Rabbi David Aaron
Excerpt from “Endless Light”
If we go back to the Torah’s story of creation, we come upon a passage, after Adam has been created, where Hashem says: “It is not good for man to be alone.” After every other act of creation we are told, “…and it was good.” But suddenly, “it is not good”-“not good to be alone.”
Hashem determines that the human being needs “a helpmate,” but it is a while before Eve is created. Instead, all the birds and animals are created and the human being is asked to name them. At the conclusion of this, the Torah tells us, “…but for Adam no fitting helpmate was found.”
What does naming the creatures have to do with finding a helpmate? The Midrash, the oral tradition of the Torah, has the answer. The Midrash explains that Hashem was playing matchmaker, fixing up the first human being with all the animals in the garden.
The passage may remind you of going out on a blind date. You set up a time and place to get together. You say, “Let’s meet in the lobby of the Holiday Inn at eight o’clock.” Then you go there and you are very excited, thinking about what your date is going to be like when he or she walks in. And sure enough, someone comes walking in, and at that moment, you feel a little overwhelmed.
You can imagine Adam standing in the lobby of the Paradise Motel, waiting anxiously for his date. And who walks in but… “That’s a… that’s an… elephant! That’s an elephant! This won’t work, Hashem.”
Poor Adam. One by one, he met all the animals in the garden, but he wasn’t happy. Now, why couldn’t he be happy with an attractive giraffe or a very fine-looking swan? What was wrong with a cute little chicken? They could have built a nest together.
Why wasn’t Adam happy with an animal for a helpmate in his quest for love and oneness? Because an animal is subordinate to man. It’s not his equal. In fact, the first human being had been commanded earlier: “Have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” So Adam could not overcome his loneliness and find true love with a subordinate being, over whom he ruled.
Indeed, the Torah is very clear in describing an appropriate spouse for Adam. The helpmate is to be kenegdo. And the Torah plainly states that man did not find among the animals a helpmate who was kenegdo. The Hebrew word kenegdo means “against, opposite, parallel to.” Although the passage is often mistranslated as “I will make a fitting helpmate for him,” Hashem actually says, “I will make a fitting helpmate against him.” Hashem intends that Adam’s helpmate be someone who, in a very positive, respectful way, will stand opposite him and engage him on parallel ground.
An animal may be a great help to Adam in doing his work, but an animal cannot be the significant other with whom he can share his existence, whom he can truly love. You, too, will not be ultimately satisfied in the quest for love unless it is with a helpmate who is kenegdo-a person whom you ac-knowledge as your equal and whose differences you respect. You cannot overcome loneliness and achieve true love if you are looking for someone who is subordinate to you, who has no mind of his or her own.
Of course, that’s not to say that some insecure people would prefer not to be challenged. I have heard men advise one another, “Get yourself a woman you can mold.” And yes, a man might find someone young, inexperienced, and vulnerable and try to make her fit his ridiculous fantasy of a wife who considers him the lord and master. But he will only make his life harder as a result. His will be a very lonely existence, and he will sorely miss the engagement that a helpmate kenegdo would have provided, an engagement that is so essential in the process of spiritual growth. All the sadder, in this way he will deprive himself of the opportunity of being the living manifestation of Hashem, which is expressed through the ability to love, making a space within oneself to include a unique other.
A relationship of dominance is not the image of Hashem or the image of love-it is not making a space within yourself for another and giving of yourself to that other. Only when two people give to each other and help each other within a relationship of mutual respect and inclusiveness can they re-ceive the gift of love, the Everlasting Light of love.
You are probably wondering how all this fits with the well-known verse from the Torah: “He will rule over you.” Is this not the very source and justification for man’s dominance over women? The answer is, “No, on the contrary.” The Torah is telling us that this is a curse, not the norm, and certainly not any kind of an ideal to strive for. Indeed, as part of our mending work, we are responsible for nullifying this curse, just as modern technology in agriculture is nullifying the curse of “by the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.”
The Torah sees the relationship between every couple as part of an ongoing process, fixing the cursed relationship of Adam and Eve and thereby bringing the light of love back into the world. This process of restoring the equilibrium between the sexes is seen in all the key male-and-female relationships in the stories of the Torah. For example, Hashem tells Abraham, “All that Sarah [your wife] has said to you, hearken to her voice.” Like Sarah, Rebecca, the wife of Isaac, could hardly be described as subordinate to her husband. It was Rebecca who courageously coaxed her son Jacob into disguising himself as his manipulative brother, Esau, so that his blind father would give him the blessing of the firstborn, intended for Esau. Rebecca had the insight to know that it was truly Jacob who deserved the blessing, and she needed to orchestrate this ploy in order to help Isaac realize his own vulnerability to manipulation. Later, when Jacob married, he did not rule over his two wives, Rachel and Leah. We are told he worked hard to get their agreement before he moved the family, rather than merely announcing his decision regardless of their opinions on the matter.
The Torah and the Kabbalah clearly teach us that true love is not achieved through domination. It takes mutual respect. It takes appreciation of each other’s unique strengths and qualities. It takes a great deal of giving to each other.
A quest for love is a quest for a helpmate kenegdo. It is a quest for someone who thinks differently and yet who will help you, not so much with the responsibilities of daily living as with the responsibilities of daily growing.
One man who came to me for advice because he was contemplating a divorce told me mournfully why he thought the marriage went wrong. He said, “I know what my problem was. I was looking for a Ferrari and I got a Ford.” I said, “I think the problem was you were looking for a car.”
A helpmate is not a car, an appliance of any kind, or a possession. A helpmate is an other – an other who can make space within himself or herself to include you, and one whom you can make a space within yourself to include him or her. Then you can help each other and give of yourselves to each other.
And the joy, the ecstasy, the mystery is this: we are one and yet not one and the same. I can include you, you can include me. We seem almost to share a single identity, and yet, simultaneously, we are not one and the same.