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B'resheet/Genesis 2:23 And the man said, "This, this time [is] bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. This shall be called 'woman' for from 'man' this was taken."
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These are the first recorded words of mankind in the Bible. Having made man and set him in the Garden of Eden "to cultivate and watch over it" (B'resheet 2:15, TLV), the L-rd G-d realised that "it is not good for the man to be alone" (v. 18, TLV) and decided to make an appropriate partner for him. But first, He brought all the animals and birds that He had made to the man so that he could name them. During that whole process, the man did not see any suitable partner for himself. The border collie, of course, is a must-have for handling the sheep; the horse and the camel offer pretty flexible and far-reaching transport options and there are any number of things to sit and stroke in the evening, but nothing resembling himself. Nothing that really seemed capable of having a good conversation or, heaven forbid, a decent argument. Certainly, he didn't see an equal in appearance, intelligence, capability or stature. Not one with a good sense of humour! At this point, the L-rd G-d stepped in and, under the first documented use of general anaesthesia, He fashioned a woman from the man's own body and brought her to the man to see what he would say. Nahum Sarna notes that, "Man's first recorded speech is a cry of ecstatic elation at seeing the woman, in contrast to the animals."
Ecstatic perhaps, but certainly calculated. The language of the man's first speech is quite sophisticated and will bear a little examination. He starts by addressing the new creature as , 'this' or perhaps "this one", the feminine form of the demonstrative pronoun . He uses 'this' a total of three times in just thirteen words: to start, to end and in the middle. 'This' marks the woman apart from 'that' or 'those', the animals that had gone before, and the threefold use emphasises that he knew exactly who he was talking about! His second word, , is often used for a "time, moment or occasion";1 here "this time" or "at last" seem the best options.2 RabbiHirsch is more enthusiastic: " itself means: this time, now, finally, at last. Here it means, 'at last, this it it!'" 'This' was altogether different from any of the other creatures that the man had named; he could instantly see that.
According to Cassuto - citing Abimelech's words to the men of Shechem, "Remember, I am your own flesh and blood" (Judges 9:2, NJPS) and the tribal leaders of Israel to David at Hebron, "We are your own flesh and blood" (2 Samuel 5:1, NJPS) - forms of the expression "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh" are "commonly used to indicate family propinquity. The meaning is: formed from the same parents or from the same family: the source of the bones and flesh is the same." Richard Elliott Friedman agrees: "this expression has the figurative meaning of persons belonging to one another." Although the phrase is literally true on this first occasion - because the L-rd G-d had formed her from the man's rib - this is a strong indicator of kinship for future generations: man and woman belong together.
At a grammatical level,Rashi uses the next phrase to claim that "the world was created with the Holy Tongue (that is, Hebrew)". Mizrachi explains that "calling her 'woman' because she was created from 'man' only makes sense if the words for woman and man are related. Among ancient languages, this is only true of Hebrew."3 In Aramaic, for example, a close cognate language with Hebrew, 'man' is 4 and 'woman' is 5. Ibn Ezra notes that the Hebrew word is spelled with a dagesh in the shin, replacing the missing yod of . They are commenting on a sound pun; although iysh and ishah appear to have an obvious sound connection, they are actually derived from different roots. comes from the root - from which also comes the plural forms for men and women, and respectively (Davidson) - while appears to be a stand-alone word without a three letter root origin.
Nachmanides expounds the man's words to say, "She is worthy of being called by the same name as myself, that is to say: I have given names to all living beings, but I have not succeeded in finding one among them fit to be called by a name resembling mine, thus indicating kinship with me. She, at last, deserves to be given a name corresponding to my own." The Rashbam doesn't go quite so far, simply noting, "Just as I called each other kind of creature by its name, so too this kind of creature shall be called 'woman.'" But what sort of name is it? And why do we have to wait until the next chapter before "Adam named his wife Eve" (B'resheet 3:20, TLV)? Sarna suggests that "the man gives her a generic, not a personal, name and that designation is understood to be derived from his own, which means that he acknowledges woman to be his equal. Moreover, in naming her ishah, he simultaneously names himself; he now calls himself iysh for the first time. Thus he discovers his own manhood and fulfillment only when he faces the woman, the human being who is to be his partner in life." Up until this point, the man has always been ; now he is , as if he has come of age when meeting and recognising his help-mate. Friedman comments that "Sexual distinction has no meaning unless there are two kinds of a species, so there is no male until there is a female."
