Parshas Bereishis: ‘He Shall Rule Over You’

I know that this week’s parsha isn’t exactly Bereishis, but I haven’t had a chance to write this essay until now, and I think it is important even if it doesn’t exactly fit with the parsha.

There is, of course, an infinite amount to say about Parshas Bereishis, but I’d like to share here one particular interpretation of the story of the Tree of Knowledge, though, that helps quite a bit in understanding what the Torah means when it says, in regards to women, “your urge shall be for your husband… He shall rule over you” (Bereishis 3:16). This is a statement, no doubt, that makes many of us living today uncomfortable to read. It does not seem fair, and it does not seem accurate. While the Torah, and Judaism, is by no means whatsoever egalitarian, there is certainly no reason to believe that it is misogynistic. As such, these posukim seem difficult to say that least. Perhaps, then, we must do a better job understanding what, exactly, the Torah means by the above quotes.

Indeed, the questions we just posed may well be be better than the answers, but I think the following understanding of the Bereishis story is compelling, interesting, and important enough to merit sharing regardless. It comes from a sefer I have recently been reading and enjoying called “Meditations at Twilight on Genesis” by Rabbi Melvin Granatstein.

Moshe David Casutto, in offering his, admittedly modern and novel, interpretation of the Bereishis story draws attention to the fact that Adam lives 930 years despite the promise that the day he would eat from the tree of knowledge, he would die. According to Casutto, though, the knowledge conferred by the tree is simply the knowledge that Man is mortal. And on the day Man discovers this fact, death-awareness becomes all-pervasive. It changes everything. Man is cast out of the garden of the tree of life into the dark and threatening world of vulnerability. Man’s private parts testify to his mortality, and as such, demanded to be covered. The only immortality possible now, in this new world, must come through sexual reproduction.

Now we can understand the real significance of the curse imposed upon the snake, woman, and man. Eternal animosity will now prevail between man and snake, which represents that threatening character of untamed nature. Women will be capable of immortality only through the pain of childbirth. As such, to protect herself, she will yearn for a man to provide her this immortal protection. This, not sexual desire, is what the Torah means when it states that a women’s “urge shall be for [her] husband”. When the Torah continues and states that Man “shall rule over [women]”, this is not prescriptive, but rather describes woman’s Faustian bargain, so to speak, for safety and immortality through reproduction. Finally, Man is told that he will also have to struggle against the unforgiving soil and land in order to provide survival for himself and his family until he returns, inevitably, to that very same soil in death.

While there are other more widely accepted interpretations of the story of the tree of knowledge, this one is beautiful in its simplicity and obviousness, and as such is pretty compelling — if a little dark. Of course, this interpretation is really not exclusive of any of the more classic ones; at least it doesn’t have to be. And, of course, this interpretation also has the benefit of finally explaining what those seemingly difficult verses meant in reference to women.

Take it or leave it, I suppose. But I quite like it.

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