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Primordial Human Consciousness
The first Adam/Eve is called by Kabbalists Adam Ha-Rishon (primeval human consciousness). This in no way resembled the human form as we know it. The Jewish sages speak of it in hyperbole. It had stupendous proportions, reaching from earth to heaven; it stood astride earth from one end to the other. It could see to the far reaches of the universe, for the light at that time was called Ohr Ein Sof, the limitless light, a metaphor for pure awareness.
Adam Ha-Rishon did not see with eyes, it saw with an immeasurable "knowing." This teaches that as each and every mortal being is a spark from the original Adam Ha-Rishon, we all have the potential to perceive everything knowable in this universe.
Adam and Eve were born simultaneously side-by-side, or back-to-back, attached like Siamese twins. As it says twice in Genesis, "male and female It created them." To separate them, in biblical language it says that God took one of Adam's "sides;" in zoharic language, it says, "God sawed Eve off from him." (For those who say Adam and Eve were attached back-to-back, this sawing is viewed as the cause of the bumps all humans have along the back of the spine.)
The Midrash Rabbah says, "When the Holy One created Adam [Ha-Rishon], it was androgynous. God created Adam Ha-Rishon double faced, and split him/her so there were two backs, one on this side and one on the other." The idea that Adam and Eve were co-equal at birth is not a kabbalistic secret; it was openly discussed in ancient midrashic literature.
Moreover, it was known two thousand years ago that the idea that Eve came from Adam's rib was a common misunderstanding. The Torah is unambiguous on this point. It repeats a second time, "Male and female It created them," and goes on to say, "and blessed them, and called their name Adam on the day they were created." Whenever the Torah repeats something, the emphasis always suggests deeper implications. Here, it is impossible to ignore that the creation of male and female was simultaneous.
It was only after the "sin" that Adam Ha-Rishon was diminished in size. This means that Eve and Adam became separate entities while both were still of gigantic proportions, that is, when both could see to the ends of the universe. The Garden of Eden, of course, was also viewed as enormous. The Tree of Life, at the center of the garden, was over twelve thousand miles high and approximately fifty thousand miles in diameter. Some midrashic sources suggest that it would take a person five hundred years to walk its diameter; this would make it millions of miles across.
This enormous size is described to suggest that the Tree of Life is all inclusive; it shelters under its branches every living thing, plant or animal. Even though today we know that the universe is significantly larger than a few million miles, ancient astronomers may have assumed that the entire universe could be enclosed in a space of such magnitude.
Exaggeration in size and numbers is used purposefully in wisdom teachings to shatter the boundaries of our minds. Mystically oriented traditions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, often use the device of overstatement in their primary texts. In Buddhism it is said: "Buddha shall have a thousand-millionfold worlds equal in number to sands of the Ganges. There should be a boddhisatva multitude numbering incalculable...thousands of myriads of millions." In the Hindu tales, King Nagnajit provides his daughter, Satya, the following dowry for her marriage to Krishna: "ten-thousand cows, nine-thousand elephants, nine-hundred thousand chariots, ninety-million horses, [and] nine-billion slaves." And this was only one of many thousands of wives taken by Krishna!
The sheer magnitude of ideas such as these bursts the limits of our reality. We immediately appreciate the fact that mystical teachings transcend normal thought processes. In many ways, the literal translation of the biblical stories of Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden in human proportions is a major disservice, for this invites comparisons, projections and simplistic interpretations that frequently put us on a track of distorted images and wrong-headed deductions. The mystical perspective, however, imposes an altered frame of reference upon us from the start.
TWO CREATION STORIES
In reading the Adam and Eve story literally, fundamental questions arise: Was the serpent under instructions from God to seduce Eve? If so, God's punishment would seem hypocritical, or worse, downright diabolical. If the serpent was not under God's instructions, was it simply a trouble-maker? A trouble-maker in the Garden of Eden? This is an oxymoron. The Garden of Eden is another name for paradise. Paradise does not have trouble-makers.
So the serpent must benefit in some way from a connection with Eve. In the mystical scenario described above, the serpent benefits by gaining vitality. Eve's name, Chava, means life, because she was "the mother of all living." She holds the power of life; the entire physical universe is dependent upon her. If the serpent is able to merge with her, the physical creation is possible; if not, then physicality as we know it could never occur.
The intrinsic nature of Eve as the supernal mother is to give life. The serpent says to her 'you will be like gods,' meaning, you will be able to create life. Later on, God agrees that the serpent was not lying, for God says that Adam and Eve "have become like one of us." That is to say, Adam and Eve were God-like, for they now had the ability to create life.
The Zohar says clearly that the forbidden fruit was sexuality. Eve and the serpent had sexual intercourse. In other words, they merged. Matter was now vitalized. Adam merged as well and added form. And this is the story of the physical creation as we know it.
One who reads the Torah literally might challenge this mystical interpretation with the more popular belief that this is a teaching story regarding sin and punishment. Indeed, the association of Eve and the serpent with sin and punishment is automatic in Western mythology. How would the Kabbalist respond to this objection?
