This week, we begin again the yearly cycle of Torah readings. Our sacred scriptural traditions are powerful because they are a mirror into our lives. In seeing the struggles of our ancestors, they reflect back powerful truths about our existence that helps us see our world in sharper focus.
Since this week begins our Torah, let us start at the beginning with Eve. Though she was the first to struggle with loneliness within marriage, she would not be the last. Though there are many examples from Eve’s story that point to her loneliness, I want to bring forth one small teaching from it, that will bring to light just how easy it is to be in a relationship with someone you love and to feel incredibly alone.
Like every relationship, Adam and Eve’s marriage had it’s struggles. These challenges crept between them and formed habits that drove them apart. Ironically, Adam's relationship with God became one of the great stressors of their marriage. According to one account of their wedding, God was Adam’s best man (Talmud, Eruvin 18a). After the wedding, God continued to privilege Adam. Adam would recline in Eden while ministering angels hovered over him, roasting flesh and straining wine for him (Talmud, Sanhedrin 59b). Created to be Adam’s companion, Eve would find herself in a triangle. Adam’s true attention and love would be directed toward heaven. With no other place to turn, her early marriage would be defined by an incredible loneliness and isolation.
Many know Eve’s feeling. We want to know that those to whom we are married privilege us above all else. The times that are the loneliest in marriage are when our paramount status is superseded by another person or thing. It’s natural that for Adam, this thing was God - God was after all there with Adam from the start. But work, hobbies, and commitments can also drive a wedge between two people. Anything or anyone that conveys the message, “you are not my deepest passion” acts as an alienating force on a wanting partner.
There is an ancient discussion, that speaks a great deal to Eve’s loneliness in her secondary status. Asking the question, where was Adam during the hours when Eve ate the forbidden fruit we find a telling and troubling answer.
The sages said: At that time, the Holy One was taking him around the entire world, saying to him: Here is a place fit for planting trees, here is a place fit for sowing cereals. (Genesis Rabbah 19:3)
Here, our ancient sages, see Adam's pursuit as one of livelihood; Adam was off getting fulfillment without Eve with his work of planting and tending to the garden. True, his work was important. Without him as a partner, the garden of Eden would not have blossomed to it's fullest potential. As our tradition explains, God left a little of the world unfinished as a sacred obligation and gift for humanity to fulfill (Tanchuma Tazria 7). Yet, in Adam's quest to enact God's mandate, Eve was left abandoned. Adam's attention would forever be focused on God and his mission to make the garden bloom, not toward the woman he was meant to love. In a way, this depiction of Eve is both highly dated and incredibly relevant.
Two thousand years ago, our ancient Rabbis imagined Eve in the role of the bored 50's housewife, the precursor to subjects of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. Of them, Friedan wrote: "We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: 'I want something more than my husband and my children and my home." Yet, even a half century later when so many strides have been made toward equality and the paradigms have shifted (though there is certainly more work to be done), there is still a great deal to Eve's story (and to Friedan's critique) that resonate. Eve's struggle, imagined over two millennia ago, is ours as well. How many of us (no matter the gender) take the inherent human needs of our partners for granted? How many of us privilege our missions over our relationships, our work over our familial obligations. Eve shows us that she is more than her role in her family. She is foremost a person who is fed by being seen by those closest to her. Proximity creates potential, which is why loneliness in marriage is a unique loneliness (no more acute than other kinds, just different). Sharing a table, a house, or a bed with someone who has the potential to see you but who focuses their sight elsewhere can only be described a torturous.
Each year, the book of Genesis gives us a gift in a model to avoid. Eve's story is our challenge. Will we let ourselves act like Adam, looking outside of our most important relationships for fulfillment or will we heed Eve's cry and learn to see the most immediate people in our lives for the holy companions that they were created to be?
To read the rest of my musings about Eve and the loneliness of marriage check out The Heart of Loneliness: How Jewish Wisdom Can Help You Cope and Find Comfort