Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Marriage and Relationships
To dedicate this lesson
(or Where the devil comes in)

To Connect or Divide

Was Chava formed from Adam's rib, or was rather separated from his backside. What is the meaning of such a process?


Rabbi Chaim Tabasky

2 min read
There appears in Breishit Rabba a strange and provocative midrash. Its strangeness is present both in the content and the method of the short comment, and at first blush suggests a chauvinistic stance. An in depth analysis of this section yields some profound insights into the development of creation and the nature of man.

The midrash comments on the second chapter of Breishit, verse 21:

בראשית פרק ב
(כא) וַיַּפֵּל יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהִים תַּרְדֵּמָה עַל הָאָדָם וַיִּישָׁן וַיִּקַּח אַחַת מִצַּלְעֹתָיו וַיִּסְגֹּר בָּשָׂר תַּחְתֶּנָּה:
(כב) וַיִּבֶן יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהִים אֶת הַצֵּלָע אֲשֶׁר לָקַח מִן הָאָדָם לְאִשָּׁה וַיְבִאֶהָ אֶל הָאָדָם:
21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the place with flesh instead thereof. 22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from the man, made He a woman, and brought her unto the man.

Concerning the word ויסגר – He closed up – the midrash says:
פרשה יז
ו א"ר חנינא בריה דר' אידי מתחלת הספר ועד כאן אין כתיב סמ"ך כיון שנבראת נברא שטן עמה, ואם יאמר לך אדם, הוא הסובב, תאמר לו בנהרות הכתוב מדבר
Rabbi Chanina the son of Rabbi Idi said: From the beginning of the Torah until this verse there is no (letter) samech. (This teaches) once she was created the Satan was created with her. And if someone should quote to you: הסובב, say to him "that refers to rivers."

First the midrash claims that the letter samech in the word ויסגר is the first samech in the Torah. If one would object that there is a prior samech (actually two samechs appear in the same second chapter of Breishit, verses 11 and 13), the midrash counters that the first one doesn't count, since it is in the context of rivers (in which the Satan is apparently not involved), rather than human beings. The earlier samechs are in the section identifying the four rivers that have their sources in Eden. In regard to the first two rivers we read:

בראשית פרק ב
(יא) שֵׁם הָאֶחָד פִּישׁוֹן הוּא הַסֹּבֵב אֵת כָּל אֶרֶץ הַחֲוִילָה אֲשֶׁר שָׁם הַזָּהָב:
(יב) וּזֲהַב הָאָרֶץ הַהִוא טוֹב שָׁם הַבְּדֹלַח וְאֶבֶן הַשֹּׁהַם:
(יג) וְשֵׁם הַנָּהָר הַשֵּׁנִי גִּיחוֹן הוּא הַסּוֹבֵב אֵת כָּל אֶרֶץ כּוּשׁ:

11 The name of the first is Pishon; the one that encircles (or encompasses, or wanders through) the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
12 and the gold of that land is good; there is bdellium and the onyx stone.
13 And the name of the second river is Gihon; the one that encircles the whole land of Cush.

The purpose of the identification of the rivers that stem from Eden is obscure. Some commentaries see these rivers as the source of blessing and bounty for the world. As it were, these rivers connect the far reaches of the earth with paradise. For ancient man, the river was not only a source of food and irrigation, but also the means of transportation and communication. The river was a means of connecting with people and places.

The use of the word "sovev" to describe the path of rivers is critical. Professor Hans-Henrik Stolum of Cambridge University has calculated the ratio of the actual length of the flow of the rivers to the distance of rivers from source to mouth as the crow flies . On the average, the ratio is 3.14 (assuming certain topographical conditions). 3.14, an approximation of Pi, is also the ratio of a circle to its diameter. In other words, the average length of the flow of a river is sufficient to circumscribe a circle around the distance from source to end. One might say that a river can run circles around itself. It is fascinating that the first description of a river in Biblical literature has it "sovev"- encircling or wandering around.

Now, to understand the significance of the midrash, we will first look at the letter samech itself. The samech is a circle, and as such it has two opposing qualities. The line of the samech has no beginning and no end, and as such may symbolize infinity and the connection of all points of that circular stroke. Like the rivers, the samech is sovev, it encircles, goes around and connects.

The samech also represents division and separation. The inside of the samech is divided from the outside. The circular line not only connects, but also divides (as sometimes a river forms a border). A point on the line of the samech is connected to all other points on the line; a point off the line, either inside or outside finds itself set apart from that which is on the other side.

Remarkably, the first two usages of this letter in the Torah reflect these two qualities. The samech is sovev and soger – it connects and divides, as do many aspects of each man's identity. We will shortly return to this point.

Another midrash will contribute to our understanding of the entry of the satan into human experience. In the first chapter of Breishit we find:

כז) וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָם)
G-d created the man in His image, in the Divine image did He create him, male and female He created them.
Since the actual forming of woman is reported only in the second chapter, the midrash suggests that in the first stage of creation man and woman were connected.

בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשה ח

א"ר שמואל בר נחמן בשעה שברא הקב"ה את אדם הראשון דיו פרצופים בראו, ונסרו ועשאו גביים גב לכאן וגב לכאן
Rav Shmuel bar Nachman said, When G-d created Adam, He made him with two faces (that is, connected at the back or side, like Siamese twins); then He sawed them apart and made two backs, one on this side and one on the other.

According to this view, Chava was not formed from Adam's rib, but was rather separated from his backside. What is the meaning of such a process? Why would the Almighty create man in such a way?

I suggest that the midrash is teaching a fundamental lesson concerning the relationship between man and woman, indeed between all human beings. There is a relationship that might be referred to as "back to back". This is a type of partnership or cooperative endeavor that requires coordination, but not mutual recognition. Both parties face the world; each is responsible for the others well being; each is dependent on the other's good will. Each, as it were, watches out for the other's back, but the two never meet face to face. There is certainly no intimacy, and commitment, to the extent that it exists, is based on self interest.

An example of such a relationship is the case of partners in a business endeavor. One manages production, while the other is responsible for marketing. Each is dependent on the other's accomplishments, yet each is involved in an independent, and on occasion conflicting, concern. The success of their mutual endeavor rides on the coordination of these concerns, but it does not necessitate personal interaction except at the level of technical consultation. The concern for the common endeavor often forces disregard of personal feelings of friendship and compassion. Though this should not be the case, the conflict between the needs of the business and the inner well being of the individual often ar at odds with one another.

In order to facilitate the meeting of Adam and Chava in a new relationship, G-d rips asunder the old one. In order to meet face to face, Adam and Chava must be prevented from continuing their connection back to back. To meet his mate, Adam must be separated from Chava. He must learn to live alone, independently, he must experience himself as an individual with a differentiated identity

In the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas it is the meeting of the Other, face to face, that represents the connection to the inner being of another person and therefore is the essence of the human experience. Moreover, the confrontation with the Other face to face gives birth to responsibility for that which is outside of one's self, and this for Levinas is the basis of all morality. The face to face encounter, according to Levinas, is a non symmetrical relationship in that my responsibility for the other is not predicated on a reciprocal commitment. Even if my fellow can do nothing for me - precisely because he can do nothing for me - I am responsible.

The relationship between Torah and a morality based on the human condition is well beyond the scope of this study. Suffice it to say that the phrase דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה -
literally the way of the world precedes Torah, finds a very real manifestation in the appearance of Adam's new relationship to Chava before the Torah presents the confrontation between Chava and the serpent, and the challenge to fulfill the commandment of G-d.

At the moment that the Almighty provides the opportunity for this new and heightened awareness of the potentials and pitfalls of the human situation, He also denies the possibility for retreat to the old mode of human partnership. וַיִּסְגֹּר בָּשָׂר תַּחְתֶּנָּה G-d has closed up the wound; He has also closed off the escape route. As it were, Adam is symbolically instructed that he cannot regress to the previous relationship. Rather a new connection with Chava must be discovered and consolidated.

It is here, at this moment in human development, that the Satan enters the picture. In Chumash, the root ש-ט-נ means both accusation and obstruction. We find in the case of Bilaam that the angel blocked the path of the mule (Bamidbar 22;22):

וַיִּתְיַצֵּב מַלְאַךְ יְקֹוָק בַּדֶּרֶךְ לְשָׂטָן לוֹ
An angel of the Lord stood on the road to block his path.
Similarly (Breishit 26;21):
וַיַּחְפְּרוּ בְּאֵר אַחֶרֶת וַיָּרִיבוּ גַּם עָלֶיהָ וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמָהּ שִׂטְנָה
They dug another well, and also argued about this one, and they named it "Sitnah" – strife, obstruction, blockage.

In our case, by separating Chava from Adam, G-d provides the opportunity for man's fulfillment, by allowing Adam to meet his Other face to face. But there is the rub. This meeting demands of each partner the willingness to seek out the other's inner essence. That search requires not only sensitivity and compassion, but also the willingness to undergo emotional pain, to honestly face the deepest truths of one's own heart, and to bear the responsibility of that truth.

The samech can represent the flight from connection with one's inner life. The attempt to escape from one's own soul prevents true connection to the inner world of the beloved. The relationship will be shallow, literally "skin deep", incapable of growing and flowering. The samech is also the sovev, the infinity of the bond between lovers and spouses. The samech is the flowing river of life that gives nourishment to our existence, but also succor to our wounds. Every man, and especially every couple starting family life, is faced with the choice, every day, in every meeting and in every glance, whether the encounter will be as "ships passing in the night", or a blending of inner worlds. By closing the wound of Adam, G-d has instructed us to reach for that inner infinite bond.
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