Monday, October 12, 2009

Beraishit / Eve: Villain or Heroine of Humanity?

Just before the man and woman are expelled from the Garden of Eden, God calls a meeting to inform the main characters of the Eden drama of the consequences of their actions: The serpent is cursed. The soil is also cursed and, as a result, the man will have to work ceaselessly in order to eat (no more Club Med existence). And then there is this recondite phrase addressed to the woman:
Harbah arbeh itzvonekha v’heroneikh b’etzem teil’di vanim v’eil isheikh t’shukateikh v’hu yimshal bakh -- I am doubling and redoubling your toil and your pregnancies; with anguish shall you bear children, yet your desire shall be for your man, and he shall rule over you.
Is this a punishment? Or is this a natural consequence of mortality? I would suggest the latter.

In the Garden, the man and woman are permitted the Tree of Life which insures their immortality. They are forbidden the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that imparts moral discernment. If they do, their access to immortality will be revoked (Genesis 2:17). The Tree of Knowledge is off limits because immortality plus moral discernment would make the people too much like God.

The serpent certainly tempts Eve, but little encouragement is needed: Eve is determined to eat the fruit. She courageously chooses to trade immortality for moral discernment because without it, she can never be fully human. To be a higher level animal, but one that cannot distinguished good from evil, is not being human. Facing difficult decisions with moral capacity and free will is the essence of being human. The consequence of giving up immortality is the need to reproduce. The people can no longer live in the Garden because the Garden cannot sustain a growing human population. It is not the case that there was a time when giving birth was not painful for humans and then it changed because they were punished; it has always been painful because that’s simply the way it is.

If ever you’re tempted to think for a moment that Eve is cursed, read the Torah – it doesn’t say anything like that. If ever you’re tempted to condemn Eve for her “sinfulness,” consider this: if she hadn’t eaten the fruit, you would never have been born.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

1 comment:

  1. If Eve (and Adam) had been created immortal, the threat by YHWH would have been meaningless. Immortal means they cannot die. They could have acquired immortality by eating from the Tree of Life but Yahweh chased them out of his garden before they could do that. But it is clear that the author attributes to Eve's courageous defiance the acquisition of the moral capacity of discernment between "Good and bad", identified as a divine quality by YHWH himself. that he did not want the humans to have. After all, Adam was made for the purpose of being a worker in the garden, and even Eve was an apparent afterthought when Adam did not find any of the other creatures made from dust suitable for himself.
    In my opinion the author of this story was most likely a woman, as Identified by Harold Bloom and David Rosenberg in their BOOK OF J, but also she was an Asherah (Queen of Heaven) worshiper opposed to the totalitarian Yahwist ruling class. That is why YHWH is described as a misanthrope. AC