Allen S. Maller
Allen S. Maller

Islam and Judaism agree: Vicegerents need each other

Islam teaches that humans are vicegerents under God in managing our personal and social lives on this planet. Mankind is the vicegerent of Allah on earth. (Qur’an 2:30) The word vicegerent means to act in such a way so as to improve the world for and on behalf of Allah, to rule people justly, to apply the laws of Allah to people, animals and even non-living things.

The Qur’an tells us that just before Allah created Adam He told all the angels: “Surely I am about to place a khilafah- vicegerent on the Earth.” (2:30) The angels reply that unlike angels, who are always busy worshipping God and thus almost unable to commit sins, humans will do all kinds of terrible evil things on earth. Allah says, “I surely know what you do not know.” (2:30)

Khilafah means succession referring to the humans who will succeed the Jinn and will be responsible for improving life on earth because they will know the names that Allah will teach them. This knowledge will enable humans to tame their own wild inclinations; and submit to the words of Allah as brought to them by their prophets.

Ali Unal, a Turkish elucidator of the Qur’an, writes that: “Since the angels do not have to struggle against sins, they do not progress spiritually.” Human males and females were created by Allah to be partners and helpmates in the moral struggle that leads to spiritual progress.

As the Qur’an states: “He is the one who created you from a single being; and from that being He created his mate, so that he might find comfort with her.” (Qur’an 4:1, 7:189, and 39:6) The same teaching comes from the Torah of Moses, which also relates the events concerning the creation of Adam and Eve (Havvah in Hebrew, Hawwa in Arabic).

In the Jewish religious tradition the great events of the Torah are often retold and re-imagined in order to gain clearer insights for later generations. A good example of this process (called in Jewish tradition; Midrash), as applied to the archetypal humans, is this account of how and why God’s gift to Adam was Eve.

Muslims will see how my Midrash fits in with Muslim teachings of our duty to respect our wives. The phrase עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדֹּו ʿezer ke-negdo, which appears twice in Genesis 2, and nowhere else in the entire Bible, has challenged scholars for centuries. The first word is from the root ע.ז.ר, which appears about 12 times elsewhere in the Bible (e.g., Deuteronomy 33:7), and generally means “help” or sometimes “save” (generally when the subject is God).

The second word נֶגֶד neged “opposite, against,” is more difficult to translate. The earliest translations all agree on meaning of the first word, but differ with how to render the second: Septuagint: “a helper corresponding to him” or “a helper like him” Vulgate: “a helper like himself” Peshitta: “a helper for him” Targum Onqelos: “a helper before him”

Perhaps this modern Midrash will help us understand the interactive relationship of husband and wife.

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.”

God knew just what Adam needed. “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 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 tame their self centered inclinations, and become the loving responsible help mates that God wanted them to be, God thought they would become much 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, instead of claiming that Eve caused Adam to sin and thus introduced original sin into human life, would realize that the daughters of Eve (Havvah in Hebrew, Hawwa in Arabic) were meant to become blessings from God.

Also without Eve men’s health declines greatly. An analysis of data from 34 studies published between 1963 and 2015 involving more than 2 million people aged between 42 and 77 from Europe, North America, the Middle East, and Asia revealed that, compared with people who were married, those who weren’t (never married, divorced, widowed) were at heightened risk of developing cardiovascular disease (42%) and coronary artery heart disease (16%).

Not being married was also associated with a heightened risk of dying from both coronary heart disease (42%) and stroke (55%).

The analysis showed that divorce was associated with a 35 per cent higher risk of developing heart disease for both men and women, while widowers of both sexes were 16 per cent more likely to have a stroke.

While there was no difference in the risk of death following a stroke between the married and the unmarried, this was not the case after a heart attack, the risk of which was significantly higher (42%) among those who had never married.

So it is clear why Islam and Judaism agree: Vicegerents need each other

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 450 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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