“If I ruled the world…” mused a Welsh warbler some decades ago. Adam in the Garden of Eden did just that – for a few blissful moments.
“Now the Eternal G-D had formed out of the ground every beast of the field and every bird of heaven and He brought them to Adam to see what he would name each one. Whatever Adam would call each living being, that would remain its name” (Gen. 2:19).
Can we imagine a level more exalted? Can one conceive of a higher pinnacle of achievement for a human being to attain? To be in at the beginning of any major enterprise must be unforgettable; to have been in at the creation of the world must have been indescribable. But not only was Adam ‘in’ as a partner with G-D in the naming of the primordial species, he was actually required to assume the initiative in this cosmic naming process. In the vivid descriptive imagery of the great Spanish Torah exegete Nachmanides (Ramban), Adam sat down and G-D, as it were, waited on him. The sense of personal achievement and satisfaction felt by the first man must surely have known no bounds!
Yet, juxtaposed to this very verse, we read that G-D said “it is not good for the man to be alone; I will make for him a compatible soulmate” (ezer k’negdo).
Was Adam, then, alone? He had the Almighty Himself as a partner. He had the Shechina (D-vine Presence) closer to him than it has been to any person since. As yet man was a spiritually-orientated being; prior to eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Adam had no desire or capacity for sexual intimacy. Why did he need a companion? Why was it “not good” for man to be alone?
The answer is insightfully provided for us by the Midrash. It is true that Adam had G-D as a ‘partner’ and ‘companion’. However for this partner, for this companion, he was able to do zilch. G-D did not require a man to designate names for the animals and birds; He could have named them Himself had he wished it. The grand naming ceremony may well have helped Adam feel on top of the world, but it actually did nothing for his illustrious Partner. “If you sin, what do you do to Him … if you are righteous what do you give Him?” (Job 35:6-7)
What our Midrash is saying, very beautifully, is that Adam had nobody to whom he could give. And, say our Rabbis, a person who is unable to be a giver is called l’vado, alone – and it is this aloneness which G-D describes as lo tov, not good. For this existential loneliness, even the most exalted spiritual appointment does not compensate.
It is in response to this inherent need for man to be a giver that G-D provides him with his first truly blissful moment – the creation of Eve his compatible soul-mate (verses 21-23).
It is no accident of the Hebrew language that the word for ‘give’ (hav) also forms the basis for the word ‘love’ (ahava). In order for there to develop true love between equals in a marriage, both partners need to be constantly asking themselves “how am I giving to my partner?”
Or as Rabbi Eliahu E. Dessler (1892-1953), celebrated exponent of the Kelm school of mussar (Jewish ethics) used to say when addressing bridal couples: “Know that the moment you find yourselves beginning to make demands on each other, your happiness is at an end. When demands begin, love departs!” Conversely, where desire to give reigns supreme, love enters and remains.