“He who joyfully bears the chastisements that befall him brings salvation to the world” Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, Talmud, Tractate Ta’anith 8a
Middah k’neged middah – