In one of his very last pieces of writing, the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks dwells on the remarkable invention that is marriage, and its equally remarkable corollary, the family. To Sacks, “the most beautiful idea in the history of civilization” is “the idea of the love that brings new life into the world.” He concludes with a novel reading of three easily overlooked verses in the story of Adam and Eve—the first family—in the Garden of Eden:
The story ends with three verses that seem to have no connection with one another. No sequence. No logic. In Genesis 3:19 God says to the man: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Then in the next verse we read: “The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all life.” And in the next, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” What is the connection here?
If we read the text carefully, we see that until now the first man had given his wife a purely generic name. He called her ishah, woman. Recall what he said when he first saw her: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman for she was taken from man.” For him she was a type, not a person. He gave her a noun, not a name. What is more, he defines her as a derivative of himself: something taken from man [in Hebrew, ish]. She is not yet for him someone other, a person in her own right. She is merely a kind of reflection of himself.
So long as the man thought he was immortal, he ultimately needed no one else. But now he knew he was mortal. He would one day die and return to dust. There was only one way in which something of him would live on after his death. That would be if he had a child. But he could not have a child on his own. For that he needed his wife. She alone could give birth. She alone could mitigate his mortality. And not because she was like him but precisely because she was unlike him. At that moment she ceased to be, for him, a type, and became a person in her own right. And a person has a proper name. That is what he gave her: the name Ḥavah, “Eve,” meaning “giver of life.”
At that moment, as they were about to leave Eden and face the world as we know it, a place of darkness, Adam gave his wife the first gift of love, a personal name. And at that moment, God responded to them both in love, and made them garments to clothe their nakedness.
Read more on Plough: https://www.plough.com/en/topics/life/marriage/the-beautiful-institution