There is a strange phenomenon that recurs throughout Genesis: the Torah describes one model of reality and then portrays a different and completely contradictory description.
For example, in the first chapter of Genesis, the Torah describes Adam as being created bi’tzelem Elokim, in the image of God. This depiction creates an inspiring and divine perception of man and his role in the world. However, in the very next chapter, the Torah describes man as a physical being, created from nothing more than the dirt of the earth- an identical description to the creation of animals. What happened to the Godly and inspiring depiction of man?
1. Adam and Chava: One or Two?
A similar contradiction occurs with the creation of Chava-Eve. The Sages explain that originally Adam and Chava were created as a single androgynous being, connected by the back; man and woman were one. God then split them into two independent, separate beings. This begs the question: If the ideal is for them to be connected, why split them apart? And if they were destined to be split apart, then why initially create them as one? Once again, we are presented with one model of reality before it is snatched away in favor of another.
2. The Answer: An Ideal, Followed by the Starting Point
As we began to explain in the past, the answer to this theme is one of the most fundamental concepts in Judaism. The deep explanation behind this process is explained by the Arizal, the Ramchal, the Vilna Gaon, and many other Jewish thinkers. They expound as follows: Every process contains three stages. The first stage is the high, the inspiration, an experience of perfection and clarity. Next comes the second stage: a complete fall, a loss of everything that was experienced in the first stage. Then we have the third stage, a return to the perfection of the first stage. However, this third stage is fundamentally different than the first. It is the same perfection, the same clarity, but this time it’s a perfection and clarity that you have earned. The first time it was given to you, now you have worked to build it for yourself.
The first stage is a gift, a spiritual high. It’s there to help you experience the goal, the destination. It’s a taste of what you can and hopefully will ultimately accomplish; but it’s not real, it’s given as a gift, and is therefore an illusion. It serves only as a guiding force, but can’t compare to the genuine accomplishment of building something yourself. It’s therefore taken away to allow for the second and most important stage: building it yourself, undergoing the work required to attain this growth in actuality, to work for the perfection that you were shown. A gift isn’t real, something chosen and earned is. We’re in this world to choose, to assert our free will, and to create ourselves. Now that we’ve tasted the first stage, we know what we’re meant to choose, what we’re meant to build. The third stage is the recreation of the first stage. While it appears the same, it’s fundamentally different. It’s real, it’s earned, it’s yours. The first stage was a gift, an illusion; the third is the product born of the effort and time you invested.
3. The Ideal Adam
There are many explanations for the clear distinction between the contradicting descriptions of Adam in chapter 1 and chapter 2 of Genesis. We can explain it beautifully according to our principle. The ideal and goal of man is to become Godly, to become perfect, all-knowing, all-good, all-kind, to have complete self-control. However, this is the goal, not the starting point. We start out as animalistic beings. A baby is born with no intellectual abilities and no developed character traits. He is selfish, he is the only person who exists, he is the center of his own world, he is the opposite of Godly. The goal of life is to become Godly, to actualize his potential to become tzelem Elokim. As we’ve explained in the past, the fetus learns all of the Torah in the womb, and then loses it upon being born into this world. We are born imperfect so that we can journey through this world on the journey of becoming perfect, recreating and earning what we once received as a gift. Adam was created first as a perfect being, the model of who we each strive to become, before being reduced to the lowly and animalistic being that we begin our lives as.
4. Adam and Chava: Creating Oneness
The ideal is for man and wife to be one, bonded in an indescribable oneness. Adam and Chava were literally created as one, a physical manifestation of a deeper existential oneness. However, this is the ideal, the destination. Man and wife are not born this way; they are created as two separate beings, with the mission to find each other and create that oneness. The Talmud in tractate Yevamos says that before a man and wife are born, they exist as a single neshama-soul. Only once they are born into the world do they split apart and exist as two distinct beings. The goal is to then wander the world in search of your soul-mate, choose each other, and then recreate that oneness. Adam and Chava are created as one before being split apart to model the oneness that we are striving towards as husband and wife.
5. The Process of Life
This is the process of life. The ideal is shown, taken away, and it is then our job to journey through life, trying to recreate that ideal. The key is to be inspired by the goal, not depressed by the struggle. We need to understand that our goal is to become godly, to fully reflect our higher selves, to create oneness, and to enjoy every single step of the process!
Shmuel Reichman is an inspirational speaker and has spoken internationally at shuls, conferences, and Jewish communities. For all questions, thoughts, or bookings, please email email@example.com.