Clothing of Light
CLOTHING OF LIGHT1
In a feeble attempt to cover themselves they take fig leaves and fashion a primitive covering.
Their purpose was to cover up their nakedness. The choice of fig leaves has caused at least one rabbinic tradition to identify the Tree of Knowledge with the fig tree4: In a frantic attempt to cover up, they chose the closest material at hand.
Subsequently - after the investigation, trial, sentencing and punishment, we find the conclusion of the saga, and again it addresses their attire:
For Adam and for his wife the Lord God made coats of skins, and clothed them (Genesis 3:21).
The difference is striking: Adam and Eve found flimsy fig leaves and fashioned a loin cloth of sorts, whereas God provides fine leather coats to protect and provide shelter from the elements. While man only managed to cover up, God provided man with clothing "and clothed them". While man simply didn't want to be stark naked in public, God chose to act with kindness. Despite the sin and the resultant alienation, God performs an incredibly tender gesture: He clothes them, He cares for them; He takes care of wayward, sinful man.
We exist in a world of clothing and costumes, and it all began with a fig leaf. It was only by virtue of the bite taken from a mysterious, dangerous, deadly fruit that an awareness of nakedness appeared. But what was the nature of this nakedness? Was it physical or spiritual? Was the awareness of their nakedness the result of a spiritual shift, of a metamorphosis which occurred in the aftermath of sin? Or was man altered in a more physical fashion?
We would have expected that sin would cause a spiritual reaction - but we see that the response of Adam and Eve is to cover up their bodies which had become vulnerable; they became embarrassed, humiliated. Perhaps this is the result of their souls feeling alienated. But what of their souls? Did they seek spiritual cover? How does one cover up a tainted soul? Surely the soul was impacted, damaged and tainted with sin by their action. What was the reaction?
When discussing this point Rav Yosef Dov Solovietchik5 introduced the following verse:
I greatly rejoice in the Lord my soul rejoices with God for he has clothed me in the clothing of salvation, He has wrapped me in a robe of victory, like a bridegroom adorned with a turban and a bride bedecked with her finery (Isaiah 61:10).
When Adam and Eve sin, they lose the clothing of salvation. The result is the loss of Divine protection, of the feeling of nearness and closeness with God, the feeling of a child wrapped in the embrace of a loving mother. It is then that they feel naked. Their response is to cover their bodies, apparently oblivious to the damage done to their souls. In place of this "clothing of salvation" which has dissipated, they cover themselves, but God provides them with new clothing.
In partaking of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve succumbed to their animal instincts, acting with no regard for their spiritual identity and seeking only immediate gratification. The spiritual consequences follow immediately: God clothes them in animal skins or leather. A metamorphosis has taken place. Their new clothing reflects their diminished status.
What was the nature of this leather clothing?6 Various traditions suggest different materials. Rashi cites a tradition that it was warm, soft rabbit fur. The Targum (Pseudo) Yonatan7 says the leather came from something near at hand, from something to be found at the scene of their crime. God gave them garments of snake skin, as if to say: They were seduced by the serpent, the result was their nakedness, and now they will be wrapped in a fitting symbol of their treachery.8
The Midrash reports that the clothes of Adam were made of a completely different material:
In R. Meir's Torah it was found written, 'Garments of light (ohr): this refers to Adam's garments, which were like a torch [shedding radiance], broad at the bottom and narrow at the top.
This comment is curious. The Torah text reads 'OR - skin or leather. This Midrash relates a tradition or commentary Rabbi Meir recorded in the margin9 that rendered the word OHR - light. Why would God make for them clothing of light?
Rabbenu Bachayeh admits that the p'shat - the straightforward level of understanding the Torah - is that God made for wayward man "dignified clothing". However according to Rabenu Bachayeh's understanding of the Midrash, this was clothing of light, referring specifically to primordial light. As any clothing reflects the designer, this clothing, provided by God, must therefore reflect something Divine.
Prior to eating from the tree man was meant to live forever, like the angels. Eating from the tree caused death, loss of immortality, but the new clothing was somehow angelic, possessing an element of what was lost.10 By way of reference, Rabenu Bachayeh suggests that these garments are similar to what enveloped Moshe on the mountain.11 When Moshe descends from the Mountain for the second time, the Torah describes:
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, Moshe was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him (Shmot 34:29).
