Many husbands love themselves more than they love their wives. Would you rather be married to a person who loves his mate more than himself; or less than he loves himself? The Jewish ideal is that each partner’s love for the other partner is greater than his or her self love.
The Torah teaches this lesson in the narrative about why Adam-mankind needed a partner as a help-mate by his side. God created woman from Adam’s rib. Since humans have many ribs it seems to be no big loss.
But the word mistranslated as rib in the Septuagint actually means side (for example Ezekiel 41:5,11 or Exodus 26:26,27,35). God took a side from Adam and built a woman (who is well built to this day).
Built seems to be a strange term to use, but the Hebrew word for side appears mostly in the context of building. A wall with only one side cannot exist. A one sided building cannot stand.
Thus the Torah concludes, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Two sides become one whole. Two sides can stand together.
The woman God built is described as an “ezer kenegdo”- a helper corresponding to or equal to him i.e. a life-partner or a team-mate. Psychologically perhaps she is the ‘inside’ and he is the ‘outside’.
This would symbolize an important difference. Good partners bring different abilities and talents together. Thus, as partners, one plus one is greater than two. Even a skeptic like Kohellet declares, “If two lie side by side, they keep each other warm; but how can one keep warm alone? ” (Ecclesiastes 4:11)
This is why God says, “ It is not good for a male to dwell alone. I will provide a partner for him.” (Genesis 2:18)
In the following midrash (a rabbinic expansion of a Torah teaching) God creates a partner for Adam-mankind as a help-mate by his side.
At first, Adam was all alone. He didn’t have parents and he didn’t have children. He did not even have a brother, a sister or a friend to talk to. Adam was lonely, and he was unhappy.
God said to Adam, “It is not good for you to be alone.[Genesis 2:18] But now you are free to do whatever you want to do. When you are alone you don’t have to share things with others. You don’t have to stop talking and just listen when someone else needs to talk to you.
You don’t have to help when others need help. You don’t have to care about how someone else feels. If you had a sister or a brother or a good friend, you would have to do all these things and many more.”
“I don’t like being lonely” said Adam, “ I have lots of things for fun and games; but I get bored with them after a while. I have several pet animals, but even having animals is not good enough for me. I still feel lonely and all alone.
I need someone who is like me but at the same time is different. I need a partner. Someone to stand by my side and be my best friend. I need someone I can take care of, and who will care for me.”
“I know just what you need.” said God, “What you need is a help mate. A person with a different personality, who can grow together with you in love, and help you become a responsible, kind and loving human being. I am going to form her right out of your side, so she will stand side by side with you as your equal partner, your help mate.[Genesis 2:21-23]
The two of you will be like one pair of hands. You know, one hand cannot wash itself. But two hands can always wash each other. You will have to be responsible for and to each other. You will no longer be independent. You will not be free to do whatever you want anymore.
You will have to think about another person’s feelings. You will have to listen to what she tells you. You will have to think less about your self and more about another. I will give you a blessing to help you become a couple.”
God looked down and saw that Adam had fallen into a deep sleep. God hoped that when Adam awoke he would remember all that God had told him. Even if Adam and all his descendants didn’t always become the loving responsible help mates that God wanted them to be, God thought they would become better by trying.
And those who were fully responsible partners and help mates would become God’s blessing for each other. Then the sons of Adam would realize that the daughters of Eve were gifts from God.
Remember this midrashic fable next month before Valentine’s Day; then buy less, and love your partner more, than you love yourself. If you can’t think of an ongoing action that your partner would love more than a material gift: you need to ask!!