BACKSTORY Adam: male and female?

Peter Paul Rubens' Adam and Eve

In Genesis, we read that “God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” We also read that “on the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God; He created them male and female.”

The image in the Torah of an ostensibly androgynous Adam – male and female – appears problematic to say the least. I would like to suggest that this image may evoke the idea that it is the essential humanity of both that is paramount in the Divine scheme of things. God created one man so all future generations would – or should – understand that people are different, but that ultimately, we come from the same Source and should conduct ourselves in full awareness of this essential truth. 

So, too, men and women are to live their lives aware that each has a claim to an essential and fundamental dignity that must be respected because it, too, emanates from the Divine Source. The Torah itself seems to be underlining the inherent integrity of each and every man and woman from the very inception of Creation. 

Degradation of women violates in the most grotesque way the very essence of the Divine will. If this principle were understood and applied by religious and civil authorities, much suffering in the world would be alleviated.

Maybe there is an even greater point being made by this unique and enigmatic creation of a dual self. If Adam is the whole world in microcosm, male and female, then he is also the embodiment of all the future nations as well. If it is true that he represents the Torah’s ideal of female as well as male dignity and integrity, then by extension he must also represent the right to dignity of all humankind, of all peoples. 

When one people or one nation demonizes or dehumanizes another in order to subjugate it, civilized people refer to this as a primitive trait or primal urge, but perhaps it is the exact opposite. The Torah seems to be saying that the primal urge should be toward unity and brotherhood and that any deviation from that Divine model is an egregious perversion of the Divine will.

The history of the world is the history of war. Man is said to be an inherently aggressive being. Indeed, Genesis itself records murder, foretelling future events. However, it would appear that the Torah is saying that this is not the natural state, it is not inevitable, it is not condoned. The blood-soaked history of the world is a hideous travesty of everything the Torah represents and strives to teach.

When we say "Shema Yisrael, HaShem Elokeinu, HaShem Echad" (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One”), the last word we recite is Echad (One), the last word we hear is the call to the Oneness of God and implicitly the unity of His Creation.

The sad history of man’s inhumanity has taken place throughout many centuries of supposed religious supremacy. However, the world is changing, especially in the West. 

If the whole purpose and idea of Creation has been perverted throughout human history, in spite of the teaching of the Torah, what will happen now that society is becoming increasingly secular and throwing off the constraints and ideals of religious instruction? 

Perhaps we need to understand a shocking truth – that the movement toward a secular society and the abandonment of religion is at least in part the result of religion’s historical inability to communicate the basic truth of the human condition as taught in Genesis.  

The lesson of Adam is there. It is subtle but accessible. Unity, dignity, integrity, brotherhood of all by all are essential to humanity because they are inherent in God’s Creation. Will we ever learn this simple, basic, essential lesson? 

Paul Socken is distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo.