By now Harvey Weinstein, who named his original company Miramax in honor of his parents, Max and Miriam Weinstein, is now known for more than just being a successful movie mogul and producer. Once associated with hit motion pictures and a successful movie company bearing his name, and for his generous donations to liberal candidates and causes the name Harvey Weinstein now conjures up a different association. After an expose by the NY Times and subsequent reporting by the New Yorker and others exposing his tendency towards well, exposure, and his aggressive behavior towards women, a picture of him has emerged which is anything but positive or sympathetic.
After the series of embarrassing revelations about his conduct became public, he announced that he is entering a program to get some much-needed therapy to get help, in his words, to work on his problem. I do not profess to know anything about the treatment he will receive, nor do I have any insights other than what I have read in the paper about his actions, but I would like to suggest that his therapy could begin with a study of the Torah portion we have just read, the story of the Creation of Adam and Eve.
The Torah, especially the opening passages in the Book of Genesis is rich with life lessons. As I have always suggested, the Bible should be read not as a scientific text book, for that was never its purpose or intention, but as a moral compendium with important messages for all time.
Biblical scholar Shawna Dolansky points out that in addition to numerous pop culture allusions to Adam and Eve in the opening sequence of television shows, perfume ads, pop songs, and in computer company logos, politicians and social activists also make frequent use of the images to further their agendas.
As a result of the way the story is treated and our understanding of science, we are used to viewing the story of Adam and Eve as a myth. But a myth does not mean that something is not true. Rather, myths should be understood as containing content which offers vital tools for understanding a culture’s ideals, values, customs, beliefs, concerns, and fears. Myths make rich use of metaphor to reflect cultural truths and to convey timeless messages. In the case of the story of Adam and Eve the themes have to do with sex, gender, power and the origins of evil – all subjects Weinstein needs to address.
People often associate Adam and Eve with the tale of the first man and woman, the concept of original sin, of Satan tempting Eve, the couple eating the apple, and getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden. The only problem is that there is no reference to Satan in the story, apples didn’t grow in the ancient Near East – (most midrashic sources suggest it was either a fig or pomegranate), and the word “sin” is not introduced into the Hebrew scripture until the fourth chapter.
The story is a myth about a man created to tend the garden of a divine being who had created it; a woman created to be the man’s companion, and a talking snake who tempts the woman to eat fruit from a magical Tree of Knowledge that was declared off-limits by the Being who created it and everything else in their idyllic world. With the guidance and encouragement of a serpent, the woman is the protagonist who instigates and encourages her partner to trade a life of ignorance, bliss, and potential immortality, for a taste of divine knowledge.
From the perspective of traditional Jewish interpreters, although Adam and Eve disobeyed the Divine Being and are punished for their act of defiance, the judgment about their act and what it was that they did that was wrong is ambiguous. In many rabbinic texts, disobeying the Creator to gain wisdom is not necessarily so bad, for this is what enables the history of humanity to proceed and unfold.
This story of creation goes out of its way to make the point that we have free will, with the subsequent corollary that evil is the result of the choices we make. It is caused by human imperfection and moral bankruptcy.
In other words, when we do something – right or wrong – it is because we choose to do it. Factors, such as environment, peer influence, culture and society, influence of the media, our upbringing and genetic composition are all parts of the equation of what influences our actions. Nevertheless, Judaism says that the bottom line is: we know what we are doing and we do it nonetheless, and therefore we must accept responsibility and the consequences for what we do.
The medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides believed that free will is a fundamental foundational principle of Judaism. He wrote, “Let it not occur to your mind that God decrees at the birth of a person that he shall be good or evil . . . it is not so. Every human being is capable of becoming righteous like Moses or wicked like Jeroboam. Wise or foolish, merciful or cruel, uncharitable or generous; and so with all other traits, there is no one to compel him or to decree what he is to do. No one is going to pull him in their direction; it is he who directs himself deliberately toward any cause he desires.”
While economic factors may determine whether we will be rich or poor, it will not determine whether we are honest or dishonest, whether we are generous or corrupt. As someone once said, “Environmental factors will determine what language we speak, but we decide what words we’re going to say. Psychological factors may determine whether we are happy or sad, but we decide whether that’s going to lead us to creative or destructive behavior. Our genetic makeup will determine the color of our eyes, but we choose what we want to look at and admire.”
The second lesson to be gleaned from the Torah’s stories about creation is that each and every human being is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. The implication of this essential teaching is that people are not to be treated as objects, but that all human beings are God’s creation and that all of God’s creatures deserve to be treated with respect. Consequently no one should use force or power to impose on another person to do something they may not wish to do. Recognizing that each person is an autonomous being who possesses the spark of the divine means no one should be subjected or forced into performing an act against that person’s will.
The third and final message, and there are many more, but the third one that is relevant to Mr. Weinstein’s treatment regimen is that the Midrash teaches that woman was created from Adam’s sela, from his rib for a distinct reason. The rabbis said it is meant to convey not superiority, but the exact opposite: partnership and equality. They explain that God deliberately chose to create woman, not from a lower part of Adam’s body, nor from an upper extremity, but from his sela, his side to teach that he is not to dominate her, nor is she to dominate him. Neither is superior to the other, but they are to view each other as equal partners.
The defining characteristic of men and women is that they share that they are both equally formed in the image of God. When it says that woman is created ezer k’negdo, the word k’negdo specifically means “equivalent to.”
Woman’s importance and equal status is evident in the way in which Eve is active while Adam is passive in the unfolding of the story about the eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. In fact, she is the only one to do anything “with” God, sharing no less than his capacity to create a new human. Jewish interpretations can lead to the conclusion that women should be viewed and treated with respect, as equals, and not as subjects or objects.
Far from being a fairy tale or children’s story or something to dismiss as a myth, there are many truths to learn from the story of Creation which can help to guide not only the actions and therapy of Harvey Weinstein, but which can be instructive and applicable as well for all of us in our daily interactions with others.
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt
October 14, 2017
Congregation B’nai Tzedek