April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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Psychological Insights from the Torah

Torah wisdom and psychological theory and practice agree that “emunah” is the critical card in building successful relationships. Moreover, the relationship of Adom and Chavah, with Hashem and with one another, establishes a paradigm for all the relationships humankind experiences.

In this first story we learn that trust grows and develops on the building blocks of “acknowledgement,” “affirmation,” “appreciation,” “acceptance,” and “forgiveness,” among other essential elements. Current research also bears testimony that successful, enduring relationships are founded on these basic rudiments. Indeed, there is no “fast track” in this journey. Moreover, it appears that because these first relationships did not have the time to develop, the trust and commitment they had with each other soon deteriorated. As a result Hashem had to move from Plan A to Plan B, the expulsion of Adom and Chavah from Gan Eden, to allow the relationships to grow and mature before mankind could return to those days of bliss in Paradise. While the trip back is a God-given promise, this long and arduous journey continues to this very day.

The metaphorical value of these stories offers excellent skill-building techniques in achieving the ideals we strive for in our relationships with God and humankind. While it is true that so many matters associated with the manner in which God continues to intervene and monitor our world may remain a mystery, there is one core truth that immediately emerges: Hashem, the master creator, the essence of goodness, is our life source. Thus viewed, all that we are, all that we possess, and all that we experience, are products of His goodness. This truth should be sufficient to gain our love, trust, and commitment to submitting ourselves to His Divine will.

Yet, as the story of Adom and Chavah unfolds we observe that life never plays out exactly as one may expect; and that is okay. The early revelation of this truth is evidenced as the curtain arises on the scene between Chavah and the Nachash and closes on the expulsion from Gan Eden. I believe Hashem deliberately orchestrates this drama in order to begin his education in how to negotiate the relationship journey and life in general.

In his seminal work, Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Victor Frankl poignantly states “It is not what we expect out of life, but what life expects out of us.” This is true for relationships as well and exactly what Adom and Chavah learned through the challenges Hashem sent their way. If not for this purpose, why then would Hashem, the “all knowing,” create a flawed world with “fallible” beings? He hoped that with each fall, humankind would rise up once again and grow stronger in his ability to choose good over evil, until the ideal, the destiny of the chosen people, could be achieved.

Thus we see that despite the idyllic world within which Adom and Chavah exist, they soon transgress the only mandate Hashem charges them with, the prohibition against eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Hashem, as any loving father, only tried to protect the innocence of His children. Yet, they were not up to the task; perhaps, they were too innocent to exist in a world where evil exists, even in Paradise, a necessary component of “bechirah” (free will).

And so, when Chavah is seduced by the serpent to give it a try, she not only succumbs, but convinces Adom to do so as well. Neither partner lives up to the mission expected of an “Eizer K’negdo”–a supportive and opposing partner–one who guides the other onto the right path. Rather, they play the game of “blame and shame,” with Adom blaming Chavah and Chavah blaming the serpent. As a result they both fail miserably in acknowledging the source of their beneficence, and betray God’s love and trust, as well as their commitment to subjugating their own desires to God’s will.

Despite this betrayal, Hashem’s love for his children is not compromised. He does not destroy the world and start over. In fact, His response reflects the important building block of “forgiveness.” Even though He metes out the proverbial “punishment for their own good,” He also acknowledges His own part in their struggle, the double-edged gift of “free will” He bestowed upon them. Moreover, He does not give up on them as “forerunners of humanity” with the mission of emulating Hashem’s traits of loving kindness, and serving as a “light unto nations.” Rather, He mitigates the punishment by evicting them from the Garden of Eden and changing the conditions under which the destiny of our nation would be achieved. In the meantime, Adom and Chavah have much to learn as they grow into their role, once settled outside of the Garden and facing the real-life struggles of humankind.

The story of Adom and Chavah, viewed from the perspective of “relationship building,” evokes a sense of familiarity. One the one hand, it reminds us of the euphoria we experience in all of our “new beginnings”: the beginnings of courtships, marriages, birthing our children, and friendships. At the beginning stages, we experience an intense sense of love, joy, and trust, as well as the desire to do anything for the objects of our love. And then, as life moves on, we experience the gradual shift from, “It’s all about you, and appreciation for the joy you have brought into my life,” to “What about me?” Or: “When do I get my needs met?” In our new status as marriage partners or parents, for example, we begin to notice the small annoyances and habits, the difference in interests, the reality of “otherness,” and the challenges of little sleep and even less personal time.

What the Torah teaches us is that these challenges are legitimate and a normal component of growth. What we need to focus on is that we can weather the storm if we recognize that negativity and sticking to the game of blame and shame goes nowhere and keeps us stuck. We need to remember that God is merciful and forgives, and so should we. We need to remind ourselves of the appreciation and love we feel, and that we need to voice them on a regular basis, not once a week or even once a day, but building up to a minimum of three times a day. Indeed, our mandate to offer Korbanot in the past, and our current tefilot, teach us the importance of love, acknowledgment, and appreciation. It is only this repetition that will lead to a genuine and automatic response that spontaneously pours out of our lips. And most importantly, voicing our needs and concerns, within the context of love, will eliminate the negativity and lead to the outcomes we desire. These are the elements that were glaringly absent from Adom’s response when He answered Hashem’s questions regarding this first transgression.

He could have said “I’m sorry,” and perhaps the course of history would have changed. But He was too new to the demands inherent in human relationships. And so, real life as it exists out of the Garden of Eden became the classroom of this first pair. And now we have the experience of our ancestors and true-life role models, as well as rabbinic and professional support, if necessary, to teach us that the small cracks in the sheetrock of our relationships can be repaired. We have but to access these tools and support, as well as the time and effort to achieve the outcomes we desire.

Look forward to additional lessons in the Bereishit stories.

Renee Nussbaum is a practicing psychoanalyst, with special training in Imago Relational Therapy. She can be reached at: doctorrenenussbaum @gmail.com.

By Renee Nussbaum

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