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Eve the Mother

This condensed version of the Girls in Trouble curriculum, a project by Alicia Jo Rabins, is based on Alicia’s art-pop song cycle of the same name, and follows individual women through their stories in the Torah. In each lesson, students are encouraged to engage with both the Torah text and Alicia’s songs, to consider the story’s relevance to their own lives, and to generate their own creative interpretations. This curriculum brings Biblical women to life, demonstrating the power of these often under-studied stories, and highlighting the ways in which they can help us navigate our own complicated lives.

Overview

Enduring Understandings

  • Eve’s story reflects the complicated nature of parenthood.
  • Reading the story of Eve with her role as the first mother in mind, we can experience a more personally meaningful relationship with her story and the struggles she experienced.
  • Creating art about women in Torah continues the millennia-old tradition of interpretation, while bringing female characters to the center of the process.

Essential Questions

  • Why is Eve’s story important?
  • What was Eve’s experience of motherhood, and how can her challenges inspire us in our own lives?
  • How does Alicia’s song contribute to our understanding of Eve’s story?

Notes to Teacher

We encourage you to make this curriculum your own. For instance, if there isn’t time during your class period to have students sketch out their own creative interpretations, you can either leave this part out or treat it as an extension activity.

We also encourage you to include as much hevruta (partner) study as possible. If you are new to hevruta study, you can think of it as discussion between two partners who can help each other learn by challenging each other’s first impressions. Breaking the group into pairs and having them read texts out loud, rather than silently, is an essential part of hevruta study.

Lastly, when studying the Torah text, we find it helpful to have students identify every problem, difficulty, or moment of confusion they can find in the text, as if they were on a scavenger hunt. This opens up the door to midrash, the Jewish tradition of creative Torah interpretation, which imagines answers to those questions.

Introductory Essay(s)

Open the Ground: Explanation of a Musical Midrash

by Alicia Jo Rabins

Many interpretations of Eve focus on her early days in Eden: all that juicy stuff about the serpent, the tree, the fruit, the expulsion.

But I wrote “Open the Ground” while pregnant with my first child, so I chose to focus on what happened after, when Eve became a mother. Eve’s took on new meaning in the face of my first pregnancy. Writing this song, and being pregnant, I felt like an explorer in territory both utterly ancient, and completely new. As I began to explore what Eve’s experience might have been like, I felt like I was shining light in dark corners, using the head-lamp of my own twenty-first century experience to this incredibly old tale in a new way.  (This, by the way, is the power of creating midrash - you get to explore how your own intimate questions and worries and joys through the lens of these shared legends. And you end up with a deeper understanding of both yourself, and the story.)

As often happens, Eve’s story resonated powerfully with the experience I was having at that very moment. I was struck by how easy it felt to connect to Eve, once explored her story through the prism of a specific experience in my life. After all, like all first time mothers, we automatically had something huge in common (besides our bellies). Just like the strangers in my prenatal yoga class, we were bonded simply by undergoing this experience, whatever the differences between our lives.

But I also noticed a major difference between me and Eve as first-time mothers. I was surrounded by wisdom and advice, not to mention prenatal yoga. Eve had none. No books, no internet, no videos, no midwives, no mother. No one had ever been pregnant before; no one had ever given birth. And in fact, she would continue alone in this radically new situation as she raised her two young children without the benefit of parenting classes, advice from friends, or babysitters to take the boys off her hands for a few hours.

Focusing on the fact of Eve’s utter aloneness in mothering, I felt myself drawn to focus on her relationship with her first son, Cain - not as a baby, but as an adult, deep into their family story, after Cain has killed Abel. In my song, I wanted to ask the almost unbearable question: how does Eve feel about her firstborn at this moment?

The answer that came to me was heartbreaking and felt true. I think - or more accurately, feel - that Eve would still love Cain despite the terrible pain and grief he has caused. In fact, I imagine Eve thinking of Cain even even as she buries Abel. In this love song to a troubled child in exile, Eve tells Cain the story of his gestation, birth, and childhood; she wonders if she could have raised him differently, and laments the difficulty and danger of raising children in this world.

