The Good Spouse1
Hashem Elokim said, “It is not good for Man to be alone. I will make for
him a helper opposite him.
Do opposites attract – or detract? How we regard the inevitable male-female
differences between spouses may very well depend on how focused we are on
What was “not good” about Adam’s condition without Chava that led to her
creation? Our first reaction assumes that Adam desperately needed Chava,
because without her, he could not continue humankind beyond his own
lifetime. It was “not good” that he found himself unable to reproduce. It is
impossible, however, that the Torah meant that Chava was created to allow
Man to procreate. Why would Man have been created any differently from any
other animal species, whose reproductive capacity was assured with its
The Torah must mean something quite different. The females of other species
make themselves available to mate, but not for anything substantially more.
They do not enter into a life-long identification with a single male.
This state of affairs was “not good.” Hashem therefore announces that He
would make the human female different from the female of other species.
Woman will be at Man’s side throughout his life.
This turns out to be a complex change from the prevailing model in the
animal kingdom, and not a simple one. Man carries within him many capacities
which vary enormously between individuals. No single skill set would enable
Woman to complement Man, to help him in all his pursuits, at all junctures
of his life. Woman was therefore given flexibility and plasticity. She would
be able to partner with her mate in whatever he pursued. Standing “opposite
him” is a perfect way of expressing this. She would not fill a particular
need or group of needs, but would round out his activity and personality in
myriad ways. “Opposite him” is not a vague description of assigned role, but
testimony to her possession of many talents.
The midrashic explanation of our verse moves beyond this presentation of the
plain meaning. The midrash, cited by Rashi, famously relates that if a
person merits, his wife will be a “helper;” if not, she will be opposite
him. This does not mean that the undeserving are punished with wives who
constantly battle them, in the sense of the opposition offered by an enemy
or competitor. Nothing in the text supports or demands such an explanation.
Rather, it means that she was created to be opposite him, to offer a
different voice and perspective from his, particularly when he acts out on
A person whose behavior at a given moment is shaped by some character flaw
might enjoy and appreciate the full support of his wife. This, of course, is
short-sighted and counterproductive. His real interests are much better
served by a wife who is critical of him, when her criticism is delivered for
a constructive purpose. He won’t learn unless someone is there to point out
his errors and deficiencies. He might wince in pain at her opposition, but
by preventing him from acting inappropriately, she acts as his true helper.
Her opposition is the best assistance he can receive; it is no genuine
opposition at all
This is precisely what Chazal mean. If he merits, her opposition itself will
help him. If he does not merit the good wife, she will not oppose his baser
behavior, but go along with all he does, including activities that are
harmful to him. The cheerful assistance of the yes-woman may bring a
short-sighted smile to his face, but it gets him nowhere in the long run.
Her apparent help and assistance are inconsistent with his best interests.
She is the wife who is truly “opposite” him.
1. Based on Ha’amek Davar and Harchev Davar, Bereishis 2:18