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Notes from Limmud Fest 2009
Garments of Skin in the Garden of Eden
Rabbi Jeremy Gordon
After Adam and Eve had eaten of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and realised that they were naked:
Genesis 3:21 בראשית ג כא-ג כא The LORD God made for Adam and his wife garments of skin, and clothed them. וַיַּעַשׂ ה׳ אֱלֹהִים לְאָדָם וּלְאִשְׁתּוֹ כָּתְנוֹת עוֹר וַיַּלְבִּשֵׁם׃
Sota 14a א יד סוטה Rabbi Simlai explained, "The beginning of Torah is lovingkindness, and the end of Torah is lovingkindness. The beinning is lovingkindness, as it says, "And the LORD G-d made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and blessed them". And the end is lovingkindness as it says, "He [G-d] buried him [Moses] in the Valley." [Deut. 34:6] דרש רבי שמלאי תורה תחלתה גמילות חסדים וסופה גמילות חסדים תחילתה גמילות חסדים דכתיב ויעש ה׳ אלהים לאדם ולאשתו כתנות עור וילבישם וסופה גמילות חסדים דכתיב ויקבר אותו בגיא׃
R. Simlai lived in the second/third century. This text is trying to portray G-d as being nice—גמילות חסד. G-d has to kick Adam and Eve out of the Garden, but G-d doesn't want to send them out completely naked.
The Zohar writes (1:36b):
At first they wore, garments of light, and he was waited upon by the highest beings, for the angels on high came to bask in that light, as it is written "You made him little less than G-d, adorned him with glory and majesty" (Ps. 8:6). Now that they sinned, [they wore] KOTONET OR, garments of skin, soothing the skin [but] not the soul.
For the Christians, the sin of the fruit is much more important:
Gregory of Nazianzus (C4 Archbishop of Constantinople) Oration 8:12:
This one [Adam] forgot the command that was given and came to defeat through that bitter taste; at one and the same time [he] was both expelled from the tree of life... and put on garments of skin. The garments of skin probably mean mortal flesh since it is flesh and pliable.
As part of the Fall, our punishment is to make us soft and liable to be ripped open by lions and tigers and bears, oh my.
Genesis Rabbah 20:12 (ca. C5) says:
R. Yoḥanan said they were like the fine linen garments that come from Beth Shean —skin garments meaning those that are next to the skin.1 R. Eleazar said: They were of goats' skin. R. Yehoshua said: Of hares' skin... —skin garments meaning those that are made from skin.2
1. I.e. skin garments does not mean garments of skin but garments for the skin. Why would the rabbis said that the garments were made out of linen. (Leaving aside the business about the High Priest's garments, which were also made of fine linen), only in Gen. 9 does G-d give Adam permission to kill animals. Everyone was vegetarian before Noah!
2. There's about seven of these, but there's nothing interesting here. The linen garments answer probably came after these, once someone raised the issue raised above.
פרקי דרבי אליעזר (Pirke de-Rebbe Eliezer) (14, Egypt C9) says as follows. This is a late midrash; it talks, for example, about Islam. But it's drawing on an old idea that's been hanging around for a long time. They're "doodling", trying to get at interesting things in the text.
And when Adam ate from the fruit of the tree, his skin and his exoskeleton was sloughed from him,1 and the cloud of glory disappeared from him and he saw himself naked.
[Shortly thereafter G-d curses the snake2 and, among other punishments] ordains that [the serpent] should slough its skin.
1. It goes on to say we have only one bit of pre-sin covering left in our bodies: fingernails. Pre-sin Adam and Eve were clad in keratin! We smell spices in Havdalah because it was the only sense that was not trammelled in the sin of the Garden of Eden.
(We now have the possibility to be holy, which Adam and Eve did not. R. Gordon thinks that spirituality comes more from vultnerability than from perfection.)
So what happened when Adam and Eve were reclothed? Was the nail removed and skin supplied, or the nail removed to reveal skin, and garments of skin added from another animal?
2. In Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer there are ten curses for each of Adam, Eve and the serpent. The snake is cursed with having to shed its skin every seven years. Previously it stood up and had an exoskeleton: it's pretty like a human!
