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Chavah: Mother of All Life

Chavah: Mother of All Life

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I always teach that translation is, by definition, commentary. Not that we always have a choice. Especially when it comes to Torah learning, there are times when we must rely on translations since we are simply unable to always read or understand ancient Aramaic or Hebrew. Yet, any time we do not see the original language for ourselves--any time we must rely on someone else to tell us what it means--we need to be cautious. Not to say that it isn’t an excellent translation or as true as possible to its source, but it is a translation nonetheless, which leaves room for misinterpretation at best, and mistakes at worst.

How should we know when to doubt a translation? When the interpretation, meaning or explanation is insulting or demeaning to someone, especially if it be towards women. The majority of statements which appear to negate the importance or power of women, often are due to being read literally, with the simple translation leaving out the esoteric and deep underpinnings.

Chavah embodies both the essence of life itself and the creative ability to grant that life to others.

A great example of this is with the first woman in history. In English, we refer to her as Eve. Yet, that is not her Hebrew name and her English translation doesn’t carry with it any of the importance or significance of her real name, Chavah. Furthermore, there are even some links between the word “Eve” and “evil,” blaming her for the evil brought into the world due to the sin of eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yet Chavah, according to the Torah, is clearly a positive figure, and the sin, while a complicated discussion in itself, is most often explained as a descent for the sake of an ascent.

So what does Chavah mean?

According to the Jewish mystical tradition, there are three main concepts connected to the Hebrew name Chavah. The first comes from the explanation given in the Torah itself: because she is em kol chai - the mother of all life (Genesis 3:20).

The medieval commentator Rashi explains this phrase. The name Chavah is a derivative of the Hebrew word chayah, meaning “living one.” Chavah embodies both the essence of life itself and the creative ability to grant that life to others. The idea of “mother of all life” expresses not only the ability to physically give birth, but also to create, nourish, and enhance all facets of life. This is the ability of a mother - to take something from the state of potential, develop it, and bring it to actualization through her creative abilities.

Chavah is not only the mother of life but also represents the experience of life.

The question though still remains as to why Chavah wasn’t called Chayah? What is the difference between these two names? When looking at them in their Hebrew spelling, the difference in each name is one letter. The name Chavah has a vav which is numerically equal to six, and Chaya has the letter yud which is numerically equal to 10. The difference between these two number is four, the letter dalet. Rabbi Ginsburgh teaches that if we add the letter dalet to the name Chavah, we get the word chedvah, meaning “joy.” This teaches us that we transform Chavah into Chayah, into “life,” when she can birth with joy.

It is vital to mention that this is not merely the idea of physical birth. The concept of being a mother is being creative, birthing new realities into this world. And as we bring these lives into the world, we must do it with joy, even though the process may be a painful one.

The second understanding of the name Chavah focuses on its connection to the word chavayah, which means experience. Chavah is not only the mother of life but also represents the experience of life.

The marriage of the first couple, Adam and Chavah, is truly a marriage of the human experience, the human condition.

With this explanation, we can better understand the relationship between her and Adam, her husband. The name Adam is not merely a first name whose literal meaning is man, but also refers to mankind, to humanity in general. Therefore, the marriage of the first couple, Adam and Chavah, is that of the representation of human experience, that of the human condition!

The third meaning stems from a verse in the book of Psalms (19:3) "Night following night expresses knowledge." The Hebrew word for expression is yechaveh, which is also related to the word chavah. In this vein, there is a verse in the book of Job (36:2)"Wait for me a little while, and I will show you." The Hebrew phrase for I will show you is veachavecha, again from the same root. This third meaning of Chavah can be understood as expression, revelation, or manifestation.

Ultimately, these three meanings work together. How does Chavah, the first woman, represent the mother of all life? Through experience as expression and through expression as experience she mothers all life. She shapes and develops formless matter, carrying it within her until it is ready to be born. However, the mothering process does not end with physical birth, for she then continues to nurse this life, feeding and sustaining it physically, emotionally, and spiritually. She continues to nourish it throughout its life, helping to actualize its latent potential and helping this life to develop and experience its utmost expression. And by doing this, she is constantly giving birth to new levels of ability and depth of life experience, both within herself and within all those around her, earning the title “mother of all life.”

Adapted from an article published in Jewish Women Speak About Jewish Matters, edited by Sarah Tikvah and Doron Kornbluth

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
About the artist: Sheva Chaya created the art for TheJewishWoman.org homepage. An art graduate from Princeton University, Sheva Chaya works in watercolor and glass, vibrantly exploring Jewish and women's themes. Her work can be seen in her studio in Tsfat, Israel and on her website.
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Sandra San jacinto October 9, 2017

Thank you for blessing an enlightening my soul Reply

raymond Atlanta April 21, 2017

Chavah is het-vav-heh. Yahvah is yod-heh-vav-heh. Look at them both in the Hebrew letters. They're nearly identical, both from the root word for "I am" or for eternal existence. Chavah means Mother of all living. Yahvah gets translated as "I am" or "I" "was", "am," and "will be" in all 3 tenses. Is there really a difference? Or is Eve the same as Yahvah? Reply

Sanda Stuart Gray Stillwater, MN November 24, 2016

Does it matter to the meaning of thename if the first letter is a "hay" or a "het"? One source says it may be pronounced either way. My experience learning Hebrew was that every "jot and tittle" mattered greatly. The name appeared in a book my husband and I are enjoying. You have enriched our experience with this article. Reply

John Morris Whitby July 6, 2015

Etymology of English word "evil" According to what I've found by some casual research, there is no etymological connection between the English word "evil" and the name of the first woman in history, Eve. A tempting folk-etymology, but likely incorrect, and given the importance of the two words, not a triviality. Otherwise a fascinating and important article! (My comment is offered in a positive spirit.) Reply

Marilyn Friesen Crooked Creek,AB December 11, 2014

Very interesting and informative. Reply

Ben Smith Santa Clara, UT November 9, 2014

Truth feels so good. Thank you for this. I have been studying the doctrine of Adam and Eve for the last month. This was helpful. You are spot on with LDS (Mormon) doctrine. Reply

Sudheesh babu Kottayam, kerala January 7, 2013

Chavah Thank yoy very much this revalation ,
great work

Sudheesh
India Reply

Helen Järvenpää, Finland October 10, 2012

Chavah Alberstein-Chajah Edelmann Thank you for pointing out the connection & similarities, but also differences between the names Chavah and Chajah. As a musiclover I do enjoy the melodies of Chavah A and I think that the ex-rebbetzin of the Helsinki synagogue Chajah E. was so great. She was always so peaceful but honorable and so beautifully dressed. I just dream of time again in Israel to learn more hebrew over there. Reply

Anonymous NY, NY June 9, 2012

But death is a condition of life, not an evil. Life being phisical existence and phisicality is by definition finite. knowing death gives us the joy of birth. I read somewhere else , it was explained like this. G-d gave eve 2 choices, life or death. Eve chose death and G-d compensated her by giving her the greatest gift. The ability to create life. Life/death 2 sides of the same coin. Reply

KRISTEN Atlanta June 4, 2012

great Beautiful, Sara. Thank you!!! Reply

Nimi Singapore, Singapore February 17, 2012

Mother Awesome!!
I love yr article n it's meaningful. As a Christian, G-D shows us direction which u n I can't see ahead but G-D can.
I trust dat G-D has made u special of who U today.
Be Bless Always
Nimi Frm Singapore Reply

chana givat Zeev, Israel October 14, 2009

great article, as usual however I did not understand the connecton between chavayah and the marital relationship(explanation number two) nor how it figures in the wrap-up at the end.
When we understand this topic deeply,a topic so unclear since the beginning of time, women will truly bring the Redemption Reply

Ava November 25, 2008

Chavah Thank you so very much for this article! It was very enlightening and truly thought provoking! My name is Ava and I had been wondering if there were any Hebrew roots! I'm so happy to have read this! Reply

Anonymous Vaughan, ontario October 23, 2008

Chavah Is there a possibility that "chavah" means a friend-I seem to think that there is a further interpretation. G-d made Adam and Eve each supposedly a chavah for each other. I know that chavah and chaver are different but who really knows about that possibility?? I would appreciate your comments-even if they are disapproving of my idea. Reply

Kenny Oden Enola, Pa July 6, 2008

Please Respond I enjoyed your article very much, it was refreshing and stimulating. I am interested in your repsonse to Gershon Mcgreevy. Please forward your answer to his question to me.

Thanks, Reply

Breana June 14, 2008

Chavah This is an excellent article. I am pleased to find not only multiple possible translations of the name 'Chavah' but also a revision of the story that most have come to know of Eve. Great work. Reply

Gershon Mcgreevy February 10, 2007

Chava I enjoyed your article very much! One issue that I have is that you portray the name Chava to be entirely positive. How can you ignore the fact that that the Medrash explaines her name to be Chava (as opposed to Chaya) because she was named partially for the snake (Chivya) with whom she had an affair? Reply

Anonymous April 25, 2006

Is it not a greater joy that we feel when we realize that we have been far from home and are now able to appreciate what we are returning to? Do we not appreciate our parents more once we leave home and earn our own way, build our own family and home?

In my opinion, Chava stepped away in order to draw closer than she could have if she had never left; Chava made it possible for each of us to know, fear and love G-d more than if we had always been in Paradise. Reply

PJ Savannah, GA April 1, 2006

Eve and the tree Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which was the sin. She could eat freely from all other trees, including the Tree of Life, from the get-go. She also already had been blessed with the knowledge of Good at the time she was created, and was being spared--as would have been all those given life by way of her and all daughters to come--the knowledge of evil. Where do you read that the sin was eating from the Tree of Life? Being barred from the Tree of Life was a result of sin, that is death, if I read and understand correctly. The question might arise, are we better off descending to knowing and experiencing all the evils we were not created to bear? I believe the Good was perfect without experiencing the evil. Would the birth of a baby have been any less joyous without knowing the evils of death? Reply

Monet Mindell Woodmere, New York March 7, 2006

Great Article This artcle beautifully expresses how Chava is the prototype for feminimity. It is apparent how the feminine creative energy is constantly revitalizing the circle of life. What a phenomenal gift and responsibilty we women have. Thank you for the insight in this article. Very inspiring!!! Reply

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