The Book of Genesis tells us that the inception of humankind begins when G-d creates Adam. The narrative then concludes, “…male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). The obvious question is, who’s “them?” The classical Torah commentators answer that the original Adam had both male and female qualities. Only later was this androgynous Adam separated into “them” – man and woman. You can ask, if G-d wanted two, why did he start with just one, especially when no other entity in the entire Creation story was separated from one into two. When G-d created elephants, He didn’t make one elephant, separate it into two and then create a species. He created a species and that species was elephant. Only human beings started with the creation of one Adam, one source for all future human individuality and uniqueness. And this singular source had qualities that were both male and female.
In the Torah, before the separation of Adam into Man and Woman, G-d states, “it is not good that man be alone” (Genesis 2:18). What was “not good” about man’s aloneness, and why did G-d create two beings from one, instead of making two people from the outset? In order to explore these questions, one must consider the fact that G-d made Man in His image (Genesis 1:26). In other words, a person is supposed to use his/her body to express G-d’s image. Since we relate to G-d primarily as a Giver, this leads us to conclude that in regard to being G-d-like, we as human beings have the ability to give on many meaningful levels. A person who exists alone can’t contribute, since true giving has to take place between two people, on the basis of each individual’s unique needs. Accordingly, in the Jewish view, women contribute to men something men lack. And men, conversely, contribute to women something that women lack. The worst of all possible responses to issues of masculinity and femininity, therefore, would be to erase the fundamental differences between men and women.
Returning to the Creation story, G-d separates woman from man by using one of Adam’s ribs to form Eve. Why didn’t G-d simply say, “Let there be woman,” just like He had said, “Let there be man”? Why did He choose to take one of the inner parts of man and turn it into woman, leaving man with the more external side of self? G-d’s decision to create Eve from a part of Adam reflects the idea that man and woman are two parts of one whole. Regarding their intrinsic responsibilities, therefore, each has a unique source of power – internal power for women, which is the power of the rib, and external power, which corresponds to that part G-d left Adam. This duality of power tracks contrasts with the secular world in which external power takes greater precedence.
External power often involves the capacity to influence events. When Time Magazine names the year’s most powerful person (generally a man), the choice is based on who can best externally affect the world, by pushing a detonation button or by saying the wrong thing or through making an important decision. Nonetheless, if you think about who has affected your life on a deep level, who has been most instrumental in creating who you are today, you would probably not consider Time’s man of the year or any other public figure. These people influence external realities, while they have very little to do with the internal reality of any one person’s life.
In the internal arena, most people – with exceptions – will think back to the family and, in familial relationships, the mother. This implies that, in terms of internal growth, another power track exists, but is not necessarily validated by society. Judaism considers both external and internal tracks equal and, accordingly, assigns men and women responsibilities that support their unique ways of connecting to G-d. This is the basis for Jewish laws (halachot) concerning differences between men and women. These laws give credence to the existence of more than one important power source. The next class will cover the specifics of what these laws accomplish in terms of validating each role.
Women in Judaism, Copyright (c) 1999 by Mrs. Leah Kohn and Project Genesis, Inc.