The story of Adam and Eve and the exile from Eden lies at the heart of our mythic consciousness. The ways we interpret this story fundamentally shape how we see ourselves — flawed from the get-go; how we characterize the more than human world — conniving and shrewd; how we understand the act of eating — dangerous; how we see women — responsible for the downfall of humanity.
This origin story has been used to punish, to instill regret, to sever us from one another, from the natural world and from ourselves. Our foundational story of transgression is one that casts women and snakes and the fruit of trees and the intuition of the body as responsible for our downfall. What if, instead, they are our salvation? Let us re-encounter this story of our mythic origins so that we may begin to heal these fractures and repair these ruptures.
To re-encounter and re-interpret the stories that have shaped us is perhaps the ultimate act of teshuva.
These stories — personal or collective — become so ingrained in us that they come to dictate our future without our conscious knowledge or consent. These stories are implicit contracts we have made and are bound by. It is these stories that form the foundation of our laws, our policies and our relationships. There is nothing more Jewish than evolving our telling of a particular story — be it of our childhood, of our relationship to nature, of the founding of a nation — as our consciousness grows.
At the start of this new year, may we reclaim our mythic story of how we as humans began, as a step towards reclaiming all those stories in our lives that need retelling. May we feel not only the permission — but the imperative — of this sacred act. And may this break through the rigidity that has kept these stories in place for too long.
Rather than transgression and punishment, perhaps what the story of Eve has to teach us is this:
Attune yourself to the small signs of new life,
red and ripe on the branches;
allow yourself to follow what you find pleasing to your senses
and resonant as sources of wisdom for your soul;
share what you find generously with your companions.
Discover that what you need is all around you and within you,
in every moment — in your body, in the land,
in your interrelationships within the web of creation.
As this past year ends, may we heed the wisdom of the snake as we slough off the layers of self that no longer serve us and turn the quality of our attention towards what’s waiting underneath to emerge. As the new year blooms, may we embody the courage of Eve as we step out of our places of comfort and privilege, opening our eyes ever-wider to the complexity of the world. And may we know that the earth is waiting to receive the old stories we have to shed, and that our job is to — with reverence and gratitude — let these stories decompose back into the dust of the earth from which they came, so that new stories — new life — may blossom.
Rabbi Adina Allen, co-founder and Creative Director of Jewish Studio Project, is a spiritual leader, writer and educator who believes in the power of creativity to revitalize our lives, transform Jewish tradition, and aid in the work of positive social change.
Art by Pat Allen.