I think there is something of Eve’s mothering that echoes through a parent’s experience. Despite the mythic poignancy of motherless Eve learning to be a mother, and the intensely dramatic scale of this family story, Eve’s story reflects the complicated nature of parenthood. Even with all the support and guidance we have today, in the end, we parents straddle the line between omnipotence and powerlessness.

Whether biological parents or adoptive, parents assume full responsibility for another human being’s life - an impossible position. We have so much power in this role, and so little. We are responsible for our children, yet we cannot control them. No one can give us the answers, and no one can foretell the future. We just do the best we can and, as I imagine Eve doing, love our children. No matter what.

Lesson Plan

Intro

  • Invite participants to introduce themselves, and share briefly about a time when they had to face a challenge and wished they had more support (possible examples include a move, a new school or environment, a relationship change, etc.)

Core Text

  • Introduce hevruta, divide class, pass out “core text” sheets
  • Hevrutas read core text to each other and explore discussion questions
  • Come back together to discuss what arose in hevruta. Begin by inviting students to share their most interesting questions and listing them on the board. Explain that finding unanswered questions in the text is the starting point of midrash; ask students to refrain from answering questions unless the questions address the basic plot of the story.

Song

  • Listen to “Open the Ground” with lyrics
  • Discuss questions as a group

Create Your Own Midrash

  • Time for individual brainstorming/freewriting/drawing with “Ideas to Jump-Start Your own Creative Interpretations”
  • If time, opportunity to share creative responses. Students should resist the temptation to critique others’ responses.
  • Share students’ midrashim by adding them to the Gallery of Biblical Women on the Girls in Trouble website

Document Studies

Song Recording

Song Recording

Open the Ground

Full image
Audio Recording of Alicia Jo Rabins' song, "Open the Ground."

Biblical text with discussion questions

Biblical text with discussion questions

The Naming of Eve

Genesis 3:20

Adam named his wife Eve [Chava], because she was the mother of all living [em kol chai].

ַיִּקְרָא הָאָדָם שֵׁם אִשְׁתּוֹ חַוָּה כִּי הִוא הָיְתָה אֵם כָּל־חָי:

Questions for discussion

  • What do you think the phrase “mother of all living” means? What does it mean to you? What images or feelings does it evoke?

Cain and Abel

Genesis 4:1-16, 25:

1 Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have acquired a male child with the help of the Lord." 2 She then bore his brother Abel. Abel became a keeper of sheep, and Cain became a tiller of the soil. 3 In the course of time, Cain brought an offering to God from the fruit of the soil; 4 and Abel, for his part, brought the choicest of the firstlings of his flock. God paid heed to Abel and his offering, 5but to Cain and his offering God paid no heed. Cain was much distressed and his face fell. 6 And God said to Cain,

"Why are you distressed,
and why is your face fallen?7
Surely, if you do right,
there is uplift.
But if you do not do right
sin crouches at the door;
its urge is toward you,
yet you can be its master."

8 Cain said to his brother Abel. [...]And when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him. 9 God said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" And he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" 10 Then God said, "What have you done? Hark, your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground! 11 Therefore, you shall be more cursed than the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12 If you till the soil, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. You shall become a ceaseless wanderer on earth."

13 Cain said to God, "My punishment is too great to bear! 14 Since You have banished me this day from the soil, and I must avoid Your presence and become a restless wanderer on earth — anyone who meets me may kill me!" 15 God said to him, "I promise, if anyone kills Cain, sevenfold vengeance shall be taken on him." And God put a mark on Cain, lest anyone who met him should kill him. 16 Cain left the presence of God and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden....25 Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, meaning, "God has provided me with another offspring in place of Abel," for Cain had killed him.

א) וְהָאָדָם יָדַע אֶת־חַוָּה אִשְׁתּוֹ וַתַּהַר וַתֵּלֶד אֶת־קַיִן וַתֹּאמֶר קָנִיתִי אִישׁ אֶת־יְקֹוָק:(ב) וַתֹּסֶף לָלֶדֶת אֶת־אָחִיו אֶת־הָבֶל וַיְהִי־הֶבֶל רֹעֵה צֹאן וְקַיִן הָיָה עֹבֵד אֲדָמָה: (ג) וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ יָמִים וַיָּבֵא קַיִן מִפְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה מִנְחָה לַיקֹוָק:(ד) וְהֶבֶל הֵבִיא גַם־הוּא מִבְּכֹרוֹת צֹאנוֹ וּמֵחֶלְבֵהֶן וַיִּשַׁע יְקֹוָק אֶל־הֶבֶל וְאֶל־מִנְחָתוֹ:(ה) וְאֶל־קַיִן וְאֶל־מִנְחָתוֹ לֹא שָׁעָה וַיִּחַר לְקַיִן מְאֹד וַיִּפְּלוּ פָּנָיו:(ו) וַיֹּאמֶר יְקֹוָק אֶל־קָיִן

לָמָּה חָרָה לָךְ
וְלָמָּה נָפְלוּ פָנֶיךָ:
(ז) הֲלוֹא אִם־תֵּיטִיב שְׂאֵת
וְאִם לֹא תֵיטִיב
לַפֶּתַח חַטָּאת רֹבֵץ
וְאֵלֶיךָ תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ
וְאַתָּה תִּמְשָׁל־בּוֹ:

(ח) וַיֹּאמֶר קַיִן אֶל־הֶבֶל אָחִיו וַיְהִי בִּהְיוֹתָם בַּשָּׂדֶה וַיָּקָם קַיִן אֶל־הֶבֶל אָחִיו וַיַּהַרְגֵהוּ:(ט) וַיֹּאמֶר יְקֹוָק אֶל־קַיִן אֵי הֶבֶל אָחִיךָ וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא יָדַעְתִּי הֲשֹׁמֵר אָחִי אָנֹכִי:(י) וַיֹּאמֶר מֶה עָשִׂיתָ קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ צֹעֲקִים אֵלַי מִן־הָאֲדָמָה:(יא) וְעַתָּה אָרוּר אָתָּה מִן־הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר פָּצְתָה אֶת־פִּיהָ לָקַחַת אֶת־דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ מִיָּדֶךָ:(יב) כִּי תַעֲבֹד אֶת־הָאֲדָמָה לֹא־תֹסֵף תֵּת־כֹּחָהּ לָךְ נָע וָנָד תִּהְיֶה בָאָרֶץ:(יג) וַיֹּאמֶר קַיִן אֶל־יְקֹוָק גָּדוֹל עֲוֹנִי מִנְּשֹׂא:(יד) הֵן גֵּרַשְׁתָּ אֹתִי הַיּוֹם מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה וּמִפָּנֶיךָ אֶסָּתֵר וְהָיִיתִי נָע וָנָד בָּאָרֶץ וְהָיָה כָל־מֹצְאִי יַהַרְגֵנִי:(טו) וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ יְקֹוָק לָכֵן כָּל־הֹרֵג קַיִן שִׁבְעָתַיִם יֻקָּם וַיָּשֶׂם יְקֹוָק לְקַיִן אוֹת לְבִלְתִּי הַכּוֹת־אֹתוֹ כָּל־מֹצְאוֹ:(טז) וַיֵּצֵא קַיִן מִלִּפְנֵי יְקֹוָק וַיֵּשֶׁב בְּאֶרֶץ־נוֹד קִדְמַת־עֵדֶן: (כה) וַיֵּדַע אָדָם עוֹד אֶת־אִשְׁתּוֹ וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן וַתִּקְרָא אֶת־שְׁמוֹ שֵׁת כִּי שָׁת־לִי אֱלֹהִים זֶרַע אַחֵר תַּחַת הֶבֶל כִּי הֲרָגוֹ קָיִן:

Questions for discussion

  1. Eve and Adam are absent from most of the Cain and Abel story above. Where do you think they are?
  2. What do you imagine Eve’s experience of the Cain and Abel story to be?

Song lyrics with discussion questions

Song lyrics with discussion questions

Open the Ground

a song in Eve’s voice by Alicia Jo Rabins/Girls in Trouble

The raven showed us how to open the ground
And feed it what it grew
But all the while as we buried your brother
I was thinking of you

Where would you wander
And would you ever stay
And could I have taught you
Some other way

The pain was so terrible
I thought I was dying
I thought that I would split in two
But a sound came from me
And I opened wide
And then, there was you

I didn’t want to tame you
I loved you as you were
If I’d had a mother
Maybe I’d have learned from her

Will some woman love you
In that faraway place
For the strength in your hands
And the mark on your face

Seven times seven
How much is it worth?
Flaxseed and blood,
All the fruit of the earth.

