‘It all goes back to Bereishit’ affirmed one of my teachers in Jerusalem. He continued: ‘whatever question you have, try asking it to the creation story, it will give you some insight’ he promised, suggesting that the rest of Torah, Tanakh and subsequent human history can be read as an expression of the tensions at the core of human experience first articulated in our tradition’s sacred mythology at the start of this week’s parashah.
This method of inquiry has worked best when I read the two distinct creation stories to represent two poles of human experience that exist together in our lives in tension. This reading is aided by Rav Soleveitchik’s typological differentiation between Adam Ha’Rishon and Adam Ha’Sheni in his essay ‘The Lonely Man of Faith’.
Adam Ha’Rishon, the ‘Adam’ of the first creation story (Genesis 1 – 2:4a), is the apotheosis of creation. The world was created for her/him with six days of creation preparing the ground for her/his arrival at its centre. It was Adam Rishon who would be God-like, majestic and powerful ‘fill[ing] the earth and master[ing] it, and ruling over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth’ (1:28). Adam Rishon then comes to represent the responsible, dignified, creative aspect of ourselves.
Contrastingly, Adam Ha’Sheni, the ‘Adam’ of the second creation story (2:4 – 3:24), is there from the start of creation but experiences a fundamental lack. God creates the world around Adam instructing Adam to ‘till and to tend the earth’ (2:15) rather than dominate and create. As Adam Ha’Sheni we know that we are neither whole nor independent. We recognise that it ‘is not good for [us] to be alone’ (2:18). Adam Ha’Sheni acknowledges that we lack something that we seek through company, sexuality or through (the tree of) knowledge.
This distinction between the creation stories finds its way into our liturgy for the marriage service. The second blessing of the Sheva Brachot (‘…you created all things for your glory’) introduces the theme of creation. Interestingly the third and the fourth blessings both end with ‘…yotse ha’adam’ (who created humanity). I read them to be blessing these two ‘Adams’ within us.
The short third blessing which simply states ‘…yotse ha’adam’ affirms the Adam Ha’Rishon part of us – our independent, creative and individual self – acknowledging that even within partnership we need to remain individuated. The longer fourth blessing includes the phrase ‘…You prepared us for a perpetual relationship’ acknowledging the Adam Ha’Sheni aspect of us in this human need to be in relationship with God and with other humans.
A motif from the creation story returns in the sixth blessing which references God’s rejoicing in ‘…Your creation in the Garden of Eden as of old’. This reference to Eden introduces the theme of redemption to the story, which is continued in the seventh blessing with its reference to the promise of future joy in the land of Israel. Adam and Eve in Eden – before the experiences of shame, pain and mortality came to define human life – come to represent a hoped for future redemption when our existence will be free from such suffering.
The Sheva Berachot of the wedding service bring these two poles of our experience together, suggesting that a taste of redemption might be possible in a flickering moment of human companionship and sexuality when Adam Ha’Rishon and Adam Ha’Sheni are brought together. The promise of redemption is that the two can be made whole.
In the meantime, with the festivals over, we plod on, back into the annual cycle of Torah stories of human striving and conflict, and our own lives of striving and confusion, comforted to know that whatever our experience, it all goes back to the beginning.
Daniel Lichman LBC rabbinic student