Here it clearly states that the skin on Moshe's face glowed: 'OR is spelled with an ayin.12
Rabenu Bachayeh is apparently suggesting that at times the words 'OR -"skin" (with an ayin) and OHR - "light" (with an aleph) can be connected. This is the significance to the glow of the skin of Moshe.13
According to Rabbinic tradition, when the Jews stood at Sinai and declared na'aseh ve'nishma, "We will do we will listen", each received two crowns. However when they sinned with the Golden Calf, they lost those precious crowns. These hundreds of thousands of crowns all came to Moshe, creating for him an incredible glow.
R. Simlai lectured: When the Israelites gave precedence to 'we will do' over 'we will listen,' six hundred thousand ministering angels came and set two crowns upon each man of Israel, one as a reward for 'we will do,' and the other as a reward for 'we will listen'. But as soon as Israel sinned, one million two hundred thousand destroying angels descended and removed them, ... R. Johanan observed: And Moses was privileged and received them all. (Talmud Bavli Shabbat 88a)
According to Rashi14 this is the source of Moshe's glow, the concentrated crowns of all of Israel. The Zohar15 reports a tradition that Adam and Eve originally possessed Divine primordial light, and when they sinned this light disappeared. When the Jewish people stood at Sinai the light returned to each person in the shape of crowns. When the Jews subsequently sinned the crowns were forfeited, with all the light going to Moshe - which means now Moshe possessed primordial light.16
Rabbi Meir is therefore teaching that the clothing that God gave to Man was from this same primordial light. The Ari"zal,17 citing the Zohar, explains that Adam and Eve originally were covered with supernal light. Upon sinning they lost this luster and only then became naked. They were now naked, having lost their refulgent covering. This is the meaning of Rabbi Meir's marginal note: God covered them with skin - but previously He had covered them with light.
The Midrash reports a second instance of a note in the margin of Rabbi Meir's book:
In the copy of R. Meir's Torah was found written: AND, BEHOLD, IT WAS VERY (ME'OD) GOOD: and behold, death (mot) was good. (Midrash Rabbah - Genesis IX:5)
The "goodness" of death is difficult for man to comprehend, although it may be no more difficult than the association between light and skin. Both of these comments by Rabbi Meir, while at first inexplicable, must somehow stem from a unique perspective. Perhaps a passage in the Talmud providing some biographical information about Rabbi Meir can shed some light on these comments.
Did not Rav Judah in fact state in the name of Samuel who had it from R. Meir: When I was studying under R. Akiva I used to put vitriol into my ink and he told me nothing [against it], but when I subsequently came to R. Yishmael the latter said to me, 'My son, what is your occupation?' I told him, 'I am a scribe', and he said to me, 'Be meticulous in your work, for your occupation is a sacred one; should you perchance omit or add one single letter, you would thereby destroy all the universe.'
Rabbi Meir made a living as a scribe. He understood the importance of every letter. He knew that leaving out a single letter could have dire consequences. The thought of changing a word probably never crossed his mind, yet he did write comments in the margins, indicating deeper levels of understanding and meaning. His colleagues, however, did not always understand him.
R. Aha b. Hanina said: It is revealed and known before Him Who spoke and the world came into existence,18 that in the generation of R. Meir there was none equal to him; then why was not the halachah fixed in agreement with his views? Because his colleagues could not fathom the depths of his mind, for he would declare the ritually unclean to be clean and supply plausible proof, and the ritually clean to be unclean and also supply plausible proof.
One taught: His name was not R. Meir but R. Nehorai. Then why was he called 'R. Meir'? Because he enlightened the Sages in the halachah. His name in fact was not even Nehorai but R. Nehemiah or, as others say: R. Eleazar b. Arak. Then why was he called 'Nehorai'? Because he enlightened the Sages in the halachah.
Rebbi19 declared: The only reason why I am keener than my colleagues is that I saw the back20 of R. Meir, but had I had a front view of him I would have been keener still, for it is written in Scripture: "Thine eyes shall see thy teacher."