What did you say
Out in the field that day
And how did he answer you
You always were convinced
That you were somehow less than him
Though I told you it wasn’t true

And who is counted lucky,
the living or the dead
When sin is always crouching
just ahead?

Questions for Discussion

  1. Who is Eve singing to in this song?
  2. What is your response to this song? What emotions or memories does it evoke for you?
  3. Based on this song, how would you describe Eve: what is she like as a person? As a woman? As a mother?

Footnoted song lyrics

Footnoted song lyrics

“Open the Ground,” annotated

by Alicia Jo Rabins/Girls in Trouble

The raven showed us how to open the ground1
And feed it what it grew2
But all the while as we buried your brother
I was thinking of you3

Where would you wander4
And would you ever stay
And could I have taught you
Some other way5

The pain was so terrible6
I thought I was dying
I thought that I would split in two
But a sound came from me7
And I opened wide
And then, there was you

I didn’t want to tame you
I loved you as you were8
If I’d had a mother
Maybe I’d have learned from her

Will some woman love you9
In that faraway place
For the strength in your hands10
And the mark on your face11

Seven times seven12
How much is it worth?
Flaxseed13 and blood,
All the fruit of the earth.

What did you say14
Out in the field that day
And how did he answer you
You always were convinced
That you were somehow less than him15
Though I told you it wasn’t true

And who is counted lucky16
the living or the dead
When sin is always crouching17
just ahead?

1 This draws on the following midrash: “And Adam and his partner were sitting and crying and mourning over [Abel] but weren’t able to do anything, since they weren’t accustomed to burial. One raven whose fellow had died said, “I’ll teach this human (adam) what to do.” What did he do? He took his fellow and dug in the ground, hid him in the ground before their eyes and buried him. Adam said, “I will do as this raven does,” and took Abel’s carcass, dug in the ground and hid it.” (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 21)

2 The human body is a part of the cycle of nature, like the offerings later in the story. We are of the earth and ultimately return to it. Cf. Genesis 3:17, “From [the ground] you were taken. For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”

3 What a powerful and tragically complex moment for Eve as she grieves for two sons in different ways. I imagine Eve’s despair over Abel’s loss does not erase her love for Cain and her her grief over losing him as well (see next footnote).

4 God’s curse to Cain: “You shall become a ceaseless wanderer on earth.” (Genesis 4:12)

5 I imagine Eve wondering if she, as parent, is somehow responsible for the failings of her children - a very modern thought pattern. There is, however, a tradition of Eve blaming herself for Cain’s murder of Abel, even if more indirectly than one might imagine. An example is an early Byzantine homily attributed to Ephrem the Syrian (306-73) in which Eve traces Abel’s murder to her eating in the garden: “Because I ate the fruit of the tree, I reaped death.”

6 “I will make most severe your pangs in childbearing; in pain shall you bear children.” (Genesis 3:16)

7 Ina May Gaskin, the “patron saint” of natural childbirth, often describes women who are having difficulty in labor but then begin making low sounds, similar to a cow’s moo, which enable them to open their body and relax to allow birth.

8 I imagine that Eve loved Cain's wildness as a child and found it thrilling. Without anyone to teach her about discipline and boundaries, I imagine that Eve as a young mother could not have foreseen how Cain’s wildness might become truly dangerous when he was older.

9 Here I imagine Eve wondering who Cain’s wife might be one day, who he will grow up to be, and where his life will take him after he is lost to her. I think she might have hoped he would find a woman who could care for him and comfort him in Eve’s absence.

10 This refers to Cain’s strength as a hunter and killer. In my imagining, Eve wonders if a woman will one day love her son and see beauty in his strength, which she still loves despite its dangerous aspects.

