Thursday, August 28, 2008

Adamah and Eretz: Worth Looking at?

Are you prepared for me to geek out? Torah style? Well, here goes.

I was tasked with reading Genesis 1-25 for class tomorrow, which is actually only going to be focusing on Gen. 1-3, but that's beside the point. I've read Genesis a million times, and the stories grow more familiar each time I read them. At the same time, with any study of Torah texts also comes the new and the different, which is what I've run across this time. I was keeping tabs on the various themes or words that pop up frequently -- separation (night/day, shabbat/the week, earth/heavens, water/water, etc.), the nature of a fruitful people, water (to grow, but also to destroy), covenants/promises/"deals," and then there was this word "ground."

It kept popping up, at first in a positive sense with creation, and then when things started going bad it became associated with the not so good things. Of course, when you're creating the ground/earth/soil is pretty important. But there was an obvious distinction between the choice of "ground" as a translation and "earth" as a translation in other locations. In Gen. 2:7, G-d makes man from the dust of the ground -- adamah (אדמה). Which is why Adam becomes known as Adam. Of course, prior to this we have plenty of mentions of the word earth -- eretz (ארץ), but the usage of adamah here is distinct. One of my texts has the translation as "dust of the earth" and the other says "dust of the ground" so it's obvious that there are some unsettled translation concerns when it comes to earth/ground/soil. In Gen. 2:9, the Lord causes trees to grow from adamah. Then, G-d creates all of the beasts and the birds of the sky from adamah. And then? There's the whole apple in the garden shtick and after this we have G-d cursing the adamah because of Adam. We later have Cain and Abel and G-d saying to Cain that Abel's blood cries out "from the adamah." And at last, G-d tells Cain that he shall be "more cursed than ha-adamah." (Gen. 4:11). But then later G-d, speaking after the flood, vows to never again "doom the ha-adamah" -- of course, in my Etz Chayim this is translated as "earth" and in my Holy Bible is translated as "ground." And this? Well, this is as far as I paid attention before I got engrossed in the story itself and stopped taking notes.

The thing is, there is obvious discussion and confusion about the difference or perhaps the proper usage of adamah versus eretz (and I'm sure there are other words out there, as well). I'm hoping, perhaps to signify a distinction (not now, but perhaps for a paper?) between the usage not in the technical sense, but rather in the mood -- is adamah more appropriate for speaking about the "toil" of man, whereas eretz is perhaps more positive and encompasses the more hopeful side of the struggle of man? We have many instances of adamah in reference to the burden of working the ground, to eat of the ground, to be cursed of the ground, to return to the ground from which we came. Whereas eretz is bringing forth vegetation, life, and it is oft paired with heaven expressing the all-encompassing domain of G-d. At the same time, perhaps adamah is completely literal -- it is soil, ground, that which we walk on -- while eretz is the bigger picture.

Or I could just be searching for a completely not-there connection. What do you think?