We learn several things from this passage. Rabbi Meir was unparalleled in his generation. Despite this, the law was not established in his opinion, because his colleagues did not understand his dazzling brilliance. We also learn that his name "Meir" means light.21
Meir, who was full of light, sees in our passage in Bereishit "light" instead of "skin", and in the second instance, instead of "good", sees "death". His vocation may have been more than incidental in leading up to the brilliant but radical insights he had to the Torah and halachah.
The Ari"zal taught:
After Adam sinned his clothing turned from light to skin, and the inner aspect, which is the light, was taken by Chanoch and Eliyahu, as is known … the external aspect was inherited by Nimrod and those of his ilk.
The primordial light lost by Adam and Eve was inherited by Chanoch and Eliyahu.22 The common denominator between Chanoch and Eliyahu is that although both were born of human stuff, each was elevated. They became angels,23 and live forever. The ascension of Eliyahu is better known, both his ascension in a fiery chariot,24 and his occasional visitations (at each Pesach seder and at circumcision ceremonies).
Regarding Chanoch, the Torah deviates from standard practice and does not tell of his death:
And Chanoch (Enoch) walked with God; and he was not; for God took him. (Bereishit 5:24)
The Targum (Pseudo) Yonatan explains:
And Chanoch walked in righteousness before God, and he ceased to exist with the dwellers of Earth. He ascended to heaven in front of God and he was given the name Metatron the Great Scribe. (Targum (Pseudo) Yonatan Bereishit 5:24)
The one other person described as a great scribe, "Safra Rabbah", was none other than Moshe.25
Adam and Eve were supposed to live forever and be angel-like. Due to their sin they lose this quality and the light that accompanies it. Chanoch and Eliyahu subsequently become angels and inherit this light. Chanoch becomes the Great Scribe and is now known as Metatron, the Heavely Scribe. We come across him in a crucial passage in the Gemara:
Aher mutilated the shoots. Of him Scripture says: Suffer not thy mouth to bring thy flesh into guilt. What does it refer to? - He saw that permission was granted to Metatron to sit and write down the merits of Israel. Said he: It is taught as a tradition that on high there is no sitting and no emulation, and no back, and no weariness. Perhaps, - God forfend! - there are two divinities! [Thereupon] they led Metatron forth, and punished him with sixty fiery lashes, saying to him: Why didst thou not rise before him when thou didst see him? Permission was [then] given to him to strike out the merits of Aher. (Talmud Bavli Chagiga 15a)
The context is a spiritual journey of four great scholars who enter an orchard - or perhaps The orchard: Pardes, no less than paradise itself - or the Garden of Eden. One of the four sees an angel sitting and writing. This is Metatron the Great Scribe, and his job is to record the good deeds of Israel. Aher (the erstwhile sage Elisha Ben Avuyah) sees him sitting at work and becomes confused: Preconceived notions of dualism26 cause confusion between good and evil. This reminds us of the tree which caused confusion between good and evil. Aher cannot reconcile what he has seen, and becomes a heretic.
Despite his apostasy, Aher retains one famous student: Rabbi Meir continues to study with is fallen master. The Masters of the Talmud questioned how Rabbi Meir could continue his association with such a man, and state27 that Rabbi Meir knew how to separate between the chaff and the wheat - he knew how to separate between good and evil. Rabbi Meir alone was not blinded by the knowledge of the tree. He did not suffer from its confusion of good and evil.
Rabbi Meir is a sofer, a scribe, as were Moshe and Chanoch. It is his notes on the teachings of Rabbi Akiva, transmitted to Rebbi, which will help establish the standard text of the Mishna. He is uniquely able to separate between proper and improper, true and false, good and evil. Fundamentally, as a sofer, he is an agent of God. He facilitates the transmission of the Torah of God to this world. In this sense, as a great sofer, he becomes angelic. He is a messenger and transmitter of the Word of God, for he knows how to separate good and evil.28 Rabbi Meir sees light where others do not. A sofer writes on skin - parchment, but the primordial Torah was written with light. 29 A sofer somehow reaches into heaven and pulls down the words of God and puts them on parchment, and the parchment - skin becomes holy. We should not wonder that when the text of the Torah reads 'OR (skin), Rabbi Meir reminds us with one word of the primordial light that was lost and will one day be regained through righteousness and acceptance of the Torah, by Chanoch and later by all of Israel.