11 “And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest anyone who met him should kill him” (Genesis 4:15)

12 This draws on the mystical power of the number seven and God’s strange protection of Cain: “The Lord said to him, "I promise, if anyone kills Cain, sevenfold vengeance shall be taken on him." (Genesis 4:15)

13 Cain and Abel’s deadly dispute seems to have something to do with their different offerings to God. “Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the soil, and Abel, for his part, brought the choicest of the firstlings of his flock. God paid heed to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering God paid no heed.” (Genesis 4:3). According to the midrash in Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, the offering that Cain brought was “the surplus from his food - roasted flaxseeds” (Chapter 21). I consider the strange mathematics of this offering competition; what is worth more, vegetation or animals? Flaxseed or blood? Why would God prefer one over the other? And are we not all the fruit of the earth? I chose to simply name the questions, rather than attempt to answer them.

14 The Torah writes “Cain said to his brother Abel ... ,” but does not tell us what Cain said. The next thing we are told is “and when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him.” (Genesis 4:8) What did Cain tell Abel? The Torah leaves it a mystery.

15 When God “paid heed to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering… paid no heed, Cain was much distressed and his face fell.” (Genesis 4:4-5) I interpret Cain as having been insecure since childhood, perhaps became God seemed to prefer Abel, despite the fact that Eve adored Cain and tried to placate him.

16 In a previous version of this song (available on YouTube), the lyrics here were: “And who will build the Temple, / The living or the dead, / When sin is always crouching / Just ahead?” This draws on Genesis Rabba 22:8, which proposes that the mysterious conversation between Cain and Abel in 4:8 was an argument over how they would divide the world - each wanted the Temple to be built on his own property. For the final recording, I felt that the Temple imagery was a little too obscure and specific, because what I really wanted to have Eve ask was more general: if sin is always just ahead of us, perhaps there is a relief in ceasing to live. I don’t personally subscribe to this despairing theory of life, but I can certainly imagine Eve considering it in this moment, and perhaps considering that Abel is safer in death than life, now that Eve begins to understand the complexity and stakes of life outside of Eden.

17 God to Cain, in Genesis 4:7: Surely, if you do right, / There is uplift. / But if you do not do right
Sin couches at the door; / Its urge is toward you, / Yet you can be its master.”

Ideas to Jump-Start Your own Creative Interpretations

Ideas to Jump-Start Your own Creative Interpretations

Some Ideas to Jump-start Your Own Creative Interpretations

Choose one of these verses and write, draw, dance or sing about it:

  • Genesis 3:20: “Adam named his wife Eve [Chava], because she was the mother of all living [em kol chai].
  • Genesis 4:6-7: “And God said to Cain, "Why are you distressed, and why is your face fallen? Surely, if you do right, there is uplift. But if you do not do right sin crouches at the door; its urge is toward you, yet you can be its master." (Include Eve in your interpretation of this verse).
  • Genesis 4:8: “Cain said to his brother Abel [...]. And when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him.” (Write, dance or sing what you think Cain said to Abel; include Eve in some way.)

Or try one of these:

Visual

  • Draw or sculpt a forbidden Eve goddess figure
  • Sketch a depiction of Eve saying goodbye to Cain after his banishment
  • Diagram the scene of the first birth; where were Adam, Eve and God?
  • Create a collage to represent Eve’s feelings about, or experiences of, motherhood

Music

  • Write a lullabye for Eve to sing to Cain or Abel as a baby
  • Make a playlist of songs related in some way to the family story of Eve, Adam, Cain and Abel
  • Write a chant or melody based on one moment in this story (using Hebrew or English words from the text if you wish, or create a niggun - a wordless melody)

Movement

  • Choreograph a dance of the first birth and/or the first burial
  • Choreograph a dance of the interaction between Cain and Abel in the field; include Eve in some way.

Writing

  • Write your own prayer to Eve, using Kathleen Norris’ poem (from the Poetry section) as inspiration, if you wish.
  • Write a journal entry in Eve’s voice at any point in the story you choose
  • Write a letter of advice from Eve to parents - or children - today
  • Write a 6 word summary of Eve’s life

Teacher Resources

JWA’s encyclopedia article about Eve

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Cover Art for "Eve the Mother"
Full image
Cover art by Uri Berkowitz for "Eve the Mother," a lesson plan from the "Girls in Trouble" curriculum by Alicia Jo Rabins.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Eve the Mother." (Viewed on December 11, 2017) <https://jwa.org/teach/girlsintrouble/eve-the-mother>.

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