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B’reishith: Three Men and Three Women

October 9, 2015

Reading this week’s parasha is made interesting by the use of one particular Hebrew word to mean many different things. In the first chapter, the word adam is used to refer to the last manner of creature God created (1:27):

And God created adam in His own image, in the image of God created He [adam]; male and female created He them.

The best translation of adam as it appears in that first chapter is “humans,” because it refers to both the male and female of the kind, and this point is reiterated later (5:2):

Male and female created He them, and blessed them, and called their name adam, in the day when they were created.

In the ensuing chapters, adam does not refer to the whole species, but rather to the single male member of that species, and its frequent introduction with the definite article (ha-adam) and its use in juxtaposition to the term used to describe the other person, ha-isha (for now, “the woman”), show us that adam is not (yet) necessarily his proper, personal name, but rather a descriptive term, best translated into English as the “the man,” as he was the only man who was around at the time.

Eventually, the woman has her own name and other people are on the scene, and therefore, in the latter chapters of the parasha the definite article is dropped, and the adam mentioned a number times seems to be a particular person of that very name, and like a number of his descendants (Seth and Enosh), his personal name is also used as a general term for mankind. Adam is therefore a term for people in general, then specifically for males, and ultimately, another proper name, Adam.

In contrast, there is but one woman mentioned throughout, and surprisingly, the term used to describe her keeps changing.

The woman created in Chapter 1 bears the same name as the man created simultaneously, adam, because, like all people created in the image of God, she also comes from ha’adama, the earth.

In chapter 2, she is created after adam, and therefore:

she shall be called isha (a woman) because she was taken out of ish (a man).

and she enjoys a name altogether different.

By the end of the third chapter, however, she receives a personal name:

And ha-adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living

and this name, also given to her by her husband, is even more reflective of her true nature.

As far as adam is concerned, the original name is lofty, and describes a creature intended to be the pinnacle of creation, yet lowly in its etymology. Later, due to his realization of his own deficiencies (only he was alone without a helpmate) the term refers to the male set only. After his sin, when man fell from the idyllic state in which God had placed him, the term adam was only befitting of one particular person.

For women, the situation is different. In the first chapter, we learn that in God’s eyes, man and woman are equals, and therefore when God does the naming, both are adam. However, later on men would notice the similarities and differences between the sexes, and refer to the others with a diminutive of the term they used to describe themselves. The first term, adam, is entirely objective, whereas the second term, isha, is entirely subjective. The third term used to describe the woman is ultimately personal: no other woman would ever again be able to claim motherhood of the rest of mankind, but men would be able to claim fatherhood.

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From → parasha, עברית

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