Shaya Cohen -


Flesh and Bone – Personal Growth

A single man is too set in his view of the world, too inflexible in thought (with a belief in his own correctness), to be able to properly grow, change and develop. Women, as any married man can testify, undermine that perspective, forcing a man to change, to listen, to adapt. Women force men to grow.

The Torah tells us that Adam lacked an ezer knegdo, which can be understood as an essential companion, or as I have analyzed from linguistic context, “a helper to show him a different perspective.” So G-d creates Eve, woman, the person who shows men how to see things from a different perspective. This, as the Torah makes clear, is an essential feature in any relationship with the divine: people who cannot see things from the perspective of others are unable to grow.

So when G-d delivers Eve to Adam, Adam looks at her and declares:

This one at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.

The text seems to be telling us that sharing “flesh and bone” means that Adam now has a helpmate to show him a different way of seeing things. Perhaps what men and women share helps them find enough common ground to make it possible for them to properly hear the other person? Despite communications problems, we certainly can better listen and understand our spouses than, for example, an animal. And people are capable of higher-order thinking, making the quality of the interaction much higher (people tend to treat their pets as foils, not sources of constructive criticism). One way or another, the text of the Torah is telling us that referring to “bone and flesh” indicates that there is now a pathway, through a significant other, to a relationship that leads to our own improvement.

There are other verses in the Torah that have these two words — the word for “bone” (etzem – which can also refer to “same” as in “the same day”), and “flesh” (basar) in the same verse. There are, as it happens, only four such verses in the entire text. And so by looking at their connections, we can learn some of the symbolic value from these words.

One verse:

Lavan said to [Jacob], “You are truly my bone and flesh.”

Why does he use these words, words that connect to the value of a deep relationship? I think Lavan certainly believed in growth, and saw the potential in Jacob. But Lavan’s ambitions did not extend to spiritual growth – he wanted to accumulate wealth, and perhaps grandchildren. This is what Lavan was all about: he saw Jacob as a source of future wealth, not a pathway to Lavan’s personal growth or spiritual development. Instead, Jacob, is seen as skilled labor, an opportunity for Lavan to become materially enriched. Lavan would become wealthy with flocks (and grandchildren) just as Adam became enriched through Eve’s children. Jacob was just the man that Lavan was looking for – but as we know, the relationship never took on a positive or spiritual component. Nevertheless, Lavan’s statement about “flesh and bone” was correct: Jacob was indeed a pathway to growth.

In a much more positive connection to growth, we have:

Then Avraham took his son Ishmael, and all his homeborn slaves and all those he had bought, every male in Avraham’s household, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins on that very (etzem) day, as God had spoken to him.

Jews circumcise in order to understand that our existence is not merely for our own pleasure or dedicated to what we naturally desire. Instead, our physical (and spiritual) energies are to be channeled toward holy relationships, always seeking to grow closer to G-d. A circumcision literally cuts masculinity short, making us more like Eve (and not Adam) in our relation to G-d. So “flesh and bones” in this verse connects directly to Adam and Eve: the verses tell us what is needed to grow our relationships and ourselves in productive ways. Note that this example is clearly about both marriage (sexual intimacy) and a relationship to G-d. Circumcision makes the two inextricably linked: physical and spiritual, man and woman, man and G-d, body and soul.

And the last of the four verses in the Torah that shares the two words “flesh” and “bone” is about the korban pesach, the paschal lamb.

It shall be eaten in one house: you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house; nor shall you break a bone of it.

The Paschal Lamb is eaten as the final act before G-d frees us from Egypt. It signifies the birth of the people as a nation, and our graduation toward a permanent relationship with G-d and His Torah. Thus, the lamb is also a key enabler for national growth, as the sum of the growth within each household unit that together form the nation.

“It shall be eaten in one house: you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house; nor shall you break a bone of it.” The flesh must stay in the house – within that home, the relationships under one roof (reminding us again of Adam and Eve and the exclusivity within a marriage).

And the bones must not be broken because the pathway to growth, as seen with Adam and Eve is through the existence of Eve, not through her destruction. The paschal lamb solidifies the connection between man and G-d, and calling back to the connection between Adam and Eve. Both are all about the connection between man and woman being the enablers for a constructive relationship between man and G-d.

Which may in turn lead us to a provocative question: if Adam was not able to grow without someone to show him different perspectives, is it possible that the reason G-d created the world, and populated it with independently-minded people, was so that G-d would be able to grow as a result of what we can contribute to Him? Are we G-d’s ezer knegdo, His view into other ways of seeing things? After all, the text offers many examples of man changing G-d’s mind – is it really so different from the interactions within a marriage?

Perhaps this is a bridge too far. But it makes me wonder…

Either way, this linguistic connection of flesh and bone opens up new possibilities!

[an @iwe and @blessedblacksmith work]

Comments are welcome!