God’s gift to the first man is still giving today!
Table for Five: Bereshit
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man is alone; I shall make him a helpmate opposite him.”
Rabbi Elchanan Shoff, Beis Knesses of Los Angeles
“My father [the Saintly Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, student of the Gaon of Vilna and founder of the present day Yeshiva movement devoted to Torah study for its own sake] would always encourage me, if he perceived that I was not appropriately empathizing with the pain of others and constantly repeat to me that ‘Humans were not created just for themselves, but rather to be of benefit to others, in whatever way they possibly can.’” So recorded R. Yitzchak of Volozhin for posterity.
I recall being told in yeshiva to repeat those words over and over again. The Hebrew words “l’hoil lachrini” mean “to be of benefit to others.” Say it again with me, said my Rabbi, “l’hoil lachrini”. Again! Again! [Feel free to try this at home!] The Torah tells us that Adam was complete, but we are then informed that it’s not good for man to be alone. Loneliness is terrible. Those who tragically lose the will to live on, are often terribly lonely.
What gives meaning to life is what we contribute. This does not simply mean trite statements of “I support cause A or B.” Bumper stickers and lawn signs are far from what is being demanded of us. We must be integral to the lives of others. There must be people whose lives are measurably improved because we are part of their story. One can only be a good person when they are of benefit to others. Say it with me, “l’hoil lachrini, l’hoil lachrini.”
Miriam Yerushalmi, CEO SANE, Author, Reaching New Heights series
“Hashem Elokim, the L-rd G-d,” relates this message. The two names of G-d refer to the male and female aspects of the Creator. The name “Elokim, G-d,” being numerically equivalent to the word “hateva, nature,” refers to the aspect of Divine power controlling the natural world and continually endowing us with life-energy, while “Hashem, L-rd” refers to the aspect of Divinity that transcends nature. Both names are used here to teach that both these aspects are necessary for a whole and wholesome life.
These Divine energies are “opposite” to each other, yet together they create and sustain our physical and spiritual universe. It is not good for man to be alone without Hashem; human nature should merge with the Divine. Just as the two Divine aspects are merged, so too in marriage: in order to become whole, spouses merge their natures, which were designed deliberately by Hashem to be opposite. Working together, they create their world.
Glass is transparent; it presents no barrier to our sight. When one side of a glass panel is coated with silver, the glass becomes a reflective mirror. We can no longer see through it, but our field of vision is advantageously increased: now we see ourselves, and we see into areas our eyes could not reach before. What seemed to be a stumbling-block is actually a stepping-stone. When Hashem and His Torah are brought into the marital relationship, the couple merit to help each other reach new heights in this world and the next.
Dr. Sheila Tuller Keiter, Judaic Studies Faculty, Shalhevet High School
What’s the good word? In the creation narrative, that word is “good.” During creation, God repeatedly evaluates His work, declaring it good. Only in our verse does God reevaluate the culmination of His efforts, the completion of man, as not good. Only the human being is less than perfect and requires revision, the addition of a partner. Yet, it is not clear that this partner produces the sought-after good.
The introduction of another human being quickly devolves through temptation, miscommunication, and peer pressure into violation of God’s sole prohibition – don’t eat the forbidden fruit. And this sets the tone for the rest of Genesis in which rancorous human relations lead to murder, incest, rape, war, enslavement, jealousy, revenge, estrangement, etc. Maybe God’s initial creation was perfect after all. Perhaps it was better for man to be alone.
God did not err when He created man. Rather, the imperfection was deliberate. Man is a social animal. Humans need each other, not just for survival, but for their emotional and spiritual well-being. While human interaction is perilous, it is essential to our happiness and growth. Eighteen months after a pandemic imposed unprecedented isolation upon us, synagogues and schools are open again. Setting aside those with real vulnerability, many others have become accustomed to their seclusion, not out of fear, but out of inertia. The cost to the self and to community is invisible but devastating. It is not good for man to be alone. Take reasonable precautions, but go back to shul.
Rabbi Ilana Grinblat, VP of Community Engagement, Board of Rabbis of Southern California
During college, I spent a semester in Ghana. That Yom Kippur, I observed the holiday in the room where I was staying in a remote village. As I prayed and fasted, I thought about Jews around the world who were praying and fasting. Although I was the only one in the room, I didn’t feel alone.
“Lo Tov Hiyot Ha’adam Livado…” It is not good for the human to be alone…
This past year and a half has been a living midrash on this verse. The isolation from extended family and friends – which has been necessary to preserve our lives and our health during this pandemic – has been painful. Paradoxically, on the other hand, for those of us with families at home, the pandemic precluded alone time. Never being alone was also not good — constant demands without a moment of silence to catch our breath.
Yet, this verse teaches us a deeper truth – the one I glimpsed in Ghana that Yom Kippur years ago. Whether or not we are alone in a room, even when we are lonely, our tradition teaches that we are not actually alone. We are created in holy partnership with one another and with God. We have a sacred bond and a deeper purpose shared by Jews around the globe and by people of integrity worldwide.
“Lo Tov Hiyot Ha’adam livado… It is not good for the human to be alone…” This verse summarizes the essence of our faith. The rest is commentary.
Erez Safar, Torah/Kabbalah columnist lightofinfinite.com
King David says in Tehillim, “The world was built with chesed (loving-kindness).” Our sages teach that “The light that was created on the first day shone from one end of Creation to the other.” In Kabbalah we learn that this was the light of chesed— “an infinite, uncompounded light that filled all of Creation.” The light of Chesed is at the heart of everything.
I can’t help but hear John Mayer singing, “just keep me where the light is,” a reminder that we all share this desire to give and receive love and light. The root of the Hebrew word for love, אהבה/‘ahava’, is the word ‘hav’, which means ‘to give’. Real love is something you only receive through giving love.
The Torah says, “It is not good for man to be alone,” because it would be impossible to manifest goodness without a recipient for them. In Talmud Yevamot, Rabbi Ḥanilai says, “Any man who does not have a wife is left without joy, without blessing, without goodness. As it says, ‘And you shall rejoice, you and your household’” (Deuteronomy 14:26). This verse indicates that joy comes from the household, from shared love.
Ahava has the same gematria (numerical value), 13, as the word Echad (‘one’). As many of us know, 26 is the numerical value of Hashem’s four-letter name, the ultimate Divine Infinite Light. So, if we share our love and our oneness— 13 + 13— then we manifest that Divine Light.
With thanks to Rabbi Elchanan Shoff, Miriam Yerushalmi, Dr. Sheila Tuller Keiter, Rabbi Ilana Grinblat, and Erez Safar.
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