When we carefully reread the text at the opening of the Torah, we find that there are two creation stories. In the first, male and female are created and are told to "be fruitful and multiply." In this opening chapter, which goes all the way through the seventh day, everything is fine and beautiful. The creation is perfect, no problems appear on the horizon, and the whole story could come to an end after one page.
So this is one way for creation to unfold: perfect, untroubled, utopia. But this level of perfection is a two dimensional flat-land. It has no depth in the sense that there is no real free will. If the universe were entirely preconditioned, there would be no potential for creativity. This is one of the meanings of the idea that human consciousness was created in the image of God--that is to say, we can be creative. The proof of this creativity is in confronting God by eating the fruit. This is the expression of free will and the source of an imperfect but far more vital creation.
Thus the Torah retells the story. It returns back to the sixth day and provides a new rendition. In this retelling, the Garden of Eden is introduced and God instructs Adam Ha-Rishon to not eat from the Tree of Knowledge because it will surely bring death. Up to this point, there is no death in the Garden of Eden. Death does not exist at all. In fact, the physical universe does not exist; there is no space or time in Eden. All of the lovely creations in the garden are non-physical. This might seem confusing because we read about earth, plants, seas, birds, creatures, and so forth. It seems to resemble earth as we know it. But from the mystical perspective, the Garden of Eden is beyond any reality we can relate to at our current level of consciousness, beyond time and space.
The Garden of Eden story describes a situation without time and space in which there is no separation, no sense of identity. The body of Adam/Eve combined initially does not look like anything familiar. Even the concept of Siamese twins is misleading, because Adam/Eve was not in a human form when it was first divided into two entities. This is a completely different “reality” and thus nothing is familiar in the way that we see things in our current time/space reality.
Once a physical universe is formed, we read a metaphor that the voice of God "walks" in the garden in the breeze of day. This is mystical poetic imagery to indicate a new materiality has come into the creation. This new reality is the result of tasting the Tree of Knowledge, for from this the duality of time/space is created along with the polarities of life and death.
God asks of Adam and Eve, "Where are you!" This is not a question. It is rhetorical. "Look at where you are! You are in bodies, you are physical beings. I told you this would be the result. Now you will surely die—because life has been created." Then what happens? God gives Adam and Eve clothing made of "skin." That is to say, now they have a sense of separation. This was the "punishment" of discriminating thought. Things became separate; they see themselves as separate beings. Prior to the serpent, the sense of nakedness did not exist. It only comes when one has an identity, a sense of individuality.
As a sexual metaphor, the eating of the tree is not a singular act, like eating fruit. It is relational; it takes two to eat from this tree. When we read this section carefully, we find that Adam does not say that Eve forced him to eat, rather that she offered the fruit and he freely took it. This is an acknowledgement of relationship rather than the placing of blame. There is a different way to read the traditional translation in which Eve says: "The serpent beguiled (seduced) me and I did eat." The word used here for seduction, hishiani, can be translated in a way to mean "to elevate," or "lift up." Thus, one could translate this same sentence that Eve said about the serpent: "He elevated me [to a higher state] and we ate [had sexual relations]." This adds an entirely new dimension to the story. A higher state of consciousness was aroused. That is to say, creation brought about a new potential for awareness. Standard commentaries to the Torah never mention this possible reading of Eve and the serpent.
At this point in the story, God curses the serpent. The reading is, "You are cursed above all cattle and above all beasts of the field." Is that not curious? Does this mean that all cattle and other beasts are cursed? Why are they cursed? If they are not cursed, what is the big deal of the curse on the serpent? It would have been much stronger for God to simply say to the serpent that it is cursed forever.
This is an issue that bothered many of the commentators. Some talmudic scholars suggested that this curse was related to procreation and that the period of gestation for a serpent would be longer than that of other beasts. Others disputed this line of reasoning. Everybody agreed, however, that the curse does not make sense the way it is written; indeed, the language of comparison mitigates against the power of the curse.
The other part of the curse is that the serpent would go on its belly and eat dust. There are thousands of creatures that go on their bellies and many of them live under the surface of the earth. Are they cursed as well? In the end, there are serious questions regarding the true meaning and intention of the curse; some say that it is not really a curse at all.
The Torah says that there will be enmity between humans and serpents; humans will crush serpents' heads, and serpents will bite the heels of humans. In the Kabbalah, head and heel are code words for epochs in the unfolding of creation. The head represents the earliest part of an era while the heel represents the end of an era.
According to this way of looking at things, we are currently in the heel phase of a six thousand year cycle. When it ends, a messianic era begins. Crushing and biting suggest points of transition. When the serpent bites at our heels, this is the idea that we are moving closer to the realization of messianic consciousness. When we step on its head, we will finally enter the new era.
The Hebrew word for serpent (nahash) is equal in value to the word for messiah (meshiach). From this kabbalistic perspective, the serpent is the vehicle for messianic consciousness. Thus the serpent represents far more in mystical Judaism than is commonly known, and a deeper understanding of these teachings changes entirely our appreciation of the story of creation.