Adam’s rib — or side
Bereishit - Genesis 1:1-6:8
Sometimes, the most inspiring moments of the yamim nora’im are found not in the pages of the Mahzor, the rabbi’s sermon, or the cantor’s davening. Sometimes they are found in the pews. A case in point: There is an older couple, relatively new members of the shul I belong to. On Rosh Hashana, the husband was there at the beginning of the service. His wife arrived an hour or so later. I happened to glance in their direction as she came to sit beside her husband. He looked up and saw her, and his face lit up like the sun emerging from behind a cloud. It occurred to me that he must have worn that same expression as he stood beneath the huppa waiting for his bride. They are about to celebrate their 50th anniversary, but anyone could easily see that their love is as strong, if not stronger, than it was on their wedding day. They are, quite simply, soulmates.
This is hardly a new concept. It goes back to the very beginning of the Torah. Parshat Bereishit describes the creation of the world and everything in it. God creates light, heaven, and earth, oceans and dry land, the heavenly bodies, plants, animals, and finally the first human beings.
Day by day, as God performs the work of creation, He pronounces what He has done as “good.” At the end of the sixth day, the Torah says, “And God saw all that He had made and found it very good.” God was pleased with what He had done. But before long, God found something that did not please Him. The Torah tells us that God took Adam — or better, the human being — and placed him in the garden of Eden. And then God said, “It is not good for the human being to be alone.” The very first thing God sees as “not good” is human loneliness.
But God has a solution: “So the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon the man, and, while he slept, He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that spot. And the Lord God fashioned the rib that He had taken from the man into a woman, and He brought her to the man.” God’s solution to loneliness was marriage.
Unfortunately, this account of the creation of Eve has often been used to justify the subordination of women. After all, the first woman was an afterthought, created from part of her husband’s body.
However, the story of Adam’s rib isn’t all the Torah has to say about the creation of man and woman. This comes from the second telling of the creation story, which focuses on the relationship between God and human beings. But before this, in the account of the sixth day of creation, we read, in Everett Fox’s translation, “So God created humankind in His image, in the image of God did He create it, male and female He created them.”
The Hebrew is difficult. Midrash Bereishit Rabbah explains: “Rabbi Yirmiyah ben Elazar said, ‘When God created the human being, He created him androgynous [both male and female].’ Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahman said, ‘He made him with two fronts [one male and one female], then He sawed him in half and thus gave him two backs, a back for one part and a back for the other part.’ Someone objected, ‘But doesn’t the Torah say, “He took one of his ribs — mi’tzalotav”?’ Rabbi Shmuel replied, ‘Mi’tzalotav may also mean one of his sides, for it is used in that sense elsewhere in the Torah.”
This, of course, means that the first woman was not created to be her husband’s servant or assistant, but to be his equal partner. And so we find after the story of the rib/side, “Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh.”
At the beginning of creation, the first man and woman were separated from the original human being. And ever since that day, men and women have sought to find their bashert, their destined marriage partner, their perfect other half, their soulmate. Indeed, when they do find each other, their love helps to illuminate the world.