By Elliott Katz
Bereishis, the first Torah portion, offers helpful marriage advice for men today. For men who feel their wives have lost respect for them and aren’t supportive partners, Bereishis has insights on what men can do to improve their marriages.
In Bereishis is the story of Adam and Eve. Adam was alone. He wanted a wife. He asked G‑d for a wife and G‑d created Eve to be, in Hebrew, an “ezer k’negdo”—which is translated as a “helper opposing him” or a “helper against him” (Bereishis, 2:18).
What is a “helper against him”? Rashi quotes an explanation from the Talmud which says, “If the man is worthy, the woman will be his helper; if he is not worthy, she will be against him” (Yevamos 63a).
If a man wants his wife to be a helper who respects him and is supportive, he has to be a leader who shows he’s worthy. When I was researching my book of relationship advice for men, Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants: Timeless Wisdom on Being a Man, women told me how they lost respect for men who don’t show their share of leadership and won’t take charge of situations where women would like them to step forward.
Being a leader is not being a controlling tyrant. A man who shows his share of leadership knows what is going on in his family and steps forward to deal with situations that would benefit from his leadership. He doesn’t wait to be told what to do.
There may be times when “Yes, dear” is the right thing for a man to say to his wife, but if he’s always saying, “Whatever you want; you decide,” his wife can lose respect for him. He may think he’s showing that he’s not controlling, but when a woman always has to tell a man what to do, she does not see him as worthy. It makes her feel like he is a child and she is his mother.
The Talmud says that if the man is not worthy, the woman will be against him. It doesn’t say simply that she will not be his helper, but that she will be the opposite of being his helper—in other words, if she does not see him as worthy, she will be actively against him.
The Forbidden Fruit
What’s the next marriage lesson in Bereishis? Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden. They have one commandment: Don’t eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.
What happens? Eve eats it and then she tries to get Adam to eat it. At first he refuses but she pressures him and he gives in and eats it. Then G‑d asks Adam if he ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge that he was commanded not to eat.
Does Adam take responsibility for what happened?
No. He says to G‑d, “The woman you sent me gave it to me and I ate it.” Adam did what many men today do and it causes women to lose respect for them and not see them as worthy: He gave in to something he knew was wrong and then he blamed his wife. He didn’t take responsibility.
Does blaming his wife enable Adam to avoid responsibility? No, just the opposite. G‑d punishes Adam for eating the fruit and for not using his own judgment.
During the research for my book, women told me they could not respect men who don’t take responsibility. They expect a man to take responsibility for what’s going on in his home—just as we expect leaders of governments and companies to be responsible for what goes on in their organizations.
Today’s men can learn important lessons from Adam. If you want to gain your wife’s respect and support, show your share of leadership and take responsibility. If your wife pushes you to do something that you believe is wrong and you give in and it goes wrong just like you thought it would, don’t blame her. In the same way, if you leave the decision-making to her and then blame her if a decision goes wrong, she will lose respect for you and not see you as worthy.
These are important insights from Bereishis that can help a man improve his marriage. Though these lessons are thousands of years old, they remain refreshingly relevant today.
Elliott Katz is the author of “Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants: Timeless Wisdom on Being a Man,” which shares insights from Jewish and other sources of how men can improve their relationships. It has been translated into more than 20 languages by publishers in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa. You can reach him through his website www.ElliottKatz.com or his Facebook page: Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants.