Photo Credit: Prof. Livia Bitton-Jackson
Prof. Livia Bitton-Jackson

Have you ever discovered in this week’s Torah portion, Bereshit, an amazing story within the story of Creation? It is the story of birth. The birth of motherhood. In essence, it is the gradual emergence of woman with qualities of initiative, leadership and prophetic insight, culminating in the role of motherhood.

The woman starts out as an unknown entity taking shape around a rib, referred to simply as “zot – this.”  “L’zot yikare Isha ki meISH lukaha zot – This shall be named Woman, Isha, because from Man, Ish, was this taken” (Bereshit 2:23).

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By the way, the word “Ish” appears in the Torah for the first time here within the context of, and subsequent to, the naming of “Isha.” Until now the first human, although endowed with superior intelligence for naming other living creatures and assuming dominion over them, was called merely “ha-adam” – an androgynous creature shaped of the substance of the earth, ha-adama. However, with the appearance of isha – woman, the two aspects of the androgynous creature separate, each evolving into a new entity – isha and ish – the adam turns into a “woman” and a “man.”

Although a profound relationship is generated between the twin identities, the next verse singles woman out for a central role: “Al ken yaazov ish et aviv v’et imo v’davak b’ishto v’hayu l’vasar ehad – Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Bereshit 2:24).  Why not the reverse?

Even the snake, recognizing her quality of initiative, chooses the woman, and not the man, as an instrument of his design. And indeed, woman proves to be not only a passive tool but 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 does she induce her man to eat from the forbidden fruit. Was it a conscious act on her part to open for mankind a new world of insight? To grant for future generations the knowledge of good and evil, an awareness of ethics and morality – the potential to be elevated above the level of the animal kingdom?

How many of us realize that, surprisingly, it was through this act that woman attains motherhood? It is at this point that she is informed that “in pain and anguish” she would bear children.

As an indication of her new pivotal function, woman is given a new name, a new identity. Henceforth she is Chava, the name derived from the root chai, which means life. Isha, woman, becomes “Em kol chai, Mother of all living” (Bereshit 3:20) – the most eloquent testimony to the centrality of woman’s role.

In the dramatic moments of delivering her first child, Chava reaches the height of prophecy. She becomes the first living creature to experience the supreme secret of creation, the mystery of birth. In exclaiming, “I have acquired a man with G-d” (Bereshit 4:1), she gives startling testimony to it, exhibiting the insight which Chazal attributed to woman’s basic make-up. From the word “Vayiven” – and he built flesh around the rib (Bereshit 2:22), Chazal derive the concept “bina,” insight is inherent in a woman. She was given the gift of prophetic insight, to comprehend and appreciate the mysteries of the Divine message, the choice between good and evil and the secret of birth.

By recognizing the role of the Creator in the greatest and the most wonderful enigma of our existence – the birth of a child – woman reached the ultimate stage of her development.

It was at that moment that motherhood was born.

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