown, he took a bite and knew the bliss of the new experience he witnessed on Eve’s face.
Suddenly, Adam felt himself shrinking smaller, cold, awkward, separate, orphaned and humbled.
In his despair he looked at Eve glowing in her new found sensation of the apple. She stopped chewing, looked at Adam as his appearance shrank in shame and asked, “Are you cold? You look so blue… and you’re covering yourself with your hands!” She gazed into his eyes and saw a strange, unnatural, distant expression. “Adam,” she asked, “what’s come over you? You look strange. You remind me of a trapped fearful animal… are you… still you?”
Adam ran away from her and hid. Eve assumed he was playing a hide-and-go-seek game and began her search but Adam didn’t want to be found. He wanted to stay lost and not found by HER. Eve wasn’t used to Adam being away from her so long. With the satisfying feeling of fullness in her stomach, she lay in the sun and fell asleep. As she slept she dreamt of a woman, a strong woman, a wise and knowing sensuous woman named Lilith who appeared with an owl on her shoulder. She kissed Eve gently on the forehead and said, “All is well gentle woman. You are now free to begin your journey outside your Father’s garden. You are good, you are equal and you are free to be wherever and whomever you choose.”
Eventually, Adam recovered after mourning the completion of his years in his Father’s garden where life was easy, safe and under control, into the life that Lilith had chosen where life was filled with knowledge, newness, fear, curiosity and challenges.
Since then we see a history of our forefathers who willingly or unwillingly left their father’s home. Lilith was the unrecorded first to choose to leave Gan Eden. Then Adam and Eve adventured forth onto uncharted paths later to banish their son Cain for killing his brother Abel.
Then the Torah brings us Noah who had to leave his home in an ark to journey into the unknown while the rest of mankind drowned in the flood. Then later, God sifted through humanity to find his jewel, Abraham, whom He commanded to leave Uhr and his father Terach’s home. Later, Abraham’s son Ishmael was banished from his home to start his own tribe. Next, Jacob was forced to leave Isaac and Rebecca’s home for betraying his brother and father. Joseph was forced out of his father’s home by his jealous brothers who sold him into slavery. And again, Jacob found
it necessary to leave the home of his uncle Laban (who was also his father-in-law) with his wives and children and grandchildren. Moses and his Jewish followers had to leave the security of slavery in the land of the Pharaoh to journey for 40 years through the unknown desert. Isn’t it interesting that we celebrate Passover as a reminder that we need always to be ready to leave our home and belongings for life’s sake.
[To the congregation:] Raise your hand if you chose to leave your parents’ home or garden to venture off into the unknown. Raise your hand if you’re glad you took the risks. Amen.