I once attended a lecture in Aish HaTorah in which the rabbi told us of a survey where random people in Manhattan were asked, “Are you a good person?” Some said “Yes” or “I am basically good” or “I try to be good.” Only one person said that they were bad. The rabbi then asked the audience, “What exactly makes a person ‘good’?”
The answer to this question can be found in the first parsha of the Torah. Hashem says, “It is not good for Adam to be alone. Let us make a helpmate opposite Adam.” From the simple understanding of the pesukim, it seems that Adam was created first, and then later Hashem decided Adam needed a female counterpart like all the other animals, so He took a rib from Adam to form Chava. Yet, the Gemara infers from the pasuk “male and female Hashem formed them” that Chava was created originally together with Adam as one unit, with Adam on one side of the body and Chava on the other. Hashem later decided to separate them into two separate bodies.
This reading begs an explanation. What did Hashem mean when He said, “It is not good for Adam to be alone. Let us make a helpmate opposite Adam.” This is curious, for Adam had Chava’s company with him 24/7, as they were sharing one body.
The Ramban clarifies the issue. Hashem said “Na’aseh ezer kenegdo’’—make for Adam a helpmate opposite him. Adam needed a helpmate to be separate from him. Therefore, Hashem took out the female part of Adam and made it into a separate person.
Although Hashem gives each person the qualities he/she needs to succeed, Hashem also wants us to need the help of others. There are many people who are big ba’alei chasadim (very kind people) and are constantly helping others. Sometimes these same people have a hard time accepting help from others. But the Torah is teaching us Hashem created a world in which everyone needs help from others. Being interdependent…is good!
Rav Chaim Freidlander presents a novel approach to the Ramban on the reading of the pasuk, “it is not good for man to be alone.” The Ramban reads the pasuk “it is not ‘good,’ as man is alone.” For man to be good, Hashem needed to make Chava as a helpmate, separate from Adam. As the Ramchal explains, the essence of someone being good is to do good and be helpful to others. When Adam and Chava were together, then Adam taking care of Chava was really him taking care of himself. That’s not being a good person. The only way for Adam to be truly good was for Chava to be created as a separate person and for Adam to help her as a separate being.
The goodness delineated in the Torah is particularly relevant to marriage, as the kindness one must give to one’s spouse is different from the kindness appropriate for another person. Helping other people is meritorious but optional, as others can provide what’s needed for their friends and for themselves. But with regard to a spouse, one has an obligation to help one’s life partner. This is a fundamental principle of marriage. Married individuals by themselves cannot be “good” unless they are kind to, and provide for the needs of, their spouses.
A common complaint couples have is not receiving reciprocity for their positive efforts. This is a natural human reaction, but it does not take into account the fundamental principle of marriage: to give to the other unconditionally, without a “balancing act.” That is the essence of goodness in a marriage.
For many, it feels better to do a chesed (kindness) for a stranger or even a friend, as one is not required to do so. We can pat ourselves on the back for being good to others. However, doing a required kindness for a spouse, where thanks may not always be forthcoming…that can be more challenging!! Here lies the essence of being good in a marriage. It is the pinnacle of giving: when we do kindness not because it necessarily makes us feel good, but because there’s a need and it’s the obligatory thing to do. Always look first to help your spouse, who depends on you and to whom you are interconnected, as it says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Your spouse may not always notice your efforts or say thanks, but you will be a better and more complete person when you always act with kindness and helpfulness toward your spouse.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.