What Bereishit teaches us about marriage and responsibility

Hashem said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.”




(the israel bible)

October 20, 2022

4 min read

Twenty-seven years ago this week I first met my wife. We were introduced by a mutual friend, a neighbor of mine in Jerusalem. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that I was sure I would marry her from the moment we met. We were engaged less than a week later and married soon thereafter.

How did I know she was the one? That’s a question I’m not sure I can answer. Most people are not so sure. Maybe that’s why one of the traditional Jewish blessings that we bestow on a bride and groom is that God should make them as happy as “His creations in the garden of Eden.” To state the obvious, no two people in history were ever so sure they had found the right spouse as Adam and Eve. I mean, what were the options?

Which leads us to a perplexing sequence of verses in this week’s Torah portion, Bereishit.

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for[e] him.”

19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.

20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

What does naming all the animals have to do with finding a wife? The sequence is undeniable. To sum up.

  1. Not good for man to be alone. Let’s find him a mate.
  2. God brings him all the animals to name.
  3. He names them and does not find a mate.

It seems that Adam was dating. Checking out his options. “Adam, let us find you a wife. How about this one? Nope. Elephant. This one? Nah. Squirrel.”

While this sequence is often overlooked, it teaches a powerful lesson. Simply put, Man is not an animal. By naming the animals Adam declared them to be others, outside of him. In naming them he also declares his primacy over them. Superiors name subordinates. Subordinates do not name their superiors. Through this process, Adam came to realize that he has no partnership with the animal kingdom. In the words of the text “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.”

There is no marriage in the animal kingdom. There is mating, for sure, but not marriage. Animals bear no responsibility. They have no task. Animals are bodies without souls. It is specifically man’s search for a partner in responsibility and mission which brings him to the realization that he is not a member of the animal kingdom. He has a body but that is not who he is. He is a soul.

Once Man realizes that he is not an animal, he is ready for his true partner and mate. Through his search Adam discovered that he is alone. Only then is he ready to feel whole… to be completed by the woman.

A few verses before this sequence, Adam was given his mission by God.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and protect it. – Genesis 2:15

To work and to protect. Notice it does not say “to enjoy and to express himself” It does not say “to indulge in pleasures and to be free”. “To work” means, simply, that there is work to be done. I have to act. To be productive. To make things better. “To protect” means that I must do no harm… that I must protect God’s creation.

To work…. to protect…. in other words, we are on this earth to be responsible. To be responsible means that my life is not about me. To be responsible means that I am accountable, it means that I have a calling and a mission. This is man’s covenantal responsibility to his creator.

As I mentioned, animals have no responsibility. They do not work to improve God’s creation. They have no mission other than their own physical well-being.

Today, Western society is experiencing a marriage crisis. In 1990, the marriage rate in the US was 9.8 per 1000 people. As of 2020, that number had fallen to 5.1 per 1000. Essentially, people are marrying at half the rate of 30 years ago. And yet, despite this collapse of marriage, sexual activity among young people remains as pervasive as ever. In other words, more and more young Americans are choosing to mate, but not to marry.

When Adam and Eve gave in to their desires and ate the forbidden fruit, they were ashamed. Shame is what we feel when our behavior doesn’t live up to whom we are supposed to be. Humans feel shame because we have a higher purpose. We are not supposed to live for the thrill of the moment without any regard for the consequences. We are responsible beings.

The marriage crisis is not only about marriage. It is a symptom of a wider crisis of responsibility. And this has everything to do with faith in God. If there is no God, then I have no mission. If I have no mission, I am not responsible. If I am not responsible, my only reason for living is my own material and physical well-being. I have become indistinguishable from the animal kingdom.

God created us “to work and to protect,” to be responsible for the world He created. There is no greater expression of this mission than getting married and building a family. Through the covenant of marriage, man and woman not only fulfill their responsibilities to each other, but to God Himself.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki serves as Executive Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation.

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