Made For One Another

Any time I read Genesis (the Beginning’s narrative), I am carried away to a place and time long lost, to a piece of land watered by four rivers, beyond millennia of intricate and not rarely bloody history, at the misty dawn of adam, the yet-to-be ‘humanity’; to a place sheltered by cherubs with fiery ever-turning swords and jealously watched by a head talking serpent eager to turn his crafty monologue into a death-bringing dialogue. To a moment in time when elohim ‘the Almighty’ was so close to man that he used to indulge himself in a brisk walk at the ‘breezy time of day’ (Gen 3:8); but even, once to ‘snatch’ (Gen 5:24) his clay infused with nephesh chayyah (‘breath of life’) creature up to his celestial unshakeable yet by chelel ‘the Shining One’ coveted throne (see Is 14:12ff.). I am carried away to a place called gan eden, ‘the Garden of Delight’; to a garden planted by the Almighty according to his majestic will and for the righteous eternal delight. (The idea that the Almighty planted this garden for the righteous appears for the first time in the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan [Gen 2:8], an Aramaic translation which originated in pre-Christian times; cf. Matt 25:34.)

The Scripture notes: “‘He Is’ (in Hebrew Yahweh; the 3rd century B.C. Greek version [the Septuagint] renders ho Kyrios ‘the Lord’), the Almighty planted a garden in eden which is in the east, and there he put adam he had fashioned” (Gen 2:8). Back then there was not yet a “Garden of Gethsemane,” no bitter chalice to be removed, no kneeling to be made, no sleep to be overcome, no soldiers with swords and clubs to be inquired, not even a betrayer’s kiss to be offered to the sweet Master! There was only a “Garden of Delight” visited from time to time by a most-powerful deity, and protected by a working adam, who was created in that deity’s image (Gen 1:26-27).

In the midst of that unspeakable delight, the Almighty notices with a fatherly compassion: “It is not good for humanity (adam) to be alone; I will make a helper opposite to him (ezer ke-negdo)” (Gen 2:18). The Hebrew word neged derives from the root n-g-d ‘to be conspicuous, visible,’ hence the meaning ‘in front, opposite,’ namely, something which is visible. The whole phrase, ke-negdo, may be rendered ‘which is in front of him, obvious to him.’ The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan follows closely the Hebrew text, reading ‘opposite to him.’ As for the Septuagint (kata’ auton ‘according, fitting to him’), the Greek version depicts the woman as a ‘fitting helper’ to man, trying to solve the tension between ‘helper’ and ‘opposite’ attested in the Hebrew text. For the latter version, the woman is a ‘helper’ for man but in the same time due to her position, ‘in front of, opposite to him,’ she appears as an equal partner of dialogue for man. The woman, as portrayed in Gen 2–3, is fashioned to be in front of man, in other words, to be a visible, dynamic, personal presence that can not be ignored or underestimated by her partner. As for the man, this should look at her with a sense of wonder, admiration, each time re-discovering the primary, ontological unity which links them together (Gen 2:23; cf. 1:26-27).

The passage on giving names to the animals, showing adam’s dominion over the rest of creation, runs parallel with adam’s search for a ‘helper opposite to him.’ The adam’s failure to find an ‘opposite helper’ inside the animal kingdom shows that this peculiar ‘helper’ should be rather searched within adam, that yet-to-be ‘humanity.’ The use of the term adam in Gen 2:18ff. is quite meaningful. It points to the fact that the neuter-gender ‘humanity’ can not exist alone, that the yet-to-be ‘humanity’ needs a partner of dialogue. Interestingly enough, the Almighty’s negative evaluation on adam’s state of loneliness comes after divine warning with respect to adam’s mortal fate should he eat from the forbidden fruit (Gen 2:17). This sequence may be explained as follows. In his omniscience, the Almighty knows that adam will eventually transgress his command and, as a consequence to this transgression, death will enter the world. And as death means first separation from the Almighty (‘spiritual death’), there will be a serious risk facing adam, to remain alone, estranged from his Creator. Thus the Almighty decides to make for adam an ‘opposite helper’ (Gen 2:18). The biblical narrative portrays adam as having no patience. While naming the animals, adam tries to find a ‘helper’ but soon he realizes that his searching is an exercise in futility. Having failed in his attempt to solve the Almighty’s promise by himself, adam capitulates waiting for a divine response. (Something similar may be found in Abraham’s rushed intimate relationship with his maidservant Agar while his trying to fulfill the Almighty’s promise on his own terms, Gen 12:1-3; 16; 17:15-22.) Yet, how odd it might appear, the Almighty wants to say that an ‘opposite helper’ is to be searched within the yet-to-be ‘humanity’ rather than outside of it. The position of Almighty’s evaluation on adam’s state of loneness immediately after his threatening warning with respect to death as punishment for sin shows that ishshah ‘woman’ was created as an ‘opposite partner’ to alleviate ‘humanity’s’ estrangement from the Almighty. Gender differentiation appears as soon as ‘woman’ is created. Man begins to exist only after woman’s creation. Thus, the woman has a defining role in man’s arising identity.

We are told in Gen 2:21-24 that the Almighty brought a tardemah ‘deep sleep’ (the Septuagint reads ektasin ‘trance’) upon adam ‘humanity’ from whom he took one rib that he fashioned ishshah, a ‘weak’ creature (from the root ‘-n-sh ‘to be weak’). According to the Hebrew text, ishshah and ish are in a paradoxical relationship one another. On one hand, she is a ‘helper’ to man, a sort of inferior being at man’s disposal and having no other raison d’être but to assist man during his earthly journey. On the other hand, she is ‘in front’ or ‘opposite’ to man, playing, if not a leading role, at least, that of equal partner of dialogue. In the same vein of thought, we are told in Gen 3:16 that ishshah’s ‘burning desire’ (teshuqah) will be for her ish ‘strong’ (from the root ‘-y-sh ‘to be strong’) counterpart, but in Gen 2:23, playing the prophet, the ish recognizes his own natural vulnerability by saying: “Hence a man (ish) leaves his father and mother and clings (dabaq) to his wife, so that they become one flesh (basar).” As in Hebrew anthropology, body and soul form a strong unity, ‘flesh’ refers here to both body and soul. Thus man leaves his parents to unite with a woman so that both may become what was intended from the very beginning, a body wrapped in God’s ‘breathing of life,’ namely, adam. The verb used here to define man’s attachment to his wife, dabaq ‘to cling’ (said, for instance, of bones to skin), counter-balances the passionate intensity of the term (teshuqah) ‘burning desire’ describing woman’s propensity toward her husband.

The same balance found in Gen 2-3 with respect to man-woman relationship reappears in St. Paul’s exhortation: “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she fears her husband” (Eph 5:33).

Summing up, in the Old Testament’s anthropological view, adam the yet-to-be ‘humanity’ was created in the Almighty’s image (Gen 1:26-27); this royal title refers to both ‘flesh’ and ‘soul’ (Gen 2:7). The woman was shaped out of adam, the neuter-gender ‘humanity’ (the Septuagint reads adam in Gen 2:21 as a proper [male] name, Adam, hence the interpretation that Eve was created from Adam [the man], rather than from ‘humanity’; this idea is echoed by 1 Tim 2:13-15). It is while looking at his ‘opposite helper’ that the man discovers his own identity (Gen 2:24). Both partners of dialogue exhibit a sort of propensity for one another (Gen 2:24; 3:17). They find themselves in a permanent search to reestablish the ontological unity (Gen 1:26-27), which can be reached, as St. Paul puts it, in Christ, the new Adam (‘humanity’): “There is neither Jew not Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).