Many years ago, I spent the Hebrew month of Elul at a yeshiva in Efrat, Israel.
Elul, the current month, is a time of looking back to reflect on errors committed during the past year in preparation for Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year known as The Day of Judgment.
Elul is an opportune time to engage in teshuvah, the process of repenting and returning to one's center after committing a sin. To help students understand it Rabbi Ebner, one of the school's teachers, gave a series of lectures on Jewish ethics. In one of them, he cited an interpretation of the Adam and Eve story based on the teachings of prominent historical rabbis. The rabbis saw Adam's response to his sin as typical of a person's response to any sin.
"After Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge, God asked him a question that He asks all men: 'Where are you?'" Rabbi Ebner continued, "At that point, Adam could have done teshuvah. He could have admitted he was wrong and asked for forgiveness. But no: instead, Adam said to God, 'The woman You gave me made me do it.'"
Rabbi Ebner went on, "With that answer man became a kafuee tov, an ingrate. He blamed his sin on the woman, and in turn on God for giving her to him."
Let's fast-forward a few thousand years. In A Complicated Man: The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Him by Michael Takiff to be released in October, Monica Lewinsky returns to the world stage. Seeing her name in print reminded me of the drama played out over Bill Clinton's relationship with Ms. Lewinsky in the late 1990s, and the above interpretation of the Adam and Eve story.
As far as Bill Clinton's owning his part in the relationship, Ms. Lewinsky said in an interview with The Daily Mail regarding his autobiography, My Life, "He could have made it right with the book, but he hasn't.... I did, though, at least expect him to correct the false statements he made when he was trying to protect the Presidency. Instead, he talked about it as though I had laid it all out there for the taking. I was the buffet and he just couldn't resist the dessert. That's not how it was. This was a mutual relationship, mutual on all levels, right from the way it started and all the way through. ... I don't accept that he had to completely desecrate my character."
According to Ms. Lewinsky, Bill Clinton acted like an ingrate towards her. Instead of taking responsibility for his actions, Mr. Clinton repeated Adam's response to his sin: she made me do it!
Bill Clinton has gone on to do tremendous work helping disadvantaged people all over the planet. He is a respected former leader and head of a powerful foundation. What about Monica? At best, she is the punch line to colorful jokes. At worst, she is vilified as the woman who almost destroyed a popular presidency.
Men are still acting like Adam and women are paying the price.
Whether you believe in God and the Bible or not, Adam's reaction to God's question is sharing a fundamental truth about man: when confronted with the evidence that a mistake has been made, many of us all too quickly cast blame on another for it. In particular, many men are all too ready to blame a woman for their own transgressions.
The rabbis teach that the essence of ingratitude is when a person is so locked up in himself there is no room for acknowledging the good someone brings into his life. The denial of that good is a major stumbling block to taking responsibility for one's own actions in the full context of being in a relationship, and makes it all too easy to caste blame on the partner. Denying the good also makes it easy to ignore the importance of asking for forgiveness.
God gave Adam woman because the Creator knew it was not good for man to be alone. After each of the first five days of Creation, God declared the day tov, literally good, meaning complete and harmonious. After God created man, for the first time in the creation story there was a lo tov, meaning something was not good. It was only after God created woman that this day of creation was complete. An interesting detail is man had to give something of himself to receive the gift of woman. After eating from the Tree of Knowledge and blaming Eve for his sin, Adam was only thinking of saving himself. He was showing God he was not grateful for this gift that in essence was a part of himself.
Elul is a time to reflect on past transgressions for all people. In looking back, we have the opportunity to feel remorse for transgressions, commit to not doing them again, and ask for forgiveness.
God asked Adam, "Where are you?" It is essential we periodically ask ourselves, "Where am I?" Are you satisfied with your life path? Are you living with integrity and honor? Are you willing to look within and see what might not be pleasant and clear it up?
Given the continued imbalance in our world where men tend to dominate women, men have a special task to reflect on their relationship to women. Jewish or not, what better time to do it than right now?
As always, your comments are welcome.