Torah Study

Chavah – The Mother of All Living Beings

Chavah was the first woman in history; she was created by G-d from Adam while he slept. Parashas Bereishis recounts her creation and her role in the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; her punishment for the sin; and the birth of her three sons, Kayin, Hevel, and Sheis.

The first woman in history was named Chavah – related to the word chai, life – because she was the “mother of all living beings.”[1] The commentators point out a difficulty with the timing of her receiving that name. The Torah begins by describing how HaShem created her from Adam’s body. Yet before telling us her name, the Torah digresses with the story of the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Only after that tragic event does the Torah complete the narrative of her creation, including her being named Chavah. Why does the Torah interrupt its account of her creation with the story of the first sin, and only afterward tell us about her name? It would seem more fitting to tell us about her name before the sin.

There are a number of approaches to this question.[2] Some offer a negative interpretation of why Chavah received her name when she did.[3] However, there may be a positive reason. Even before the sin, it was clear that Chavah’s role was to procreate; indeed, she already did so before the sin, bearing Kayin and Hevel. She was given the vital role of being the mother of all of humanity.

However, her sin was the opposite of creating life; it actually brought death into the world. Before they ate from the tree, Adam and Chavah were to live forever. But once they brought evil into themselves and spiritually infected their bodies, they had to die in order to separate body from soul. Only with the Resurrection of the Dead would their bodies become pure enough for their souls to reenter them. Thus Chavah had failed terribly in her purpose; instead of bringing life to the world, she brought death. At this point, she might have permanently forfeited her role as life giver. Therefore, the Torah stresses that she received her name after the sin, indicating that despite her mistake, she could still fulfill her purpose in life.

This seems to set a precedent for all future mistakes: Whenever a person stumbles, even terribly, he need not despair that he has permanently failed in life. He can recover from this mistake and fulfill his potential. However, the example of Chavah teaches that the path to recovery requires significant effort. Sometimes, to regain his standing, one must undergo even more difficult challenges. We see this from HaShem’s curse of Chavah: “I will greatly increase your suffering and your childbearing; in pain shall you bear children.”[4] Before the sin, Chavah conceived immediately and gave birth painlessly. Now that would change; conception would not be automatic, and there would be a lengthy pregnancy and labor pains. Moreover, childrearing would be painful as well.

HaShem’s “punishments” are not arbitrary; they are measure for measure, helping the sinner rectify his mistake and improve himself. So why was difficulty in childbirth one consequence of Chavah’s sin?

When she ate from the tree, Chavah brought death into the world. Her tikkun (rectification) of that sin was to bring life into the world. But it could no longer be the easy task it was before the sin. Now she would have to undergo the painful process of conception, childbirth, and child-raising. Why was it now so much more difficult to fulfill her role of life giver?

This can be explained based on what Rav Eliyahu E. Dessler, ztz”l, calls the nekudas habechirah (free will point). Rav Dessler explains that avodas HaShem is like a battleground with three areas: One is controlled of one of the combatants, another is controlled by his enemy, and there is a middle ground – a “no-man’s-land” that both sides are trying to capture. Likewise, there are areas of one’s avodas HaShem in which there is no battle, because he is in total control. For example, it is no challenge for most observant Jews to forgo non-kosher food. There are other areas where there is no battle because they are presently beyond one’s control. For example, most Jews cannot sleep three hours a night and learn Torah the rest of the time. Yet there are areas in which one faces a struggle, but the goal is within reach through hard work. The nature of the struggle varies according to each person. For one, it may be to learn an hour a day instead of thirty minutes; for another, to learn ten hours instead of nine. This area is one’s free will point – if he conquers this domain, his free will point shifts, and there is a new battle line.

However, at times one may stumble even in an area in his control. His free will point then moves backward, and what was easy for him now present great challenges. This seems to have been the case with Chavah. Before the sin, she was on a spiritual level where it was easy for her to give life. After the sin, her level descended dramatically, and she and her descendants have had to work very hard to regain her exalted level. The extra work was manifest in the new challenges involved in giving birth and bringing up children. Through overcoming these challenges, she could rectify her sin.

This idea teaches us a vital life lesson. First, as mentioned, even the gravest transgressions need not cause a person to forsake his purpose in life. HaShem, in His infinite kindness, always accepts genuine teshuvah and gives the person the opportunity to start again. Yet the climb back requires great effort and persistence. Chavah’s path to repentance required that all her descendants accept the difficult but precious role of bringing life to the world. May we soon complete the rectification of Adam and Chavah’s sin and return to their original level.

Notes and Sources

[1] Bereishis 3:20.

[2] See Bereishis Rabbah 20:11; Rashi, Ohr HaChaim, and Kli Yakar on Bereishis 3:20.

[3] For example, Bereishis Rabbah 20:11 notes that the name Chavah is similar to the Aramaic word chivaya, snake – an obvious allusion to the sin that came about because Chavah listened to the snake.

[4] Bereishis 3:16.

From the book “Beacons of Light”

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