These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Parashat Bereishit from Carole Daman

Posted on September 30, 2021 by Carole Daman


This Dvar Torah was written by Carole Daman (Year ’73-’74, Spirituality Retreat ’13, ’14, ’15, ’17, ’18, WPLS ’08, ’09, PLS ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16 ’17, ’18, ’19, ’20, ’21) in memory of her late husband, Dr. Harlan Daman z”l. Monday, October 4, 2021 will be a Pardes Day of Learning in his memory sponsored by Carole.

Words were very important to Harlan and he used them carefully. He also enjoyed knowing the precise meaning of words and we often looked words up in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Tonight I would like to focus on the words which Chava (Eve) utters after she gives birth to her first child.

Kaniti Ish Et Hashem קניתי איש את ד – Bereishit 4:3

Though most interpretations view Chava’s exclamation in a positive light, I believe her use of the term Kaniti may be a foreshadowing of the troubles to come for Kayin whose name is generally associated with that verb. Perhaps the most common translation of the phrase is
“I have acquired a man with Hashem.”

But if we consider the term to have the meaning “acquired,” there is a nuance of objectification, a sense that you have dominion over what you have made and can use it to fulfill your own purposes. Indeed the same root Kuf Nun Hey is used to consider live animals as mere property in the biblical term Mikneh, which refers to livestock. Unlike references to one’s flocks as Tzon and Bakar, which refer to specific species- Mikneh is used to focus on the animals as evidence of one’s wealth.

Chava’s statement could alternatively be translated as “I have created a man with Hashem”.

This is in accordance with the appearance of the root Kuf-Nun-Hey later in chapter 14 of Sefer Bereshit where it refers to Hashem. After Avraham is triumphant in the war against the 4 kings, the pagan priest Malchitzedek, recognizes Avraham’s god as Kel Elyon Konay Shamayim V’Aretz- God Most High Creator of Heaven and Earth. But this sense of the word Kaniti is also problematic since it suggests that Chava is overestimating her role.

As Rabbi David Fohrman points out focusing on the word “et”, it is not clear whom Chava considers being the junior partner herself or God.

Either way, whether it diminishes the object of acquisition or magnifies the power of the one who creates, the word Kaniti can cause a human being to have a skewed perception of his or her power over others.

Only God as Koney Shamayim V’Aretz, the Maker of heaven and earth, or as we say in the Amidah, Koney HaKol, the Maker of everything, has dominion over His creations.

As Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in his book, Man is Not Alone:
Man is neither the lord of the universe nor even the master of his own destiny. Our life is not our own property but a possession of God. And it is this divine ownership that makes life a sacred thing.
Kayin is able to kill his brother Hevel (Abel) because he does not realize that human life is a sacred thing!

Chava’s use of the word Kaniti in naming her son Kayin may have predisposed him to a kind of I-IT approach to those around him including his brother Hevel which allowed him to murder his brother without realizing the seriousness of his act.

In Sefer Ikkarim, a major work of Jewish philosophy, written in the early 15th century, Joseph Albo posits that the reason Kayin seemed to take the murder lightly was that he was not aware of a distinction between killing an animal and killing a human being. Since humans and animals were both mortal he thought that it was forbidden to kill animals and that man’s only superiority over animals was his ability to make them do his work. When God accepted Hevel’s animal sacrifice, he concluded it was permissible to kill animals and consequently Hevel as well. Albo suggests that God’s desire to eradicate this misconception was the reason that after the Flood God gave humanity permission to eat meat and at the same time specified the punishment for murder.

But the generations that followed Noah were not sufficiently compliant with the ethical values Hashem had tried to instill in them and 10 generations later, God chose Avraham to be the progenitor of a people who would bring God’s name and values to the forefront of the world’s consciousness.

And so they do. When Avraham’s descendants leave Egypt, they proclaim their special connection and responsibility to Hashem. In Shirat Hayam, the Song of the Sea, they praise Hashem calling themselves Am Zu Kanita– “This people that you created”. It is this recognition- that they have been created or acquired by God and are subject to what Heschel refers to as “divine ownership,” that propels them on their journey to become Am Kadosh, a holy people.

They recognize that as Heschel, quoted earlier, states:

Man is neither the lord of the universe nor even the master of his own destiny.

This realization and the commitment of the Jewish nation to spread it to the world are expressed every morning in Birkat HaShachar in the section beginning with L’Olam Yihay Adam. We address Hashem as Ribon Kol HaOlamim- Master of All Worlds- and in the inverse of Mi Chamocha in Shirat Yayam, which rhetorically asks “Who is as elevated as God”, we focus on the lowliness of humanity. We ask a series of questions beginning “What are we? What is our life?” and end the paragraph with a phrase from Kohelet, the Book of Ecclesiastes, lamenting the superiority of man over the animal is non-existent, for all is vain.

This seems to echo the misconception held by Kayin that, according to Sefer Ikkarim, allowed him to kill his brother Hevel. The Hebrew makes this even more striking:

Umotar HaAdam Min HaBehema Ayin Ki HaKol Hevel ומותר האדם מן הבהמה אין כי הכל הבל Ecclesiastes 3:19

The next paragraph, which leads into the recitation of the Shema begins:

But we are Your people, members of your covenant, children of Avraham and goes on to acknowledge our obligation to thank Hashem and sanctify His name.

Harlan’s life was imbued with this sense of responsibility. He had a strong appreciation of the value and sacredness of each human being and of the importance of the Jewish mission. I am so proud that his example and his teachings have continued to inspire Avi and Gila to live lives of purpose and of sensitivity to others.