Two short teachings from the Baal Shem Tov
A conference call with Judge Goldstone

This week's poem: likeness


Understand, we created
because we yearned to be known

being everything is tiresome
no conversation, no surprises

so we made a being from clay
and breathed life into its nose

immediately it set to naming:
sumac, lemur, condor

but we had fashioned it
in our image, after our likeness

which meant it was lonely too
moping around the garden disconsolate

as it slept we shaped a companion
from its side, an equal, a stranger

our daughter inherited curiosity
our son, surprised, stayed silent

mouth full and eyes opened
yet he blamed her for change

every loving parent knows
it hurts to watch them fall

but the miracle of them walking
still takes our breath away

This week's portion is Bereshit, the first portion in the book which bears the same name. (In English we call it Genesis.) It's a wondrous and rich portion, and if I had world enough and time I could spend this whole week posting about these chapters and their many interpretations and implications. The creation of the cosmos! The creation of the first human(s)! The eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil! There's so much great material here.

Last year's Torah poem depicted God suffering from postpartum depression after the creation. This year my Torah poem took a different direction: this one's voiced by God, reflecting on the creation of the adam made from adamah (earthling made from earth) and the creation of the second figure from a piece of that first figure when the first figure proved to be lonely with only the animals for companionship. The poem is strongly influenced by the midrash which suggests that the adam was a bigendered being who was subsequently split into two.

God here speaks in the plural because that's one way of reading the Hebrew text: "let us make adam in our image, after our likeness." I'm always intrigued by that phrase: what does it mean to be in God's image and likeness? This year I was struck by the sense that if we're in God's image and likeness, then our qualities necessarily mirror God's -- including the curiosity which drove the woman to take and eat that fruit. Intriguingly, if you read Genesis 3 closely, you'll note that Adam was with Chava at the time of the conversation with the serpent; he's silent, but he's there. I'd never noticed that before.

I like the wordplay of the "fall" reference in the penultimate stanza, though I feel compelled to point out that in Judaism this narrative isn't referred to as "the fall" the way it is in classical Christian thought, and we don't share the Christian doctrine of original sin. Still, I like the way that couplet and the one which follows it hint both at a kind of growing-up (which is how I tend to read this story: Adam and Eve taking the leap of individuation, from an initial childlike innocence to something like adulthood) and at the way children learning to walk always inevitably have to fall.

Alas, I didn't manage to connect this week's Torah poem with this week's prompt at ReadWritePoem, but you can read other poems by RWP'ers linked from the comments of this week's Get Your Poem On post.