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Never the Twain

On Simchat Torah we start reading the Torah anew. I know the saying, "Turn it (the Torah) and turn it over again, for everything is in it," but how many times can you turn the same story over again and still hope to find something new? This year I did.

Mark Twain, the American humorist, was an iconoclast; that is, he liked to smash idols. The more sanctimonious the subject, the more it served as grist for his mill. In 1893he wrote The Diary of Adam and in 1905 The Diary of Eve. It's a retelling of the story of the Garden of Eden, the likes of which you've probably never heard before and, most likely, never will again.

In Twain's retelling of the story, Adam is unhappy when Eve is created. He calls her "the new creature with the long hair". He has many complaints about her. She follows him around all day long. She rarely stops talking. And she also eats too much fruit. 

American humorist Mark Twain

But Twain presents Eve in a more favorable light, as a good-hearted and perceptive woman. She trusts all the animals and is sure that none mean her harm. She enjoys contemplating the Creation, but she has some misgivings too. Why, for example, do the tigers and the lions have teeth that are shaped for eating meat when all they do in the Garden is eat leaves and flowers? And why does the buzzard eat grass which seems to disagree with him, when it is clear that, hovering high in the sky all day, he is pining for another kind of meal? When the snake, whom she adores, tells her that by eating the forbidden apple she will not only receive a fine education but will also introduce death into the world, she is delighted. Now the tigers and the lions will be able to use their teeth for the purpose for which they were made, and the buzzard will be able to enjoy a fine meal of decayed meat.

When Eve tells Adam that she intends to eat the forbidden fruit, he is very upset. He fears that the results will be catastrophic. And, of course, he is right. Running away as far as possible from the tree, he finds himself on a plateau overlooking thousands of grazing, slumbering or playing animals when "all of a sudden they broke into a tempest of frightful noises, and in one moment the plain was in a frantic commotion and every beast was destroying its neighbor". Adam understood that Eve had carried out her intention.

And now death had come into the world and shame too. Eve arrives covered in boughs and branches of leaves. Adam orders her to remove them immediately – what does she think she's doing? Eve informs Adam that she has brought him some of the apples to eat and that he will soon understand. "I was obliged to eat them, I was so hungry. It was against my principles, but I find that principles have no real force except when we are well fed." And then, not only does Adam understand the necessity for covering up: he berates Eve for being so scantily clad. He orders her to collect even more boughs and branches and not to make such a spectacle of herself.

Their time in the Garden of Eden has come to an end.

Adam and Eve must leave the Garden. Their life outside it is very difficult, full of hardship and woe. What happened between their sons Cain and Abel is almost unbearable. But despite their tribulations, or because of them, Adam comes to a realization. And it is not the one that their expulsion from the Garden was intended to teach him. Many years into their life outside the Garden, Adam writes in his diary: "After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her. At first I thought she talked too much; but now I should be sorry to have that voice fall silent and pass out of my life. Blessed be the sorrow that brought us near together and taught me to know the goodness of her heart and the sweetness of her spirit." Some years after that, at Eve's grave, Adam is heard to say: "Wheresoever she was, there was Eden."

Mark Twain has given me much to think about as we start reading the Torah anew this year. 

 

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Wednesday, 30 November 2022

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