Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ish and Ishah

     Humans have a number of needs to survive, and among these are the need for solitude, and the need for intimacy, the need to be independent, and the need to be close.  Now, the Bible talks about this a lot in many different ways, and one of the best ways that the Bible talks about this is through story.  Genesis 2-3 is one such story.  At the beginning of this story, God has created the heavens and the earth, but he has not created anything on the earth—no plants, no animals.  Plants need someone to till the ground, and there was no one for that job.  So God creates a single human being—adam in Hebrew—out of the ground.  It happens to be a male, but that in some ways is irrelevant.  It could have been a female, and the story would remain the same.  And then he creates this wonderful place for the man to live, full of plants and trees, plenty to eat.  It’s got rivers and lakes and is just beautiful.  Every plant comes out of the ground, just like the adam.  And he gives the adam a job—to till and keep the garden. 
So the adam has everything he needs—a place to live, plenty to eat, and meaning and purpose.  He creates this thing, but realizes that it’s not finished.  It’s missing something.  Maybe God instantly realizes it, much like an artist who paints a painting and knows it’s not finished, but has a hard time putting her finger on what it needs.  Or like the cook who is creating a brand new recipe, and who dips his spoon and takes a taste and know it still needs something, but can’t quite decide what it is.  A little more salt, maybe?  Or oregano?  Maybe some ground ginger?  But maybe it’s not so instantaneous.  Maybe he doesn’t realize it at first.  The thing looks complete.   Two eyes?  Check.  Two ears.  Check.  Two arms, two legs, check, check.  Four fingers and a thumb on each hand.  Check.  But he notices that the adam seems, well, down.  He keeps looking for something, and never finding it.  He sighs a lot.  What’s wrong?  Beautiful place to live, all the food and water he could want, and a purpose-driven life.  What more could anyone possibly want? 
And then God realizes what it is.  He’s alone.  Now, everyone needs to be alone, but not all the time.  And this adam is alone all the time, and it’s affecting him.  He’s not sleeping well, he’s not eating, nothing seems to interest him.  And God says, “Not good.”  This is not good.  It’s not good for the man to be alone.  Alone is incomplete.  Alone is unfinished.  “I will make for him a creature that will make him feel whole and complete.”  So God starts to create animals out of the ground.  Notice everything is created out of the ground.  In the Hebrew, the generic word for a human being is adam, and the word for ground is adamah.  Adam from the adamah, everything from the adamah.  He creates the animals one at a time, and he brings each one in turn to the man “to see what he would name it.”  Another thing: the feminine form of adam is adamah, which means ground.  The word for male is ish, and the feminine form is ishah, woman.  God is waiting to hear that word, ishah.  But he doesn’t hear it.  He brings an animal, and the adam names it behemah, or cattle.  He brings another, and the adam names it something else.  Hour after hour this goes on, creating one animal after another out of the ground, out of the adamah, and still he doesn’t hear the word ishah.  The adam still feels incomplete. 
Finally, the Lord says, “I’m going to stop creating things out of the adamah for the adam.  If I’m looking for an ishah to complete the ish, then maybe the ishah needs to come from the ish.  So God puts the man asleep, and takes a rib out of him—“He’s got more, he’ll never miss it.”  And from the rib he creates another creature.  She looks a lot like the man, more than any other creature, but she’s different too, and in a good way.  And he brings the woman to the man, and the man cries out, “At last!  This is it!  This is the person who makes me feel whole, complete, this is my companion!  And she will be called ishah, for she was not taken from the adamah, but from ish.”  And then we get the only word of commentary in the text.  Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”  All right, here is the paradox: One is simply one, but oneness requires more than one.  Let’s say that again: one is simply one, but oneness requires more than one.  To be one is to be alone, but to have oneness is to be complete.  It is this oneness that we all want.  It is this oneness that we all desire.  It is this oneness in which we are created in the image of God. 
This is the paradox, the mystery of the trinity.  God is one, and to be one is to be alone.  He alone is God, and God is God alone.  But God is three—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—and so God is complete.  The nature of God is three distinct realities that together form a oneness.  We are each alone, separate, individual humans, but we are created bone of bone, flesh of flesh, from the union of ish and ishah.  And whether we are born an ish or an ishah, we alone are complete.  But we find oneness in another.  And oneness is part of who we are. 

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