In the sixth perek, the Mishnah explains that one should not abstain from engaging2 in the mitzvah of pru u’rvu (having children) if he has not yet had children. The number and gender of the offspring necessary to fulfil the mitzvah is the subject of debate in the Mishnah.
The Gemara (61b) is particular in the wording of the Mishnah and explains that all that the Mishnah allows one to abstain from, once he has had “children”, is the mitzvah of pru u’rvu; however even if he has had children, he should not refrain from having a wife. The Gemara cites the following pasuk in support of this directive: “It is not good for Man to be alone”3 (Bereshit 2:18).
Ha’Emek Davar explains the above pasuk is not stating that there needs to be a male and female for reproductive means, because this is a common necessity for all creatures. The pasuk is rather referring to the need for a spouse and helper in all aspects of one’s life, as the pasuk continues: “I will make a compatible helper for him” (“ezer kenegdo”).
Ha’Emek Davar continues that each person has his unique character traits each with their strengths and deficiencies. The ezer kenegdo, one’s ideal partner, will have contrasting character traits specifically “designed” to help and improve each other. By extension, points of conflict or tension more often than not reveal opportunities for growth and improvement.
While one’s partner may be the ideal person for this endeavour, the Ba’al Shem Tov expands the need for social interaction for personal growth. There is a Mishnah in Negaim (2:5) that deals with the ability of a kohen to inspect the tzara’at affliction of another, which reads as follows:
כל הנגעים אדם רואה חוץ מנגעי עצמו
The literal translation is: “a person may see (or inspect) anyone’s afflictions (even relatives), other than his own”. However, punctuated differently it would translate: “All afflictions that a person sees outside (i.e. in others), it is from his own afflictions.” In other words, if one is bothered by a particular trait or characteristic of another, it is a sign the he himself is suffering from that problem.
The Ba’al Shem Tov explains that a person left in solitude is likely to believe he is righteous and without flaws. With the above secret known, our interactions with others enable us to develop an entire program of self development and improvement. Where should I start? Just ask yourself what really bothers me about so-and-so. That is likely to be a good starting point.
The Ba’al Shem Tov adds more. He explains that if one is bothered by another during his tefillah he should not ask, “Why did Hashem bring this person to disturb my tefillah?” Instead he should view the experience as hashgachah pratit (divine providence) intended to drive him to strengthen his tefillah and avodah.4
Thus there is a simple solution for those endeavouring in personal growth and looking for guidance. We need just open our eyes. Every interaction provides vital indicators of where we are lacking and what we must improve. If that shift of focus is taken, then every stress turns into guidance, every frustration dissolves into relief and every moment becomes an opportunity to come closer to Hashem.
2 See Tosfot Yom Tov (s.v. mi’piryah ve’rivya).
3 The Ben Yehoydah quotes a difficulty posed by the Iyun Ya’akov: How is the Gemarah bringing this as a proof for the importance of having a spouse even if he has had children? At that point in Bereshit, Adam had not yet had children! He answers, that the reason why it is brought is because the pasuk itself explains that Man required a spouse not just for reproduction, but rather because “I will make a compatible helper for him” (as this article continues to explain). Alternatively, the reference to ha’Adam refers to mankind as apposed to Adam in particular.
4 The Ba’al Shem Tov adds even more, explaining that even if someone is witness to another person sinning, the fact that he witnessed it means that there is some element of that sin in him.
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