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Grasping the Divine Image

This week we begin the Torah reading anew. We begin with the opening chapters of Genesis. We join with others so that we might uncover new, and yet undiscovered, understandings in these ancient words.

And we notice there are two creation stories. In the first chapter God creates human beings from the earth. The name Adam comes from the Hebrew adamah, meaning earth. Furthermore, humanity is created in God’s image from the outset. This image is a matter of divine will. It is given to humanity by God’s hand.

The Torah reports: “And God created adam in God’s image, in the image of God, God created adam, male and female God created them.” (Genesis 1) Man and woman are created simultaneously. The rabbis suggest that adam was an androgynous human with both male and female traits. God then divided this figure into two and fashioned male and female.

In the second creation account, man is created first and the woman from his rib. This is perhaps the more familiar account and has for centuries led people to suggest that the Bible believes women are subservient to men. But first created does not necessarily first in a hierarchal order. In fact, one could argue that with the second creation, namely woman, God worked out the kinks in the first creation. Is the artist’s first draft always the best version?

Still, I am left wondering how to reconcile these two distinct stories. And then it occurs to me, and only because of poring over these words with others, that these two accounts are not so much about how human beings were created, or for that matter, the relationship between man and woman, but instead about how we gain divine like qualities.

In the first it is God’s creative act that fashions God’s image within us. In the second we do not gain a measure of divinity until we eat from the tree of knowledge. Although God forbids us from eating this fruit, we achieve something worthwhile and commendable, when we reach for this tree. We gain knowledge. We grab hold of right and wrong. It remains a mystery to me why God would not want us to gain such knowledge.

The serpent offers an insight and says (yes, there is a talking snake in this account), “God knows that as soon as you eat of the fruit your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who know good and bad.” (Genesis 3) Is it possible that the forbidden fruit is not as forbidden as it once appeared? Is it possible that becoming like God is a matter of knowing, and in particular understanding the difference between good and bad?

In the first creation account becoming like God is a matter of God’s impulse. In the second it is a matter of our human impulse. Our desire to know more, our ability to distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong, is what makes us more like God. We achieve this by our own hands.

We gain the knowledge of good and bad because woman insisted that we eat. It is Eve who drives us to knowing. It is she who prods us to do better.