Holy Evolution

A little girl asked her mother, “Where did human kind come from?’ The mother answered, ‘God made Adam and Eve and they had children and so the story goes. From them came the human race.” Two days later the girl asked her father the same question. The father answered, “Many years ago there were apes from which the human race evolved.” The confused girl returned to her mother and said, “Mom how is it possible that you told me the human race was created by God, and Dad said they evolved from apes?” The mother answered, “Well, dear, it is very simple.I told you about my side of the family and your father told you about his.”
This joke is funny for the very reason that it is important to give some thought to how we talk about the origin of our species to our children. Are we like Adam and Eve in that we too were created in the image of God? Are we arrested that we falling away from the greatness of Adam and Eve? Or alternatively is our origin the lowly ape? Are we progressing away from apes and our ancestors? Does either have an impact on how we treat our elders or ourselves? As a Modern Orthodox Jew I do not feel that I need to apologize for either my conviction in science or the Torah, both are true. But having a complex understanding of the world does not make it easier as a parent . I understand this issue is often framed as a zero sum, one is right or the other.  What will I tell my children about the narratives as to the origin of the human race? Or even more importantly, what values are communicated in the story ?
I was thinking about these questions when reading the transition from the end of Shmini, last week’s Torah portion, and the start of Tazria, this week’s Torah portion. At the end of Shmini we read all of the laws of Kashrut, what animals we can and cannot eat. At the start of Tazria we read:
Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If a woman be delivered, and bear a man-child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of the impurity of her sickness shall she be unclean. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. ( Leviticus 12:2-3)
On this Rashi quotes Midrash:
Rabbi Simlai said, ” Just as the fashioning of man came after all cattle, beast , and fowl  in the Torah’s account of the Myth of Creation so is the case with God’s law explaining [this] after the law of cattle, beast, and fowl.” (Vayikra Rabbah 14:1)

Might this narrative give us what we are looking for? A combination of divine dignity of all people coming down from Adam and Eve without the feeling that we are falling away from greatness. Might we actually couple the idea of human progress of evolution with the idea that we are but animals? We have a holy responsibility as the top of the evolutionary chain.


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