This week I gave a shiur at Leo Baeck College entitled 'Was Woman an Afterthought?' No prizes for guessing that it was about the creation of Eve, taken from the 'rib' of Adam to be his 'help'. Centuries of interpretation and justification have used this passage to show the inferiority of women and to show that they were created to assist men in their tasks, and as a cure for loneliness. Created, in other words, just for him.
Women created from just one small rib? Not according to the Hebrew, which has been mistranslated for centuries it would seem. Certainly the Rabbis of Midrash and Talmud did not see it that way. The clue is in our portion where the same word is used - the word tsela when describing the building of the ark.
Verse 12 reads:
You shall cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in its four corners; and two rings shall be in one of
its tsela'ot, and two rings in its other tsela.
Every translation I have seen renders the word - not rib, but side! The ark is described here as a gold plated wooden oblong box. The rings are placed on the sides so that poles can be slipped through them in order to transport the ark through the desert. The ark was made to house the two tablets of stone Moses received on Mount Sinaii. With the weight of the stone and with all the gold on it, placing the rings on a mere 'rib' on the ark would not have supported it. It is very clear that we are not talking here of a thin piece of bone, but a major structure which could dissipate the strain on the rings when the ark was lifted.
So if tsela means side here, then surely it must mean side in the story of Eve? That is how the ancient Rabbis saw it. They claim that Adam, up to the point of this creation was both male and female, - as described in Genesis 1:27.
Then, God took Adam's side to make a woman, and the rest of Adam - the other half - only at this point became a man. It rather suggests that woman came first…
It raises another question, however, in the significance of the Ark and what it represents. The use of this rather infrequent word in Torah seems to suggest that there is a connection between the creation of humanity and the creation of the ark. We are used, in modern parlance, to talk of our body as our temple. In more old-fashioned language we speak of the sides of our forehead as our temples. The Temple that would be built in Jerusalem was a magnificent structure that took the best of materials and created a wonder. But its main purpose was to house two insignificant looking grey lumps of stone; stone that had written on it the ten commandments, the essence of our life and our laws, and was witness to our experience of the reality of God. The beauty of our physical bodies is merely the outer covering - the most important; the most significant part of our bodies is that housed within our temple - a lump of greyish matter - our brain. It is this that governs our movements, our thoughts and our feelings. It is this part of our inner workings that enable us to act, as do the ten commandments in the ark - for the good of the world.
Sybil A. Sheridan