Desire: Intimacy In Eden


Candlelighting, Readings:
Candles: 5:38 p.m.
Torah: Genesis 1:1-6:8
Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5-43:10
Havdalah: 6:37 p.m.

In the story of Creation, God seems to begin His project of nature with the black and white, and only later does He move into color, adding the details.

So, too, with God’s project of humanity. God’s initial mandate seems black and white, “God created man in His image, He created them male and female” [Genesis 1:27].

But in Chapter 2, God fills in color and detail: where Man is located (Garden of Eden), a job description (to guard Eden) and law (Adam cannot eat from the Tree of Knowledge).

Furthermore, something unusual happens that did not happen with the rest of Creation. Not only does God decide that Man needs a mate, instead of doing this a priori, like all Creation up until now, God fashions this mate from existing material, Adam’s flesh. Not only will Man need to marry, but they will become “one flesh.” Meaning, nature will not take care of this automatically; Man will need to seek a mate. Here God suggests something radical: Each man and woman will have a hand in his or her creation project.

“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called Woman, for from Man was she taken. Hence a Man … clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh” [Gen. 2: 23-24]. These verses, packed with alliteration and symbolism, also introduce an additional literary concept: Myth.

It is the first, and seemingly lasting, myth that humans have held onto about marriage: Each one of us was once one with someone, and, therefore, when we find the right one, we will be complete again. But is God really asking us to complete something broken, or to create something unique?

Of course, secondary to the assumption that we are completing or finding someone that we lost is that there will be great desire once we have found each other. Contrary to popular belief about the beginning of desire being about eating from the Tree of Knowledge, the beginning of desire really rests in this marriage myth. 

While Man is told what the punishment will be if he eats from the Tree, and not told of a punishment if he doesn’t marry, it seems clear that Man’s life will be profoundly lacking if he doesn’t fulfill the command to marry.  Awareness that you are lacking something is the beginning of desire.

If God has united Man and Woman as one flesh, in Chapter 3 we expect to find a deeply connected couple. But who is the woman with at the opening of the chapter? The snake. Is she bored? Dissatisfied? Does she even have desire for Adam? Where is their longing and excitement at having reunited, at having become one?

The snake seems to enter this vacuum and the woman’s potential desire, turning it into a kind of curiosity. He removes the punitive element of eating from the Tree, and by doing this, he relocates desire to something intellectual. She eats and becomes enlightened.

In fact, it is only after the couple has sinned that we begin to see desire between Adam and Eve. While they had Eden, there was no desire. Once God punishes them, things start heating up. Even the language, in which God speaks to them, becomes lyrical, sensual: “And to the Woman [God] said, I will make most severe your pangs in childbearing… Yet your urge shall be for your husband” [Gen. 3:16].

This is the first time we hear that it will be the woman’s job to bear the children, and how she will bear them. It is also the first time we hear that she will desire her husband.

And to Adam, God said, “Cursed be the ground because of you, by toil shall you eat of it … by the sweat of your brow shall you get bread … until you return to the ground” [Gen. 3:17].

It is only after they have each gotten some sort of life mission that they turn toward one another. In fact, Adam turns to his wife and, in an act of intimacy, names her — Eve [Gen. 3:20]. It is here that they come together in unprecedented desire; Adam and Eve are intimate for the very first time [Genesis 4:1].

While Genesis 1 and 2 introduce the concept of two halves creating a whole, it also demonstrates that the Divined marriage does not work. Symbolically, God replaces Adam’s guardianship of the Garden of Eden with the cherubs, who are frozen in a position of intimacy [Gen. 3:24; Talmud Yoma 54a], a nod to the relationship that Adam and Eve can create for themselves, not the marriage relationship of Genesis 1 and 2.

We must therefore surmise that the “one flesh” that God referenced is not about the composition of two halves, but rather, the unique relationship that a man and woman have been empowered to create. 

Temima Goldberg Shulman is an award-winning writer and teacher who lectures about women’s issues and the interplay of literature, philosophy and spirituality.