“‘Naked’ Means More than Naked”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

How exciting to be starting over again! At the earliest opportunity, the year 5765 is ushered in with the reading of the Torah, beginning with the first chapter of Bereishith on Simchat Torah, and followed by the reading of all of parashat Bereishith on the first Shabbat after Simchat Torah.

How happy we are to begin the study of Torah again and to read the optimistic narrative describing the beginning of humankind. What can be more heartening that to learn that the human being was created, in a most loving way, (Genesis 1:27) “b’tzelem Eh’lo’kim,” in the image of G-d. G-d then (Genesis 2:6) graciously breathes into the human being’s nostrils “nishmat chayim,” the soul of life, and the human being becomes “nefesh chaya,” a living soul.

After all this, G-d places Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and gives them the entire world as a gift. He withholds nothing from them except eating of “Etz ha’dah’aht tov va’rah,” the tree of knowledge, of good and bad (Genesis 2:17). He warns the human being that on the day that they eat from the tree, they will surely die.

Things seem so perfect, until the human beings defy G-d.

The Torah tells us that in this state of “Nirvana,” man and woman had reached the highest level of physical and spiritual kinship, stating that they actually became “basar echad,” one flesh (Genesis 2:24). In fact, the Torah tells us, “Va’yeeh’yoo sh’nay’hem ah’roo’mim, ha’ah’dahm v’ish’to, v’lo yit’bo’shah’shoo,” that the man and his wife were both naked and they were not ashamed (Genesis 2:25).

Unfortunately, this utopian condition would end soon when the human beings failed to heed G-d’s one admonition. The Torah relates that the human beings did not sin of their own volition. They were encouraged, or more accurately, seduced, by the “Nachash,” the serpent, who is described by the Torah as being “Ah’room mee’kol chah’yaht hah’sah’deh ah’sher ah’sah Hashem Eh’lo’kim,” more cunning than any of the creatures of the field that the Lord, G-d, had made (Genesis 3:1). The Torah tells us, that eventually the serpent succeeded in tempting the woman to ignore G-d’s will and to eat of the tree. She then gives her husband to eat as well.

At that moment, the Torah informs us (Genesis 3:7), “Va’tee’pa’kach’nah ay’nay sh’nay’hem, va’yay’d’oo kee ay’roo’mim haim,” Then the eyes of both of them [Adam and Eve] were opened, and they realized that they were naked. They then sewed a fig leaf, and made themselves aprons to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:4-7).

The conclusion of the story is well known. The defiance of G-d leads to the end of human immortality, and pain and travail are introduced to the world. Adam and Eve are told that the earth will now only yield bread through the sweat of the human being’s brow. It is a sad conclusion to a wonderful beginning. It is the end of the age of innocence, and the beginning of the age of pain. It is the end of the age of peace, and the beginning of the age of war. It is the end of the age of love, and the beginning of the age of enmity.

Before we proceed, let us make one thing eminently clear. Judaism does not regard this story, as Christianity does, as the source of “the fall of man,” or as the introduction of “original sin” from which the human race can never be cleansed. To a large extent, it is simply a realistic story of humanity, underscoring the fallibility of the human being. The failed human being is then challenged to “repair the world.” That is a far cry from “original sin.” In fact, many of our commentators regard the sin of Adam and Eve as a blessing in disguise, because in this manner the human being becomes G-d-like, and a true partner in the Al-mighty’s efforts to make the world a better place.

Upon careful review, one notes the use of the term “ay’rome,” naked, that is repeated frequently throughout this biblical narrative. It is no coincidence that the verse, “Va’yeeh’yoo sh’nay’hem ah’roo’mim,” (Genesis 2:25) and both of them were naked, is immediately followed by the passage that states, “V’ha’nah’chash ha’yah ah’room mee’kol chah’yaht ha’sah’deh,” (Genesis 3:1) that the serpent was cunning beyond any beasts of the field, utilizing the same term “Ah’room” for “nakedness” and “cunning.” It is the cunning of the serpent that brings to an end the nakedness and innocence of the human being. It is the cunning of the human being’s evil inclination that removes the human being from his original state of purity (nakedness).

Our rabbis interpret this passage even more dramatically. Says the Midrash (Pirke de-R. Eliezer, 14): G-d calls to the human being in the Garden of Eden and says to him:(Genesis 3:9) “Ah’yeh’kah?” “Where are you, Adam?” Adam responds: I heard Your voice in the garden, “Va’ee’ra, kee ay’rome ah’no’chee, vah’ay’cha’vay,” (Genesis 3:10) I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid. The rabbis in the Midrash state that what is implied here is not a physical nakedness but rather a religious nakedness. Adam was afraid, that due to his transgression, he had now been stripped of the one commandment that he had received. Without even a single mitzvah, the human being is indeed naked.

We have just completed the observance of Yom Kippur, and the 25 hours that are designated as a propitious time for Teshuvah, for repentance. During those 25 hours, Jews the world over petitioned G-d to forgive their sins. After all, each human being entered this world with a pure soul, and it is now sullied. And as we say in our daily prayers, the pure soul is an incredible gift from G-d. “Eh’lo’kai neshama sheh’nah’tah’tah bee, tehora hee.” My G-d, the soul that you gave me, is so pure and holy, so pristine and clear. “Ah’tah v’rah’tah, v’ah’tah y’tzar’tah, ah’tah ne’fach’tah bee, v’ah’tah m’sham’rah b’kir’bee,” You G-d, have created it, you G-d have formed it, you G-d have breathed it into me, and you G-d preserve it within me. “V’ah’tah atid lit’lah mee’meh’nee, ooh’l’hach’zee’rah bee leh’ah’tid lah’vo,” and you G-d will hereafter reclaim it from me and restore it to me in the time to come.

Despite the sin of Adam and Eve, the age of innocence is not entirely over. In fact, the age of innocence is ongoing and continuing. To restore this innocence, every person must labor to be cleansed of the cunning (nakedness) of the serpent, and return to the primordial nakedness of the human, free from sin. How exactly is that accomplished? By dressing ourselves in mitzvot. The fig leaves hardly cover us, nor do the fancy fur coats or the expensive Armani suits. It is the Torah, and its rededication that we celebrate with the reading of parashat Bereshith, that removes our shame, and replaces it with joy, pride and happiness.

In Judaism there is no “original sin,” there is a sin of defiance that can be washed away, so that we may become as clean as we were in the Garden of Eden. That cleansing is our mission and our task. Let us work at it, and we shall prevail.

Happy Sukkot.

May you be blessed.