Rabbi Meir had two teachers: one, as we have already seen, was Elisha ben Avuya. The other was Rabbi Akiva. Elisha ben Avuya became a paid informant for the Romans; he chose evil. Presumably, he lived out his days in the lap of luxury, wearing only the finest garments. Death surely came to him of natural causes, as he lay in a warm soft bed, covered in the finest of clothes. Conversely, his erstwhile colleague, Rabbi Meir's other teacher, Rabbi Akiva was brutally tortured by the Romans, having the very skin peeled off his body. But what does Rabbi Meir see even in death? What he saw in Bereishit: "Tov mot/Tov meod" - very good. He sees the good in everything,30 because he can connect to the light31 prior to the sin, before mankind was impacted by the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Before the confusion, before the orlah, before the extra skin, he sees the good in everything.32
Even when witnessing the horrific torture and death of Rabbi Akiva,33 when his clothes and his skin are stripped from his body, Rabbi Meir still sees good - tov, he still sees light. For in truth Rabbi Akiva was not naked: He was clothed in the clothes of salvation. He was held tightly by the Shechinah, spiritually protected like Adam and Eve before the sin, clothed in a garment of light and salvation. Elisha Ben Avuya may have had the finest of furs but he was naked - devoid of salvation, spiritually cold, dark and shivering.
Living as we do in a world after the sin, we must find clothing of light to care for our vulnerable souls. We need to see the good of God and be able to differentiate between good and evil. We are all, in our own way, messengers of God, and we must not succumb to confusion. When God sends us on a mission, He is always with us. We will succeed if we seek out and find the light, feel its warmth and we will then be adorned in the clothing of salvation.
- A version of this essay with Hebrew sources and footnotes can be found at http://arikahn.blogspot.com/ (return to text)
- Presumably this "knowledge" was accrued by virtue of eating from the "tree of knowledge of good and evil." (return to text)
- While the verse seems unequivocal two possibilities exist: (1) only now they became aware of their nakedness, or alternatively (an admittedly more difficult reading) (2) only now they became naked, therefore only now they became aware of the fact. (return to text)
- Talmud Brachot 40a. (return to text)
- "Yemei Zikaron", page 203 Translated from Yiddish by Moshe Krone. Aliner Library, World Zionist Organization, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora, Orot, Jerusalem, 1986. (return to text)
- See the comments of the Ohr Hachaim Vayikra 19:26 regarding Orla - a law which teaches that a tree must be left for the first 3 years after planting. This law is a result of Adam eating from the tree too soon;, he should have waited until Friday night and drank the wine (assuming, as does the Zohar, that the Tree of Knowledge was grapes). This is the mystical explanation of the passage in the Talmud that says that Adam was moshech orlato: Adam was born physically and spiritually perfect and therefore was born circumcised - but he pulled the skin back as if to "undo" the circumcision. This is a physical expression symbolizing Adam's breaking a covenant with God. After this breach, Adam receives "clothing of skin". Likewise, Eve was cursed with painful loss of virginity - which is also related to being covered with skin. (return to text)
- Perhaps by the snake shedding its skin. Also found in the Pirki d'Rebbi Eliezer chapter 20, see comments of Rekanati to Bereishit 3:21. (return to text)
- The Hebrew word "begged" has the connotation of rebellion. (return to text)
- See Torah Temimah Bereishit 3:31. (return to text)
- Rabbeinu Bachayeh Bereishit 3:21. (return to text)
- Where of course Moshe doesn't eat or drink - and achieves a demi-angelic status. See Avot D'Rebi Natan chapter 1. (return to text)
- Despite the unequivocal status of the Torah text being written with an ayin, a surprisingly large number of commentators cite the text with an aleph. I don't think this is an indication of textual intrigue or doubt, I think this can be attributed to peoples' minds playing tricks on them, and for some reason they remember - or think they remember - the text stating that Moshe's face shone (like light). (return to text)
