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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Bereshit

Parashat Bereshit

The Beginning of Inter-Gender Relationships

Rabbi Yossef Carmel26 Tishrei 5766
Dedicated to the memory of
Asher Ben Haim
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Our parasha deals extensively with the fundamental issue of relationships between men and women and the natural outcome of their relationships and relations, bringing offspring into the world. The Torah’s first description of the encounter between man and woman is as follows: "Hashem built the rib that He took from the man (Ha’adam) into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And the man said: ‘This time it is a bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh. This shall be called woman (isha) for from man (ish) she was taken.’ Therefore, shall a man leave his mother and father and cling to his woman, and they shall be one flesh" (Bereishit 2: 22-24).

In these p’sukim Adam is called for the time, "ish" (man), which is the primary word for a member of the male gender (as opposed to ha’adam, which is related to Adam’s specific name). Chava (Eve) is generally called "the woman," especially after the great sin, when she was decreed to suffer difficulties in childbearing (ibid. 3:16). Her given name, Chava, is also related to her role as the bearer of future generations of humans. Indeed, most of the description of human history throughout the parasha relates to the birth of children. (Note that the word, "toldot," refers both to begetting children and to history.) At the end of the parasha, there is an account of the powerful males who improperly grabbed women at will and had powerful sons. In total the verb for having children (yalad) appears in our parasha over forty times.

Before addressing the lessons behind these facts, let us observe another couple of things. In discussing man and woman in the "first perek," the Torah does not use the terms of ish and isha but the colder, more scientific terms of zachar (male) and n’keiva (female). The very end of the parasha describes Hashem’s "regret" at making man and His decision to erase all life on the face of the earth. This matter cannot be separated from the story of sexual impropriety that directly precedes these p’sukim. As Chazal tell us, humans’ failure to keep the rules of sexual conduct caused the problem to spread to the rest of creation. Animals began mating with other species, and even vegetation did not always reproduce according to its seeds (Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishit 47).

When man and woman can be described only as male and female, it is premature to talk about relationships and the birth of children from their interaction. When they are ish and isha, which hints at their sharing in their union Hashem’s Name, their union is significant. The couple’s relationship must not be limited to themselves, but must also be a means to inhabit the world. Deterioration in the standards in this matter may bring the disintegration of the world and even its destruction. In our times, when the challenges to the family unit are so daunting, we should learn the lesson of the beginning of the story of humanity.

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