A Midrash on Sensation:
Adam and Eve’s Daring Gambit 


When the Search-Committee started looking for a new rabbi, a whiff of insurgency was already in the air. It was clear that the congregation wanted someone quite different from Rabbi Frumewitz. It wasn’t just the younger families (who wanted someone their children could better relate to). His stern demeanor and strict, bordering-on-Orthodox adherence to halacha (Jewish law) had driven off many potential new members.

As recently as a decade ago, he was still fighting tooth and nail to keep women off the dais (much less women in prayer shawls). Non-Jewish spouses were virtually frozen out of their kids’ bar or bat mitzvahs. And let’s not even talk about his position on homosexuality. (“I won’t ask, but please don’t kvel [brag]” was his standard refrain.)

The United Synagogue, of which Temple Ner Tamid is an affiliate, had not yet grappled with the issue of gays in the rabbinate but had recently ordained its first handful of women rabbis. If change was what the Committee had in mind, replacing Frumewitz with a female rabbi might be just the thing to shake up this historic congregation. So Rabbi Miriam Avtzeluches was invited to interview for the job. And from the very get-go, she seemed hell-bent to ruffle feathers.

Her visit coincided with Shabbat Bereyshit, the Sabbath on which we read the creation story from the Book of Genesis. Dressed modestly (except for sequined head cover and iridescent striped prayer shawl), she strode right over to Rabbi Frumewitz on the dais and gave him an in-your-face bear hug. Then, fast enough to send her prayer shawl gallantly streaming, she spun around to address the congregation:

“Good Shabbos my friends, it’s very nice to be with you this morning, Shabbat Bereyshit no less—when we make a fresh start by reading again from the Book of Genesis. So who knows [turning to stare directly at Frumewitz], maybe it will prove a new beginning for all of us!”

As if this and her very presence as Guest-Rabbi had not sufficiently made the point, she continued to go out of her way to stir the feminist pot. I was there. And what I am about to give you is a verbatim transcript (don’t ask me how I got it) of her remarks, introducing the weekly Torah portion:

_______       _______       _______       _______

When God first envisioned a soul in a body, my friends, sensation was what came to Mind. Seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. And, yes [winking here, like Sarah Palin], maybe just a touch of good-old-fashioned feminine intuition. But basically, the plan was for a network of neuroreceptors, hardwired to know light from dark, hot from cold, not-enough from too-much. And this idea of consciousness ensconced in matter was a very big bang indeed. [She looks up from her notes here, just to see if we got it.]

What God did not foresee, however, was physicality’s potential as a medium for relation. It was Adam, on the ground, who conceived of an interpersonal operating system for the sensory mainframe. He asked for and was granted a companion. (All right, what he had in mind, probably, was someone exactly like himself; but let’s give him all the credit—soon enough, there were two human prototypes, enjoying the fruits of the Garden.)

Now it takes one for sensation; two for relation. But there was evening and there was morning, and Eve seemed, well . . . redundant. You heard me right, my friends. For surprise, surprise, it wasn't 15 minutes before Adam's sight and touch had confirmed that like everything else the Lord had made, Eve too "was good." But alas, her physical attributes did little to assuage his relational malaise.

“There’s no such thing as loneliness,” the serpent chided Adam. “It’s all in your oversized, homo sapiens head!” But Eve knew better. Indeed, in all creation, only she was in full possession of that quintessentially feminine instinct, even in physical paradise, to gird sensation with relation. “I feel it too,” she declared. “Something’s definitely missing.”

And Eve knew this, you see, without needing to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. She was clear from the outset she’d not come all this way for sensation alone. No, she was here to interact; to express, in and through the physical, her extrasensory, image-of-God Essence.

But unlike the human genome, relation could not manifest on a simple “Let-there-be” from the Creator. Adam and Eve, together, would have to work at this—to make their incipient feelings flesh; and keep on breathing life into them.

And as if that weren’t challenge enough for two babes in the woods, their relational agenda was beset, from the beginning, with a paradox. Eden’s very abundance, you see, made it functionally obsolescent the moment relation was thought of. For the essence of relation is the will to share. But in the Garden, Adam and Eve already had everything; and only God (not each other) to thank.

So that, my friends, is why Adam -- with Eve's encouragement, of course, had to give up his easy life and go out and find a good, steady job. He wanted, you should pardon the expression, to "bring home the bacon." So he could share it . . . with his beshert (beloved).