Adam and Eve as depicted in the Escorial Beatus, a 10th-century illuminated manuscript.
Adam and Eve as depicted in the Escorial Beatus, a 10th-century illuminated manuscript.

Adam and Eve and the problem of loneliness

The Torah column is supported by a generous donation from Eve Gordon-Ramek in memory of Kenneth Gordon.


Genesis 1:1–6:8

The holiday of Simchat Torah marks the reset of the cycle of Torah portions. The Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) concludes and the Book of Bereishit (Genesis) begins anew.

This year, because Simchat Torah ended on a Sunday, we have had nearly a week to prepare for the portion of the week; some years, we have to rush due to very few days between Simchat Torah and the next Shabbat.

The storyline in Bereishit is confusing and difficult for us to reconcile with our rational understanding of the universe. The Torah is not meant, however, to be a science or history book. It is meant to be a guide for navigating our course in this world.

Perhaps the extra time we have been granted this year will allow us to delve a little deeper into its messages.

In the narrative of the creation of Adam and Eve, we find that the episode is presented first as an introductory sketch and then repeated with the details and dimensions necessary to foster an understanding of what might have taken place 5,781 years ago.

The first account of creation states, “So God made Man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). What does it mean that He created him in the singular if it then goes on to suggest that he created them male and female. Which was it?

It seems that originally man was a composite of a male and female. To this man, it further states that, “God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea, the bird of the sky, and every living being that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:28).

It seems that Adam and Eve, together, were told that they would rule over all the other creatures.

In the second chapter, we find a detailed account of their creation and their separation. In verse 18, it states, “Hashem, God, said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helpmate corresponding to him.’” The text then describes the naming of all the animals and then returns to the story of the surgical process of removing a side of Adam to create Eve.

What was so bad about man being alone?

After all, he was a fusion of both masculine and female entities all bound up in one. Why the need for separation? Further, one can ask why the interruption with the naming of the animals?

The classic commentaries have multiple explanations that answer some of these questions. Some of the more contemporary Mussar scholars suggest that what was not good about Man being alone was that he had no opportunity to be a giver. The account of naming the animals suggests that Adam was trying to find opportunities to give to other creatures, but that the giving was not as satisfying an experience.

Ironically, when Adam and Eve were still fused together as one, they were told to be masters over all other creatures. Even when Man was put in a position to give to other beings, it was still considered not good enough. Man needed to have a peer to whom to give. By creating Eve, they each could give to each other in a meaningful way. When there is an imbalance in power, the giving often does not achieve the greatest good.

The Midrash Bereishit Rabba 17:2 suggests that a man who is not married lives without good, and bases it on our verse that says that it is not good for man to be alone.

Giving creates goodness. Without opportunities to give, we are lacking in our capacity to achieve, and also to produce, good.

A few weeks ago, the Yom Kippur service that was recited across the globe harkened back to a depiction of the service performed by the high priest of Israel in the Holy Temple. That service was considered valid only if the high priest was married. So much so, that according to the Mishnah, in the first chapter of Tractate Yoma, they even prepared a bride in waiting in case something should happen to his current wife.

Why the emphasis on marriage as a critical precondition to the holiest service of the year?

For the very same reason. The high priest has to be a giver if he is going to represent the entire Jewish people before God. Giving is not just a good thing to do; it is by very definition good itself.

Rabbi Joey Felsen
Rabbi Joey Felsen

Rabbi Joey Felsen is the founder and executive director of the Palo Alto-based Jewish Study Network. He teaches at JCCs in Palo Alto and Los Gatos, and is the founding board president of Meira Academy in Palo Alto. Rabbi Felsen is also on the board of J. The Jewish News of Northern California.