Where else are serpents mentioned that do not crawl on the ground, and what do they do if they do not crawl? They fly! In בהעלותך, seraphim are described as like serpents. That is a severe punishment!
Also from Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer (which was written to be studied by non-yeshiva bochurim on a Shabbos afternoon—it's light entertainment, written in easy-to-learn Hebrew [the speaker recommends the Eshkol edition]):
Adam and Eve [lacuna] sixth day:
R. Yehuda said, "It was the [keeping] of Shabbos that kept [Adam] from all evil and comforted him from all the disquiet of his heart.1
R. Yehoshua ben Karcha said, "From [the leaves of] the tree under which they hid, they took leaves and sewed them,"
R. Ilai said, "The Blessed One took the skin which the snake sloughed off and made them garments of skin and clothed them."2
1. Only when it was gone did Adam realise what he has lost—the close relationship he had with G-d. Adam gets Shabbos as a pick-me-up [because G-d deferred the exile from the Garden until after Shabbos]; coming up to the end of the first Shabbos, Adam gets sad again.
2. Here's the solution to not being able to kill an animal! The rabbis don't like anonymity; when it talks about a person, they try and work out who it is. For example, they identify the fighting Jews in Egypt who criticise Moses with his later criticisers Dathan and Abiram. Hence here they identify the anonymous garments of skin with the shed skin of the snake.
[A short discussion then followed on William Blake's The Angel of the Divine Presence Clothing Adam and Eve in the Garments of Skin, and on the way Blake had presented it:]
The Midrash Aseret Melachim in Torah Shleimah on Gen. 9:10 (circa C16), discussing where Noah is told he can eat animals, and the animals will be afraid of him, explains why this is as follows:
R. Yishmael said [the fact that the animals feared humans was because of] these clothes that Adam and Eve had—all wild animals and birds that saw them would lay down before them because the Holy Blessed One placed fear in them. As it says, The fear of you will be upon them.
These garments are not of normal snakeskin, but very special snakeskin from that primordial snake.
When it says, at the end of the narrative of the sixth day of Creation, "G-d finished the Heaven and the Earth", the rabbis interpreted that to mean that everything which would be created would be created by then. That is why they identified all the special things which created afterwards, e.g. the mouth of the earth which swallowed Korach, as having been created in the twilight of the sixth day, in the last moments of the first week (BT Pesachim 54a-b). By the time it got to this midrash, this list was up to about thirteen or fourteen.
Rashi says about this garment:
That held power over all kinds of beasts and cattle, and it was passed on to Nimrod, therefore it is said of Nimrod like Nimrod a mighty hunter (Gen. 10);1 and Esau killed him and took it, therefore he was a man of the hunt. And this [the garment] is that which was coveted in her house (Gen. 27:15)2. And me, I have heard that the garments of the first human, these are the garments of skin that he had.
1. Why was Nimrod so powerful? Because he had The Skin. The fact that this is a very special skin also explains why it's never fallen apart over time.
2. The garment that Rebecca goes to get from Esau's house to give to Jacob to disguise them. They were חמודות, normally translated precious; but it actually means coveted!
This is an example of traditio—any time anything similar comes along, it gets identified with the same thing. For example, identifying all the bad things that happen to the Jews with Tisha BeAv. Other examples, Serach bas Asher, [somebody]'s staff, etc.
Toledot Itzhak on Genesis 11 (Josef Caro, circa C16):
There were inscribed on them all the birds of the world,1 and Adam [?sc. gave it] to Cain, and when he was killed it came to the hands of Nimrod who was known as the mighty hunter, and when Esau killed Nimrod,2 Esau took them. "And therefore they are known as the Esau's desired/best/coveted garments (27:15)—he desired them from Nimrod.
And you thought Karo was a law person, not a lore one? He had, according to himself, an angel which visited him every night and imparted mystical secrets!
1. Who painted skins before going out to hunt? Everyone else did in ancient cultures!
2. This midrash was written down centuries after Rashi, but Rashi knows it from oral tradition.
Note that these garments were a gift from G-d, but they end up being inherited by all the bad people! (The line of tradition that says these garments that end up being used in the Temple does not go through these bad people; that's a different line of midrash.)
Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer 24:
R. Hachinai said, "Nimrod was heroically mighty, as it says Cush begot Nimrod [who was the first man of might on the earth] (Gen 10:8).
R. Yehuda said: The garment which the Blessed One made for Adam and his wife was with Noah and his sons in the ark.1 And when they came out from the ark, Ham, the son of Noah, took it from him and gave it as an inheritance to Nimrod [his grandson].2
And when he wore them, all cattle, beast and wild animals would come and fall down before him. And it was that people thought it was from the might of his heroism, therefore they crowned him King upon them, as it says "[hence the saying], "Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter, by the grace of G-d3 (Gen 10:9)... Rabbi Meir said, "Esau—his brother—saw Nimrod's garment and coveted it in his heart, and he killed him and took it from him." And how do we know that the garment was desirous in his eyes? As it says, Rebecca took the[m]... Anyone who wore them also became mighty. As it says, Esau became a skillful hunter (Gen 25:27)4. And when Jacob went out from before Isaac his father she said, "This wicked Esau is not worthy of wearing these garments." What did she do? She dug up some earth and hid them as it says Hidden in the earth are his threads [Job 18:10].5
1. This is how Noah was able to feed all the wild animals on the Ark without being eaten. Also, if the garment wasn't on the Ark, it would be lost in the Flood.
Also, what happened to the second garment, Eve's? [Attend Miriam Margolis' session. [Ooops.]] It's never addressed! Think of all the women's traditions that were lost. "Yes, I was there too, but I never wrote anything down because I was too busy breastfeeding." Read Tikva Fryma Kensky's Women in the Bible.
2. This is a midrash in dialogue with a Bible text: When Noah is drunk, Ham reveals his nakedness: he takes his clothes. Ham is the father of Cush, the father of Nimrod.
3. Are Jews hunters? No, they are dwellers in tents [he says, giving a shiur in a tent. :o)]. So how come G-d is blessing a hunter? It's not that G-d graced Nimrod, but that G-d graced the garment.
4. Theodicy: explaining how good things happen to (midrashically) bad people.5. This is obviously a different tradition to that in which it became the High Priestly garments.
Or HaAphelah is a work by the Yemenite Rav Natanel b. Yeshayahu in the fourteenth century, but clearly based on older material). It was never published, and was based on a manuscript that Menachem Kasher saw when he was a little boy. He was one of the great scholars of his generation: he saw this manuscript, remembered it, and wrote it down when he got to New York many years later.
And they said that Esau encountered Nimrod and wrestled with him in the field and they agreed on that day that whoever triumphed over his fellow would kill him. And Nimrod triumphed over Esau1 and Esau asked for a delay until the next day.
[Esau uses his reprieve to seek advice from his brother, Jacob], and when he said behold I am going to die, Jacob said to him,2 "When Nimrod comes to [kill] you, say to him, 'take off your garment so it won't get mucky with blood.' And at that time you will prevail over him, and kill him, and don't let him go until the next day." And [Esau] did that and killed Nimrod and Hiver [Nimrod's] son and took the garment, and this became Esau's coveted clothes [Gen 27:15].
1. Because he is גִבּוֹר צַיִד "a mighty hunter", and Esau just אִישׁ צַיִד "a huntsman".
2. "I can tell you, but it's going to cost you your birthright."
Why does Hiver get killed? To stop him coming back for revenge and starting a blood feud between the houses down through the generations.
Or HaAphelah on The garment of many colours (Gen 37:3):
This is the garment the Holy Blessed One made for Adam and his helpmate.
Where Isaac says of Jacob, masquerading as Esau, "See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the LORD has blessed," the Midrash says that he is saying "You smell like the Garden of Eden." Compare the above remark about havdalah: We can smell Eden, and touch perfection, even if just briefly.
Finally, a mention about the only other place the word כֻּתוֹנֶת (translated here "garment") is used: Joseph's כֻּתוֹנֶת פַּסִים (coat of many colours/long sleeves). So maybe this garment was not buried, but was recycled. Think of a snakeskin shimmering in the light—bearing in mind also that dyes back then were not as good as those today—though there is no major midrash which identifies the two.