“It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper corresponding to him.” (Genesis 2:18)
There is a story in our family repertoire about our younger daughter, who told her preschool teacher about our family’s preparation for Sabbath dinners: “My dad is the cook and my mom is the baker. They have good teamwork.”
In addition to being adorable, our budding feminist was sharing one of the values that we had tried to instill in all three children: the need for equality within marriage. We have a pretty egalitarian partnership, and anyone who knows what a lousy cook I am will understand why this particular type of teamwork became the default in his kitchen.
Still, I can’t say that I believe our arrangement is unremarkable, because people remark about it with surprise whenever I mention that my spouse cooks dinner every night. They tell me that I’m lucky, and I reply that I married well. The truth is, though, that I married a pragmatist. There are so many daily tasks to be accomplished in raising a family—too many for one person to manage alone—and we both recognize the need for an equitable division of labor and the benefit of playing to our individual strengths.
In the biblical narrative of Genesis 2, the woman is created to be a helping partner to the man. The translation “helpmeet” or “helpmate” is often used, giving the impression of a secondary status. The early rabbinic sages and medieval biblical commentators on the Hebrew bible tend to interpret her role as supportive. This interpretation is amplified and later canonized in the Christian bible, which indicates a wife’s role as submissive to her husband.
The Italian exegete and philosopher Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550) is an exception. In his opinion, the woman must be “a helpmate who will be equal” to the man in order for the creation of humanity to be a reflection of God’s image. He explains the meaning of the word k’negdo, corresponding, as it is used in the context of weights and measures: “…when you place an item into one pan [on a scale in such a manner] that it is perfectly aligned with the item in the other pan, we use the term neged to indicate the straight line [from one to the other].
The first woman is created as a partner who corresponds equally to the first man. They are the first two-person team. For me, it is simple to derive an important lesson about equality within marriage—any marriage between two people—from this text.
On the scales of life a spouse is the perfect balance, diminishing burdens or providing ballast as needed, for his or her teammate.