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Now the fig leaves are digital

The Garden of Eden’s tech was a warning for today.

Society is splitting apart, the narrative goes; and tech – especially social media – is largely to blame. This feels like the world’s newest problem. But maybe one reason we can’t find solutions is that we overlook just how old the challenges really are.

To find a much earlier version—and possibly a solution – to our very current tech-driven predicament, look to a far older tech-driven relationship. I’m speaking of the relationship between Adam and Eve.

When they first meet, the Torah tells us, the first man looks at the woman and finds his missing self. “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” he exclaims, naming her isha (woman) because she is created from a bone of the man (ish) (Genesis 2:23). It is because of this innate connection, the Bible explains, that a man and a woman go on to marry and “become one flesh (verse 24).”

The connection doesn’t last. At first, though the man and the woman were naked “they felt no shame” (verse 25). But when they eat of the Fruit and “realized that they were naked… they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths (Genesis 3:7).” Understanding that they should be ashamed, they cover their intimate parts – the flesh that should join them into one.

And with the covering comes friction. When God asks the man why he sinned, the man stands apart from the woman and points fingers at her. “The woman You put at my side,” he tells God, “gave me of the tree, and I ate (Genesis 3:12).”

As many have noted, the story of the Garden is not only a story of sin: it is also a story of how we deal with all the ways we have gone wrong. And this second story is one of being intertwined and incomplete and, as a result, ashamed. In response to that shame, we put up armor – fig leaves – and cut ourselves off from each other.

This is a tale of deep psychological truth; but it’s also a tale of technology. After all, the loincloth—sewed from fig leaves plucked from a tree—seems to be the first human invention in the Bible. In the Torah, the armor we put up to hide shame is the starting-point of all tech. And separating from one another is the aftermath.

Just a quick look at humblebrag social posts and online political grandstanding will show that these problems are still with us today. We hide our ignorance and imperfection behind digital fig leaves. And from jealousy to deep ideological rifts, the fig leaves help push us apart from one another.

It’s depressing to think that after all these millennia, we haven’t solved the societal ills that technology drives. But at the same time, maybe the Torah is hinting at a way out. To heal the divide from tech, focus on just two things. Face—don’t deflect—the shame you want to hide. And remember that, no matter how much we try to push against each other, we were made from the start to be a part of each other.  ❦

About the Author
Abe Mezrich is a Jewish writer and tech marketer trying to make sense of both sides of his experience. He is a regular contributor to the Tanakh site 929 English, and his articles and poetry have appeared in outlets including The Forward, Hevria, Tablet, The Lehrhaus, and elsewhere. His latest book is Words for a Dazzling Firmament, a collection of poems on the weekly Torah reading from Ben Yehuda Press.
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