Don’t Know You From Adam

1This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him. Genesis 5:1 (King James translation)

  1. Pshat/Text

Don’t Know You From Adam? Now there’s an odd expression, origins disputed and official usage equally vague. It does, apparently, link back to the original ADAM, the primordial creature who is mythically responsible for our DNA, and whose precise gender is not too clear either.  A close reading of the word ADAM in this week’s Torah Tale – Beresheet – the first of the annual cycle, reveals that Adam is referred to both as the male specimen AND the generic human being, of (at least) both genders. In today’s theological climate, where the Bible is used daily to demand public policy – this is a big deal. The socio-political translation of the word ADAM as always male has led to some of the worse chauvinistic assertions known to humanity. But different translations, some new, some bold, can restore the balance of human dignity to the masculine and feminine in all. One translated word makes a difference.

Genesis, chapter 5:1 translated by Robert Alter in his new ‘The Five Books of Moses’ as:

‘This is the book of the lineage of Adam: on the day God created the human, in the image of God He Created him. ‘

But according to the popular JPS version, the second time Adam is mentioned in this verse it is not ‘human’ but ‘man’- This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him’. In the original Hebrew both Creator and Created are males. At the risk of poetic license, ‘Lauviticus would like to suggest: This is the book of the line of Humans.  When God created the Human in the image of God.’

2. Remez: Clue

On one page in the Jerusalem Talmud dealing with vows, the sages debate what would make the best Jewish bumper sticker. Rabbi Akiva suggests a lie from Leviticus:  ‘Love your friend as you would love yourself.’ But Ben Azzai differs and claims Genesis 5:1: ‘This is the book of the lineage of Adam’ as the supreme contender for the greatest teaching of Torah. (JT, Nedarim 9:4)

3. Drash: Commentary

Ben Azzai was a seeker who allegedly went mad in his journey into the Pardes – the orchard of mystery. Maybe he means to tell us, across the centuries, that even deeper than the bonds of friendship and social affiliation are the bonds of human affinity.

4. Sod: Secret

The creation of Adam is the creation of the human and thus of humankind and human-kindness, of humanism and humanity. This play of words raises a question: If the human is made in the image of the divine does this mean that divinity is possessed of some essential humanity? We hope so.

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The WEEKLY STORAH (2006-2007), presenting you with an EZ pass into Judeo-Biblical Knowledge, one verse at a time. Each week offers a new entry, composed by Lauviticus, a consortium of storah scribes, highlighting a single verse or word from the weekly installment of the Torah, focusing on issues of translation and contemporary relevance.

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