Creation II – YHWH Elohim: The Guide of Destiny
What is God?
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The Bible, rather surprisingly, has not one, but two creation narratives. The Bible critics make a major issue out of this second creation narrative, considering it to be one their biggest pieces of evidence of multiple documents. Why should there be two narrative of the same sequence of events, and why should they be so different? The traditionalists shrug all this off as just another quirk of the Bible. It’s simply a short retelling of key events that leads to the main purpose - the creation of man and his experience in the Garden of Eden (chapter 3).
There is one more feature of these two chapters that strikes the alert reader - the name of God has changed. Elohim is still there, but it is preceded by another name, YHWH, the famous Tetragrammaton name. This name also just comes out of nowhere, as if we were already familiar with it. It will eventually become the primary name for God, but at this point it shares not only space but title with Elohim. With one exception, this exact sequence of names is only found in these two chapters in the entire Chumash. It is obviously meant to be unique to this story. That uniqueness, and the image that it produces, is our subject.
The second chapter is really a continuation of the creation narrative with the focus on the role of human beings in the general scheme of the created world. The Garden of Eden story is not really a Biblical event like the Exodus or the battle of David and Goliath. It is more of an epic tale that never really happened but never quite ended either. It echoes throughout human history in the lives of all human beings. Elohim is no longer simply the Creator. That segment of history is over. From now on the process is setting into motion the pre-ordained plan of creation. Elohim, from this point on, is more properly described as ‘Destiny’. The third chapter tells how men and women acquired the role that they were to play in the destiny of the world.
The problem is how this other name for God fits in to this scheme. Why is this other name needed at all? How does it differ from the first name and what is its function? The very opening verses (2:4-5) introduce this odd combination of names: ‘This is the history of the heavens and the earth upon their being created on the day that YHWH Elohim made the earth and the heavens.’ Why is YHWH included with Elohim as Creator if this name was not mentioned in the original creation narrative?
Another key verse (v. 18) that we will use to search for clues deals with the formation of the woman: And YHWH Elohim said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make for him a mate to assist him.’ God causes the man to fall into a deep sleep and takes one of his sides and builds it into a woman and brings her to the man (v. 21-22). The man then declares that the woman ‘is the bone of my bones and the flesh of my flesh’ and consequently should be called ‘Woman’. What is the role of YHWH Elohim in forming the woman if Elohim had already created her in the first chapter?
Before beginning any analysis of this section, it must be mentioned that the entire Garden of Eden story screams ‘metaphor’ to all who attempt to penetrate its secrets. Perhaps this interlude of metaphor serves a vital function in the Torah - the function of revealing the true purpose of creation. It’s not about plants and animals, as important as they may be. It’s not even about the sun, moon, and stars, or the heavens and the earth. It’s really about the creation connecting with the Creator. Such a bond requires a creation that can make that connection by being consciously aware of it and understanding that this is why it was created. That creation, as far as we know and as far as the Torah is concerned, is the human being.
The Torah introduces this entire interlude with a one verse version of creation. The obvious twist in this recap is the ending phrase: ‘on the day that YHWH Elohim made the earth and the heavens’. Who is this YHWH Elohim? Why haven’t we heard this name before? The non-Bible critic answer to this question is that this is another manifestation of God. It’s not just Elohim the Creator any longer. It’s YHWH Elohim, the Guide. The earth and the heavens were not simply created and abandoned to their fate and left to run on their own accord. They were ‘made’ with a plan to fulfill. That plan can only be achieved by a Guide. This is the shifting role of God, from Creator to Guide. This transformation happens through the influence of another image of God, that of YHWH.
Right off the bat, it must be stated that this business of multiple images smacks of polytheism at worst and the Christian trinity at least. Is this a vindication for Christianity? The Jewish answer, of course, is an emphatic ‘no’. God has many images, but all those images add up to no more than one deity. Just as the many influences that contributed to the creation of the universe added up to one Elohim, the many images of God make up one multi-faceted and multi-perceivable deity. It is not an easy task to be a faithful Jew, accepting the many images of God but refusing to acquiesce to any notion of multiple gods. How is a Jew supposed to navigate his or her way through this theological maze?
This second image, YHWH, may be the key. This name, by far the most common in the Bible, does not appear to represent the Guide of Destiny. That role will by and large be filled by Elohim alone. The role of YHWH is that of the classic ‘personal’ God – an image of a person who is accessible to the mind of a person, unlike Elohim which is more of a concept to be understood or a power to be sensed. The confusing thing about this is that both images communicate to people in the Bible at various times, as we shall see in coming sections. The difference, perhaps, is in the message that is communicated. YHWH generally communicates something that is personal to the recipient, while Elohim tends to impart messages that relate to the recipients’ role in some destined plan.
