We are back to our Beginnings series. We are entering Genesis 3 today – one of the most crucial chapters in this Book. Before we do that, however, I would like to say a few more words about that Torah Portion Ki Tissa – the one that we read last week and that I wrote my last post about. I want to share with you something that I realized only on Shabbat (Saturday), after the post had been published already, and therefore it didn’t enter my commentary– but I couldn’t left it unmentioned! You know how sometimes we say that Bible is so relevant today (every day) that reading it one almost feels like he is reading a newspaper? Well, it was almost frighteningly true with this last Portion: first, the Torah here speaks about the outbreak of the plague (and what to do in order to avoid it: “every man shall give a[c] ransom for himself to the Lord, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them”); then, we hear about the importance of the washing the hands: “So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die”. It does sound like our newspapers today, doesn’t it?
And now, finally, we are entering chapter 3 – the story of the Fall. I would like to remind you – in case you missed it or forgot it – the extremely important detail: for a Hebrew reader, this story begins differently than for anyone who reads it in translation. It begins from the last sentence of chapter two, telling us that Adam and Eve “were naked” and “were not ashamed”. In translation, this verse has nothing in common with the first verse of Chapter 3: “the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field.” However, it’s very different when read in Hebrew. “Naked” in Hebrew is “arum” (here we have the plural word for “naked”, עֲרוּמִּים arumim ), and the word “cunning” in Genesis 3:1 is also “arum”, so these words basically come from the same root. Thus, in the original Hebrew text, the word “naked” (arumim) in Genesis 2:25 immediately connects the nakedness of the first couple with the “cunning” (arum) nature of the serpent. Moreover, if we remember that this word “naked” is basically the central word of Genesis 3: the story of the Fall is about Adam and Eve first being naked and not being ashamed, and then being naked and being ashamed, and then being not naked anymore – then we understand that in fact, the last sentence of chapter two introduces the subsequent story of human disobedience in chapter 3 —it’s like a bridge, an extremely important and profound bridge, connecting one chapter to another in Hebrew, but disappearing completely in translation.
However, the difference between a Christian reading of this story – always in translation – and the reading through the Jewish, or Hebrew lenses, doesn’t stop here. In this and the coming articles, I will try to point out several of these differences.
We all know the narrative: after very unfortunate interaction with the serpent, Eve, and then Adam, violated the only commandment that God had given to the new humanity: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate”
Speaking of the differences – what was the fruit they ate? In Christian tradition, the fruit is generally thought to be an apple, both because it was a popular fruit in Europe and also because the Latin translation of רע (bad: as in the “tree of knowledge of good and bad”) is malum, which also means apple. Jewish tradition suggests fig – because “they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves girdles”. Rashi explains that “with that which they had sinned, they were rectified, but the other trees prevented them from taking their leaves”. The midrash says: ”This is the tree because of which the world suffered”. Some Jewish commentators suggest also grape (because it’s abuse lead one to forget his senses , like it happened to Noah), or even wheat (because the Hebrew word for wheat, חיטה (chita), was seen as related to word sin חטא (chet). All these – figs, grapes, wheat – are prominent near eastern products.
Eve, Adam and adama
Our next Hebrew insight has to do with the names Adam and Eve. We read: “The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.” I have written several times already that it’s in the names that we experience the biggest lost when we read the Bible in translation. In English, we don’t see any logic here, any justification of the word ”because”, any connection between the two parts of the sentence – do we? In Hebrew, however, the original name of the first woman, חַוָּה (Chava), has a Hebrew root connection with a verb לִחְיוֹת (lichyot) “to live”, and words such as חַי (chai) and חַיִּים (chayim) communicating the idea of “life”. In Hebrew, therefore, it makes perfect sense to call this woman חַוָּה (Chava), because indeed, she will give life to all living. The punishment didn’t change or cancel this fact: her motherhood would became painful, but she would still be “the mother of all the living”.
We discussed already the word and the name “adam” – and I hope you remember the amazing fact that I mentioned in one of my previous posts: even though one cannot really see the etymological connection between ‘man’ and ‘ground’ in the English translation, this connection is very evident in Hebrew. In Hebrew, when you say “Adam” you almost hear the word adamah in this name. In fact, their connection is so deep and intimate (and so evident) that they correspond and correlate one to another as masculine and feminine nouns in Hebrew do. Genesis 3 is another powerful proof of this connection: when God punishes Adam, it’s adama that is cursed! Think of it: as a punishment to Adam, God curses the ground אֲרוּרָה הָאֲדָמָה – (arurah haadama) - and what else we need, in order to see this essential inner bond? It’s very obvious also that even the relatively early generations of Adam’s descendants had been waiting for this curse to be removed – hence the name of Noah, Adam’s descendant; we will talk more about this later, when we will get to these chapters.
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