God creates all creatures in pairs – male and female – except for Man. Only after Adam is created in isolation does God declare: “It is not good for Man to be alone. I will create for him an eizer k’negdo – a helpmate.”
God then brings the animals before Adam to be named. When, in the process, Adam fails to find personal companionship within the animal kingdom, God causes a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and fashions Chava from a portion of Adam’s body. Upon awakening, Adam proclaims, “This time, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” The first man realizes that he has now found the companion he seeks.
An all-powerful God cannot arrive at delayed realizations. God obviously knows from the beginning that man needs companionship. Why, then, doesn’t God create Chava at the same time as Adam?
The phrase eizer k’negdo, used to describe Adam’s potential companion, is also deeply puzzling, even self-contradictory. The word eizer means “help,” while the root word neged means “against.” Why would God want to create a “help against” Adam? What message could this phrase possibly be conveying concerning the male-female partnership?
Finally, why does God parade the animals before Adam to be named at this particular juncture? God clearly knows that Adam will not find a companion from within the animal kingdom. What, then, is the purpose of this exercise?
A. Numerous approaches to the original isolation of Adam are suggested within classical rabbinic literature. One authority in the Talmud maintains that God originally created man d’yo partzuf panim, “with two faces.” Imbedded within Adam were both a male and female human being. When God creates Chava, He effectively separates one dual being into two.
As is often the case, the rabbis are conveying a profound idea in the form of what seems to be a simple tale.
Adam and Chava were originally one. When they reunite, they simply return to their original unified state. Each marriage, each union between man and woman from that point on, is effectively a return to what is meant to be. The natural sanctity of marriage thus emerges from the very story of creation.
One can also find within this rabbinic tradition a tantalizing allusion to the biological facts that will emerge millennia later.
Each human fetus carries both male and female traits, like the original Adam. In the natural course of events, one set of traits then becomes dominant, determining the sex of the child. The birth of each child thus mirrors the path of man’s original creation by God as understood by the Talmud.
B. Another fascinating moral lesson is gleaned by the Mishna as it discusses the phenomenon of man’s original aloneness.
Man is created alone to teach us that each individual is an olam malei, “an entire world.” At the point of Adam’s creation, the whole human race consists of one individual. From that time on, each human being is to be seen as of inestimable value.
Thus, anyone who sustains one individual, maintain the rabbis, has sustained an entire world. And anyone, God forbid, who destroys one individual has destroyed an entire world.
No matter how many people may populate the globe, we are meant to remember the time when the entire human race consisted of one solitary man. In that way, we will never take individual life for granted.
C. Other Talmudic approaches to man’s solitary creation include:
1. God creates man alone to encourage peace and harmony within mankind. All of humanity is descended from one ancestor. No individual has the right, therefore, to claim greater lineage than another.
2. Man is created individually to reflect God’s oneness in the heavens.
3. By creating one original man as the progenitor of many others, God demonstrates His greatness. When a coin-maker creates numerous coins out of one mold, they are all the same. God, however, crafts countless human beings, all in the mold of Adam. Nonetheless, each person is different and unique.
D. Most importantly, however, the mode of Adam’s creation can be understood as an educational process for Adam about himself and his relationship to others.
Unlike other creatures, man needs to learn the value of companionship. This is so because the quality of human companionship potentially differs from the quality of all other relationships in the world around us.
This difference, however, is not automatically guaranteed.
Our relationships as human beings have the possibility for unparalleled depth. We have the ability to transcend the physical and to establish true emotional ties, which can enrich and transform our lives.
There is a catch, however. The establishment of these ties is based upon learning, sacrifice and risk.
Firstly, human relationships are based upon sharing, and sharing does not come naturally or easily. A child has to be taught to share, to give up a bit of his space and self.
To make matters more difficult, there is also vulnerability inherent in close human contact. The closer we become with others, the greater the potential for pain. No one can hurt us as deeply as those who know us best.
God creates Adam alone, as Adam needs to understand that his aloneness is not good. He needs to feel the emptiness caused by in his isolation. Only upon feeling that emptiness can he understand why it is necessary to share with another. Adam has to learn that the choice for human relationships, with all of its consequent sacrifice and pain, is a better choice than the isolation that he now experiences. Had God created Chava immediately, Adam would have been unwilling to give of himself or of his world.
God then brings the animals before Adam to be named. Naming requires an understanding of the intrinsic nature of the creature.
Adam sees that every animal has companionship with its own kind. He also perceives, however, that the companionship reflected before him is inadequate to suit his own needs. Adam is looking for something greater and deeper. Only when Adam arrives at that realization does God then proceed with the creation of Chava.
The narrative of Adam and Chava’s creation stands as a monumental lesson concerning the nature of human closeness.
When we understand and are willing to accept the work and sacrifice necessary for the establishment of deep human relationships, when we create relationships based upon mutual trust, we achieve the companionship that is unique to mankind.
Adapted from one of the multiple essays on this parsha in Unlocking the Torah Text by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin.