“The Help Meet”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this coming week’s parasha, parashat Bereshith, we learn of the creation of the human being. The story of the human creation is a complicated and fascinating narrative, with intriguing nuances, from which many powerful lessons are learned.  (Click here to listen to the Crash Course in Basic Judaism: Sexuality.)

After the male and female humans are created, G-d plants a garden in the East of Eden and places the couple in the garden. Many trees dot the landscape of the garden, food grows in abundance from the ground, and a river flows that splits into four streams. G-d commands the humans not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, warning that on the day that they eat of it, they shall surely die.

Suddenly G-d declares (Genesis 2:18):“Lo tov heh’yoht hah’ah’dahm l’va’doh, eh’eh’seh loh ay’zer k’neg’doh,” It is not good for the human being to be alone, I will make a help meet for him. Since the woman has already been created, it is obvious that man is not really alone. Hence, this phrase is best understood to mean that G-d intends to teach males and females, husbands and wives, how to properly relate to one another.

The Talmud in Yevamot 63a (famously cited by Rashi in the Torah) explains the cryptic Hebrew phrase, “ay’zehr k’neg’doh,” a helper against him, to mean, that if a man is worthy, the woman will be a helper. If he proves to be unworthy, she will be against him. The Maharal elaborates on this explanation by saying that men and women represent two opposites. If they are worthy, they merge into a unified whole, but if they are not worthy, the very fact that they are opposites causes the woman to be against the man.

The Netziv, in his commentary on the Torah, Ha’amek Davar, explains that when G-d says it is not good for the human being to be alone, G-d means that it is not good for the female of the human species to be like the females of other species who are not helpful in all aspects of life, and serve primarily for the purpose of cohabitation and reproduction. The human being, explains the Netziv, is not uni-dimensional. Humans represent all aspects of life, and all G-d’s creatures are embodied in them. At times the human being inclines toward one disposition, and at other times, another. Therefore, the woman must be prepared to help in all aspects that impact on the man, and should be “k’neg’doh,” available to him, to complement his multiple dispositions.

The Da’at Sofrim explains the dual aspects of the woman’s role toward the man. Woman, claims the Da’at Sofrim, was never intended by G-d to be a “complete” help to the man. There are times when she is to help him and times when she may move in other directions.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch gives a rather bold, contemporary meaning to Genesis 2:18, by saying that “only through his wife does a man become a ‘Man.’ Only husband and wife together can be ‘Adam.’” Rabbi Hirsch underscores that the phrase “ay’zehr k’neg’doh” expresses the essential dignity of woman. “It contains not the slightest reference to any sexual relationship…. “Ay’zehr k’neg’doh” expresses no idea of subordination, but rather complete equality, and on a footing of equal independence. Woman stands to man, ‘k’neg’doh,’ parallel, on one line, at his side.”

Rabbi Hirsch further explains that “the word ‘ee’shah’ [woman] implies a ‘feminine man’ who stands not with him, but next to him, ‘neg’doh,’ who works at another point in the same line so that each of them fills a separate position, and they mutually complement each other.”

Eliyahu Kitov cites several sources that expound on the phrase, “lo tov,” it is not good. Not only is it not good for the individual human to be alone, but it is not good for the universe that a person should be alone. As a loner, a person is likely to come into conflict with the rules that govern the universe. Even more foreboding is the fact that since all of creation is dependent upon the human being, if one person goes astray, all suffer. If an individual does good, there is no one to help him. And if he does wrong, there is no one to oppose him. One who is alone is bereft of joy and bereft of peace, and is an incomplete human being. Only when the man and woman are together does the Torah state,(Genesis 5:2) “Vah’y’vah’rech oh’tahm, vah’yikrah eht sh’mahm,‘Adam,’” and He blessed them, and He called them “humans.” Only when they are together are they called human, not individually.

From where does help really emanate? Not from those who always agree, but from those who oppose. It is often from their opponents that humans gain great insight and strength. Those faced with opposition, frequently find their own points of view amplified and strengthened, resulting in even greater success. As strange as it may appear, “Ay’zehr k’neg’doh,” a helper against him, means that encountering opposition is often the source of great benefit and abundant blessing.

May you be blessed.

The final days of the Tishrei holidays begin on Wednesday evening, September 29th and continue all day Thursday, September 30th, Shemini Atzeret. The festival of Simchat Torah commences on Thursday night, September 30th and is celebrated all day Friday, October 1st.

May this season be a joyous time for all, punctuated by happiness and good health. Chag Samayach!