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Bereshit: The Triple Birth of Woman

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In this week’s Torah portion, within the majesty and mystery of creation, the woman emerges in three successive stages.

First she is an unknown entity taking shape from Adam’s rib. Then Adam gives her a name, “isha,” woman – and formulates the concept. But concurrently the name/concept “ish,” man, emerges. “L’zot yikare ISHA ki meISH lukaha zot – This shall be named woman because from man was this taken” (Bereshit 2:23). Nowhere before does the word ish appear in the Torah. Throughout creation the first human is referred to as “haAdam.” With the appearance of isha, woman, a new aspect is added to essence of the adam: he becomes ish, a man. No longer is he merely a living creature from the “adama,” earth, although he is endowed with superior intelligence allowing him to evaluate other living creatures and take dominion over them. Through the birth of woman he becomes a man.

The next verse, “Thereafter shall a man leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his woman, and they shall become one flesh” (Bereshit 2:24), adds a profound new dimension to both concepts.

The second stage is set in the woman’s encounter with the snake. Here woman is revealed as a complex creature: she is both the object and the cause of sin. Recognizing the complexity of her character, the snake chooses her as an instrument of his design. But the woman proves to be not only a passive tool: she is also an active wielder of influence. With considerably less effort than it took the snake to persuade her to take from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, she induces her man to eat from the forbidden fruit. And with her act, indirectly woman has opened for mankind a new world of insight, the knowledge of good and evil, an awareness of ethics and morality which in essence has the potential to elevate humanity above the level of the animal kingdom.

Through her punishment woman reaches the third stage of her development: although it will be done in pain and anguish, she is to bear children. She is to become Mother. Because of this new and essentially central function, woman is given a new name/concept: “Chava,” eve, “the mother of all living” (Bereshit 3:20). In spite the pain of childbirth and the anguish of raising the young, motherhood prevails as woman’s most powerful drive.

In the process of giving birth, when isha-woman and chava/mother reaches the ultimate stage of her being, she becomes the first living creature to give eloquent testimony to that most supreme secret of creation, the mystery of birth. In exclaiming, “I have acquired a man with G-d,” (Bereshit 4:1), she exhibits that insight which Chazal have attributed to woman’s basic make-up. From the word “vayiven,” describing woman’s creation (Bereshit 2:22), the Chazal derive the concept of “binah,” insight as a “built-in” faculty of woman. The woman is given the gift to comprehend and appreciate the role of the Creator in the greatest and most wonderful enigma of our existence — the birth of a child.

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