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"ezer knegdo" -Guidelines for women as husband's "helpmates"


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Cheshvan 26, 5777
I have read that a wife is to be an ezer k’negdo to her husband (Bereishit 2:18), meaning a helper, a deliverer to her husband. What is a wife to help a husband for e.g. is she to take care of his work as his assistant? Is she to help him in his learning as some private tutor? If he lacks motivation, is he to be his moral support? She would like to help but not lose out on her own agenda and there is simply not enough time and energy during the day. Should married women sacrifice their own jobs and advancement so that to help their husbands in theirs? A woman nowadays must be educated because who is to guarantee if she will have to support herself either by never marring or being widowed etc… It would be such a shame if a woman educated herself, works, and then subordinates everything to a husband’s career if the circumstances so require. Where should be the limit of her sacrifice? Rashi also says that the word k’negdo in Bereishit 2:18 might also mean a force in opposition to the husband if he is wrong. When does her role of ezer k’negdo turns into mitzvot to divorce him? Is there some time limit to mistakes that never seem to stop repeating? Is there a boundary that must not be crossed e.g. her health, her financial stability, her time or dignity…etc… I would like an answer to this role of a woman as a helper and the healthy limits of her sacrifices. In connection to her role as an ezer k’negdo, it is said that women are more spiritual and naturally Godly than men. Spiritual inferiority leads to all sorts of inferiority in intellectual and emotional traits. In practical life what other lesser qualities than her own must a woman endure besides the inherent spiritual inferiority of her potential husband? E.g. smaller salary than her own, lesser education, worse family background, etc…If there is mutual physical attraction, some imperfect goodness and intention to marry should she accept in humility to be an ezer k’negdo to such a man OR she should not marry that man?
As in your previous question, here too the Torah is purposely worded in a way which leaves flexibility for many possible and varied explanations and situations which arise. “People are human” and not robots, and how much more so when the topic refers to the interaction of 2 complex humans, with different backgrounds, hormones, drives and personalities, where men are from Mars, and women, from Venus. Of course there are some “red-lines”, e.g. a man cannot force his wife to do so certain things, and as you mentioned, especially regarding religious or spiritual issues, “both of you must obey God”. In addition, God is speaking in Breishit (Genesis) as “Creator” and not as the Commander, which basically begins at Sinai in Shmot (Exodus). As such, Ezer Kinegdo (best translated as: “helpful partner”) is not an external, unnatural or “forced” command which needs to be consciously obeyed- where we have free will to obey or not, but rather a “designation” of male and female nature from the beginning of their creation. Later, God commanded and Jewish Law gave man many more halachic legal obligations towards his wife than she has towards him (again, hers are mainly natural and “go without saying”), and regarding many issues she’s the one who has the right to choose, whereas he may not. The Torah gives general guidelines, but leaves most of the details in the marriage open for each couple to work out that which “works” for them, taking their subjective nature, givens, and that of their generation and society, into account. In general, it’s a good idea to get to know each-other’s nature and expectations before marriage, to make sure there’s compatibility and partnership, so it really should rarely get to the need to "officially" delineate what are each one’s “rights”, and how each one interprets “helpful partner”.
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