- When Moshe descends from the mountain it is not the first time that his glow is hinted at. Commenting on the words "When she saw that he was a fine child" (Exodus 2:2) Rashi comments: He was fine: when he was born the house filled with light. Moshe's glow is already there at infancy. (return to text)
- See Rashi's comments Talmud Shabbat 88a SV UMoshe Yikach. (return to text)
- Zohar, Bereishit, Section 1, Page 36b Soncino edition: R. Hiya says, their eyes were opened to the evil of the world, which they had not known hitherto. Then they knew that they were naked, since they had lost the celestial lustre which had formerly enveloped them, and of which they were now divested. AND THEY SEWED FIG LEAVES. They strove to cover themselves with the (delusive) images from the tree of which they had eaten, the so-called "leaves of the tree". AND THEY MADE THEMSELVES GIRDLES. R. Jose said: 'When they obtained knowledge of this world and attached themselves to it, they observed that it was governed by those "leaves of the tree". They therefore sought in them a stronghold in this world, and so made themselves acquainted with all kinds of magical arts, in order to gird themselves with weapons of those leaves of the tree, for the purpose of self-protection.' R. Judah said: 'In this way three came up for judgment and were found guilty, and the terrestrial world was cursed and dislodged from its estate on account of the defilement of the serpent, until Israel stood before Mount Sinai.' Afterwards God clothed Adam and Eve in garments soothing to the skin, as it is written, HE MADE THEM COATS OF SKIN (or). At first they had had coats of light (or), which procured them the service of the highest of the high, for the celestial angels used to come to enjoy that light; so it is written, "For thou hast made him but little lower than the angels, and crownest him with glory and honor" (Ps. VIII, 6). Now after their sins they had only coats of skin (or), good for the body but not for the soul. (return to text)
- Sefer Shnie Luchot Habrit Pesachim drush #4. (return to text)
- Sefer Liquitim Berishit chapter 3. (return to text)
- I.e. God - by saying "let there be light." (return to text)
- It is significant to note that the Mishna is compiled by Rebbi, he primarily used the notes of Rabbi Meir (the scribe or notetaker) of the lectures of Rabbi Akiva. See Sanhedrin 86a. (return to text)
- This is reminiscent if the description in Torah of Moshe seeing the Back as it were of God - which ironically is one of the sources offered for Moshe's glow. Midrash Rabbah Exodus 47:6. (return to text)
- Sefer Beer Mayim Chayim Bereishit chapter 3. (return to text)
- The Midrash compares Chanoch and Eliyahu - specifically regarding their disappearance: Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XXV:1. AND ENOCH WALKED WITH GOD, AND HE WAS NOT; FOR GOD TOOK HIM (V, 24). …Some sectarians asked R. Abbahu: 'We do not find that Enoch died?' 'How so?' inquired he. '"Taking" is employed here, and also in connection with Elijah,' said they. 'If you stress the word "taking",' he answered, 'then "taking" is employed here, while in Ezekiel it is said, Behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes,' etc. (Ezek. XXlV, 16). R. Tanhuma observed: He answered them well. A matron asked R. Jose: ' We do not find death stated of Enoch?' Said he to her: 'If it said, AND ENOCH WALKED WITH GOD... (return to text)
- See Malachai Elyon Reuven Margoliot Mossad Harav Kook Jerusalem 1978 (third Edition) page 154 note 26. (return to text)
- 2 Kings Chapter 2:11 And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, which parted them both assunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. (return to text)
- See Talmud Bavli Sotah 13b. (return to text)
- See Chagigah 15a. I hope to return to this tortured soul at a later date. (return to text)
- Chagigah 15b. (return to text)
- Evil - v'ra contains the same letters as skin (parchment) or, this idea is found in Emek Hamelech gate 5 chapter 42 and subsequently in the writings of Rav Zadok Hakohen of Lublin, Liquitie Halachot, and the Leshem. (return to text)
- See Rashi Devarim 33:2. (return to text)
- As did his teacher Rabbi Akiva, Brachot 60b-61a and his teacher (see Brachot 22a) Nahum Ish Gamzu Taanit 21a. (return to text)
- Sefer Risisai Laila section 53. (return to text)
- On a halachic level this may be challenging, and hence we are told that the law was not established according to Rabbi Meir. (return to text)
- Rabbi Soloveitchik makes this point. See "Yemei Zikaron" page 205. (return to text)