By Adam Simon
The saga of the development of mankind and the Jewish People, as laid out in the beginning of the book of Bereishit, is a fascinating one. But it is also one which carries deep and powerful messages for each and every one of us in our development as human beings.
Alone in the Garden of Eden, Adam he has not a care in the world. Then, God decides to craft a partner for Adam. The Torah tells us that when God created Chava from Adam’s rib, Adam said, “This (Chava) is the one! She is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh,” and then the Torah tells us, “Therefore, a man leaves the house of his father and mother and connects with his wife.”
What does “therefore” mean here? There is the obvious connection between the passages; they both deal with the topic of the connection between man and woman, but why “therefore”? The word implies that people leave their parents in order to get married because Chava was taken from Adam’s rib.
As children we are given everything we need by our parents. As we grow older, we slowly transition into a state of self-sufficiency. But, when we are born and while we live in our parents’ home we are takers. In order to properly enter into a relationship with another human being we must change this nature and grow up. We must “leave the house of our father and mother” and cease to be takers.
We must become givers.
The Torah tells us that in order for a person to have a successful marriage, friendship, or any other type of relationship, they must be a giver. Just as the first interpersonal relationship of mankind– Chava–was created through an act of giving–the giving of Adam’s rib–so too all future interpersonal relationships must come from a place of giving. We can now read the passage as follows:
“Just as Adam gave of himself to build his relationship with his wife, so too a person must leave the taker mentality of his youth and become a giver.”
Indeed, this is the theme of the saga which ensues: Adam fails to be a giver, takes (the forbidden fruit) and so is forced to work for his sustenance (in order to break the taker mentality). The taker mentality is, alas, too strong for mankind to overcome and so, due to rampant theft, the world is overturned by the flood and Noah is responsible for nourishing the whole world; giving for an entire year by feeding and sustaining all life. Finally, we meet Abraham, the paradigm of a giver, of whom the Talmud says, “So long as Abraham was alive God’s attribute of giving was not needed, for Abraham took its place.”
So what does this mean for our lives today? I would like to offer three practical pieces of advice:
- Stop being a taker. Realize that although it was a necessary stage of your development to be a taker, as we grow up it is important to slowly move away from this mentality.
- Give to others. The next time you get up to get yourself a cup of water or a snack, get one for someone else too. You have two hands for a reason. You don’t have to be a giver all the time, but at least whenever you think about yourself, think about other people.
- Teach and inspire. When you sustain someone else physically, you are giving, which is good for you, but you are forcing them to become takers. When you teach and inspire others it is like lighting a candle, instead of creating a relationship of giver and a taker, you have created two givers.