We shouldn't hear any tones of position, superiority or dominance in this narrative. Hirsch quickly points out that "the name does not designate the dependence of Woman on Man, but rather the equality, the two belonging together, the division of the one human calling between the two sexes." This is a together, sharing thing, where both parties are to be equally involved in God's initial mandate to "Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth" (1:28, NJPS). Terence Fretheim observes that, in fact, "the narrator had already so named the woman in the previous verse (2:22)," so comments that "the use of iysh and ishah in the naming discerns and recognises the sameness and difference within humanity."6
We can see that the man knew his helpmeet when he saw her and instantly classified her as a human like himself. He also declared their relationship: they belonged together, they were made for each other. The man didn't need any clues or hints to recognise the woman; he just knew. We can see that same 'knowing' taking place in the gospels. When Yeshua first met Peter, He gave the disciples a miraculous catch of fish and Peter falls down before him saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8, ESV). No questions are asked, no explanations sought - recognition is instant. A little later, when Yeshua asks the disciples who they think He is, it is Peter who blurts out, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living G-d" (Matthew 16:16) and Yeshua confirms that Peter's knowledge is by divine supernatural revelation. When Philip brings his brother Nathaniel to Yeshua, Yeshua tells him that He had seen him under a fig tree and Nathaniel exclaims, "Rabbi, you are the Son of G-d! You are the King of Israel!" (John 1:49, ESV). He knows who Yeshua is without being told.
Do we know Yeshua when we see Him today? How does the Scripture point us in His direction? We have the gospel records of what Yeshua did and said, how He spoke to the crowds and the disciples, the priests and the Pharisees. More, we have the testimony of the prophets who tell us beforehand what He should look like and how He should sound; we also have the testimony of the first disciples who tell us in astonishing detail about Yeshua, "which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands ... we have seen it, and testify to it ... which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you" (1 John 1:1-3, ESV). And Yeshua still speaks today: through the words in the Bible, by His Holy Spirit in our hearts, through visions and dreams, the still small voice in the middle of the night, the voice in our ear in the middle of a crowd. Just like the first man and woman, we and Yeshua were made for each other: He is our Saviour and Redeemer, our kinsman who is "closer than a brother" (Proverbs ); we were made by Him, for Him (Colossians 1:16), to be His disciples and to be conformed to His image as "the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29) - we are bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh. We too must recognise Him and cry out, declaring that we belong to Him and owning Him as our L-rd and Master.
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 362.
2. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis: Part One - From Adam to Noah (Jerusalem, Magnes Press, 1978), page 135.
3. - A super-commentary on Rashi's Torah Commentary, by Elijah Mizrachi of Constantinople, 1455-1526 CE, the Grand Rabbi of the Ottoman empire.
4. - Michael Sokoloff, A Dictionary of Palestinian Aramaic 2nd Ed., (Ramat-Gan, Israel: Bar Ilan University Press,2002), page 119-120.
5. - Rabbi Ezra Zion Melamed, Aramaic-Hebrew-English Dictionary of the Babylonian Talmud (Jerusalem, Levy Foundation, 2005), page 84.
6. - Terence Fretheim, "Genesis" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 45.
7. - John Wesley, May 24th 1738, Aldersgate Street, London; from his personal journal.
Further Study: Luke 24:13-25; Hebrews 1:1-2
Application: Do you instantly recognise Yeshua when He speaks to you? Is your heart "strangely warmed"7 when you hear others talking about Yeshua and feel drawn into His presence? You might want to listen out carefully today and ask Him to let you hear Him whispering clearly in your heart.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
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