Monday, June 8, 2009

Ezer K'negdo

Today’s Treat begins with a short, sweet story about the great Zaddik of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Levine, and his wife, Hannah. One day, Mrs. Levine hurt her foot and needed to see a doctor. Her husband escorted her to the doctor’ s office, where they waited patiently for their turn. When they went into the exam room, the doctor asked what was the problem. Rabbi Levine looked up and said, “My wife’s foot hurts us.”

Rabbi Levine truly saw his wife as an extension of himself, and vice-versa. This is the ultimate understanding of the marriage partnership.

When God decided that it was not good for Adam to be alone, He stated: “It is not good that the human being should be alone; I will make a help-meet for him” (Genesis 2:18). What exactly is a help-meet? In Hebrew the term used is ezer-k’negdo, which is literally translated as helper-against him, seemingly a term that contradicts itself.

No one would argue against the formulation that marriage is a partnership. The Jewish perspective on this partnership, however, sheds an important light on just how that partnership works. For most people, the idea of ezer, helper, is obvious. Of course spouses are supposed to assist one another, to be there for each other in times of need.

It is, however, equally important for a spouse to be k’neged--in opposition--when it is in the other person’s best interest. After all, “helping” does not mean always agreeing. Sometimes a spouse has to force an issue, be critical, and push the partner to do the right thing. This may mean simply discouraging a spouse from wasting time/money, or something far more significant, such as confronting substance abuse. This is what a partnership is all about.

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