Urgent message: Given the most challenging situation in Israel at this time, I urge all to pray for the bereaved families, the hostages, the missing and the many casualties. Please try to “clothe yourselves in mitzvot,” send funds to help the needy and grieving families, and attend the rallies that are being organized in support of Israel. May the Al-mighty protect the  State of Israel, its citizens and bless it with peace!

“’Naked’ Means More than Naked”
(updated and revised from Bereshith 5765-2004)

by, Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

How exciting to be starting over again! At the earliest opportunity, the year 5784 is ushered in with the reading of the Torah, beginning with the first chapter of Bereshith on Simchat Torah, and followed by the reading of all of parashat Bereshith 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 origins of humankind. What can be more heartening that to learn that humankind was created, in a most loving way, (Genesis 1:27), בְּצֶלֶם אֱ־לֹקִים, b’tzelem Eh’lo’kim, in the image of G-d. G-d then (Genesis 2:7), graciously breathes into the human being’s nostrils נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים, nishmat chayim, the soul of life, and the human being becomes נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה, 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 עֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע, Etz ha’dah’aht tov va’rah, the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17). The Al-mighty 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 relates that in this state of “Nirvana,” man and woman had reached the highest level of physical and spiritual kinship, stating that they actually became בָשָׂר אֶחָד, vasar echad, one flesh (Genesis 2:24). In fact, the Torah declares, וַיִּהְיוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם עֲרוּמִּים, הָאָדָם וְאִשְׁתּוֹ, וְלֹא יִתְבֹּשָׁשׁוּ, that the man and his wife were both naked and they were not ashamed (Genesis 2:25).

Unfortunately, this utopian condition would soon end when the human beings failed to heed G-d’s one admonition. The Torah reports that the human beings did not sin of their own volition. They were encouraged, or more accurately, seduced, by the נָּחָש, the serpent, who is described by the Torah as being, עָרוּם מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה השׁם אֱ־לֹקִים, more cunning than any of the creatures of the field that the L-rd, G-d, had made (Genesis 3:1). The Torah relates, 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), וַתִּפָּקַחְנָה עֵינֵי שְׁנֵיהֶם, וַיֵּדְעוּ כִּי עֵירֻמִּם הֵם, 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 into the world. Adam and Eve are told that the earth will now yield its bread only through the sweat of the human being’s brow. It is a sad conclusion to a wonderous beginning. It is the end of the “age of innocence,” and the beginning of the age of travail and 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 hate and 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 frailty and 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, it is important to note the use of the term עֵירֹם–“ay’rome,” naked, that is repeated frequently throughout this biblical narrative. It is no coincidence that the verse, וַיִּהְיוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם עֲרוּמִּים, (Genesis 2:25), and both of them were naked, is immediately followed by the passage that states, וְהַנָּחָשׁ הָיָה עָרוּם מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה , (Genesis 3:1), that the serpent was cunning beyond any beasts of the field, utilizing the same term עָרוּם“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) אַיֶּכָּה“Ah’yeh’kah?” “Where are you, Adam?” Adam responds: “I heard Your voice in the garden,” וָאִירָא כִּי עֵירֹם אָנֹכִי, וָאֵחָבֵא, (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 recently 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. אֱ־לֹקַי נְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּתַֽתָּ בִּי טְהוֹרָה הִיא, My G-d, the soul that you gave me, is so pure and holy, so pristine and clear. אַתָּה בְרָאתָהּ אַתָּה יְצַרְתָּהּ אַתָּה נְפַחְתָּהּ בִּי וְאַתָּה מְשַׁמְּ֒רָהּ בְּקִרְבִּי, 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, וְאַתָּה עָתִיד לִטְּ֒לָהּ מִמֶּֽנִּי וּלְהַחֲזִירָהּ בִּי לֶעָתִיד לָבֹא, 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 really 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. Those 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 protects us, 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. If we sincerely work at it, we shall surely prevail.

May you be blessed.