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The Start of a Relationship

This week we are reading the story of creation.

You may realize, as many people who’ve read the first few chapters of Genesis carefully have, that the story of creation is told twice.  The hinge between the stories is in the middle of Gen 2:4:

            This is the story of

                        the heaven and the earth

                                    when they were created,

                                    on the day YHWH God made

                        earth and heaven.

It’s right where you see that comma that Version 1 of the creation story comes to an end and Version 2 of the story begins.

There are quite a lot of differences between the two stories.  A traditional perspective on the differences is that Version 1 is essentially the headline news and Version 2 gives the detailed particulars.  An idea I like somewhat better is that Version 1 gives a cosmic perspective on the story, while Version 2 brings the story down to earth.

Some quite interesting things are evident when you compare the two stories.  The one I want to look at this week is this.  In Version 1 of the story, to use the contemporary phrase, it’s all good.  In Gen 1:3 God creates light, and in v. 4 God sees that the light is good.  The Hebrew word is טוב (tov), a word that occurs seven times in Version 1.  There are five other things that God finds “good” in Genesis 1: the dry land (v. 10), the vegetation (v. 12), the sun, moon, and stars (v. 18), the birds and sea creatures (v. 21), and the land animals (v. 25).  Finally, of course – after humanity has come into being – God saw everything he had done, and it was “very good” (v. 31).

But in Version 2 of creation, with the details of the story that Version 1 did not stop to enumerate, some things are switched around and the focus is quite different.  God creates human beings much earlier in Version 2 than in Version 1 – or at least one human being, ha-adam (“the earthling”), so called because he is made out of adamah (“earth”).

Now the big surprise.  At the end of Genesis 1 everything is “very good.”  But when we get to Gen 2:18 – just the middle of the remake – God looks at his work and says these memorable, even startling words: lo tov – it is “not good” for the earthling to be by himself.  Despite the pretty picture that was painted for us in Version 1, if we assume that these two versions are telling the same story we can see that there were actually some bumps in the road, some intermediate stages in creation that were not good.

God figures out that the way to solve the problem of the earthling’s being alone is to make an עזר כנגדו (ezer k’negdo),  – a helpmeet, to use the traditional English word.  The correct way to understand the phrase, of course, is not as a single word, but as two words, the way the Hebrew and even the King James translation have it.  What the earthling needs is a help that is “meet for him” – that is, “corresponding to him” or “appropriate for him.”

From what follows, we see what is really at stake.  God forms all the other land creatures and the birds as well. Under the pretext of asking the earthling to name them, God introduces him to all of them.  After all (see Gen 2:19), they too are made of adamah.  Yet somehow none of them is an appropriate partner for him.

Did God not understand that a dog or a lion or an eagle would not be an appropriate mate for the earthling?  Did God not yet have sexual reproduction figured out at this point, until he stopped and thought about it for a minute?  Obviously not; and remember that we are never told that appropriate mates are found for the other animals and birds – not to mention the fish.

Whatever the explanation is, this whole episode that’s told quite extensively in Version 2 is recorded as briefly as possible in Version 1, as recounted in Gen 1:27:

God created the earthling in his image;

in the image of God he created him.

            [insert our story here]

Male and female he created them.

One of the striking differences between the two versions of the creation story is that Version 1 is very, very scientific.  It’s taxonomic.  In that story, everything is good because everything is orderly.  Things make scientific sense, at least from an ancient Near Eastern perspective.  There  is a hierarchy of creatures, from the less complicated to the more complicated, and they fit the different realms of the planet: air, sea, and earth.

Version 2, as I read it, says that God understood the science but God did not understand relationship.  The essence of the oneness of God, as the medieval philosophers explained it, is that God is perfect, complete, and, therefore, one.  If you are this kind of being, the thing you are guaranteed not to understand is what it is like to be in relationship.  There isn’t anything else but you.

Even after the creation of the world, whatever exists is something qualitatively different from you.  Paradoxically, the story of the Torah is about a God who is looking for a relationship – the one thing that a creator god must find it hardest to comprehend.

The God of Genesis grows to understand how to have the relationship he wants only over a long and protracted period.  It will take the rest of the book of  Genesis just to tell the first chapter of that story.  You needn’t fear that I’ll spoil the ending for you – it is a story that is still being written.

About the Author
Michael Carasik has a Ph.D. in Bible and the Ancient Near East from Brandeis University and taught for many years at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the creator of the Commentators’ Bible and has been a congregational Torah reader, blogger, and podcaster about the Bible. You can read a longer version of this essay at torahtalk.substack.com and follow Michael's close reading of Genesis 1 at michaelcarasik.substack.com.