In our case, the two are mixed together as if they are one image. Perhaps the reason is that this section specifically is a bridge between creation and history. It sets the scene so that history can play out in the way the God intended it. Man needed to go through a mythical Garden of Eden – to taste the potential paradise that lay within his grasp, to understand that maintaining that paradise is entirely within his hands, to reap the consequences of failure, and realize that there is a road back. He had to know the spiritual force that lies within him – the snake – and feel its power and its devastating effects. Finally he had to hear the voice of YHWH Elohim, the voice of his personal Guide, asking him the eternal question, ‘Where are you?’, and to sense the crashing realization that he has no answer. This bridge could not be crossed with only a dispassionate power as his Guide. He needed, and still does need, a God who reaches into the inner recesses of his personality and speaks to him as he would speak to himself. He needed the image of YHWH to personalize Elohim.
This bridge is no more evident than in the highly metaphorical formation of the woman. Although she was created in the first chapter of Genesis, her essential relationship to the man was not defined. She was not a mate such as the animals have, biologically important as that may be. She had to be of him and part of him, him in female form, to fulfill this spiritual need. Such a formation was not another creation. It wasn’t creating something new that never existed before. The woman was already there, fully created and fulfilling her role as the female of the species. What was needed was some divine guidance, with a touch of a personal deity thrown in, to enable him to understand that this was all for his own personal awareness and not merely some law of nature. It took YHWH Elohim, and not the impersonal face of Elohim the Creator, to declare that, ‘It is not good for man to be alone’.
Man was not physically alone before this, but his spiritual state was one of isolation. He was not equipped to deal with the emotional challenges that a human being would have to face – challenges that animals are able to brush off as unimportant in the face of the great battle of survival. Human beings, somewhat unique among all living things, were not destined to see survival as their only task in life. They would also face the crushing burden of needing to feel good about what they were doing. That burden should be shared with a companion so that each takes the bulk of what they are best equipped to handle while supporting the other emotionally when the going inevitably gets too tough. This was not a new creation. This was refining the already existing to meets the demands of destiny.
Perceiving the Image
‘It is not good for man to be alone’. But we are alone. At the end of the day, no matter how happily married one may be, no matter how many loving children, devoted friends, or admiring peers one may have, we are still alone. How could man not be called ‘alone’ when he is so utterly and hopelessly alone? We may fool ourselves to think that we aren’t alone with companionship and social busyness. We may have hundreds of ‘friends’ out there in cyberspace, contacting us through all manner of digital interaction, but that only reinforces the feeling of aloneness. What is the answer to this existential dilemma - we agree with God’s observation that it isn’t good to be alone, but we don’t know how to make things better.
The Torah gives two answers, one revealed and one hidden. Each answer reveals an image of God. The revealed answer is the way that God gave us to deal with a destiny that was too difficult to fulfill. But God did more than that. In this crucial part, in the battle of aloneness, God told us to find a companion who wants nothing more than to be there sharing the burden and, in doing so, removing some of the loneliness. To be the ‘bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh’, to cling to each other in moments of pain and joy, to be one flesh, naked and yet not embarrassed, is to be together. Anybody who has lived with this blessing knows that this is not merely a biological necessity that evolution has somehow programmed into our survival program. This is the image of the Guide – the divine power that shows us the way.
There is a second answer, though it isn’t evident from the words of the text. At the end of the day man is not alone. No matter how alone one may feel, there is always God. God resides within each molecule and atom. God dwells in the thoughts, rides up and down with each emotion, and soars with the spirit. God is there to share the burden when it is too heavy to carry, and to rejoice and pat you on the back when it isn’t. This image of God is also a Guide – showing us a path when we thought there was none and walking along with us when we cannot do it alone. We all know this image. We’ve felt it and seen it, ignored it and denied it.
Until fairly recent times, human beings have always felt the need for some divine guidance though the vicissitudes of life. Nowadays we tend to deny that need and that pull. We either control our own destiny or proclaim that none exists. Are we ignoring an essential truth and an integral element of our being, or are we boldly grasping the godlessness of it all and facing it in the eye?
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Date: 08/10/16 at 14:11:21
I have heard the concept of "the creation connecting with the Creator" being named as one of the main purposes of our life, like mentioned in the essay.
However, I don't understand why this is true and also how is this connected to the story of adam and eve.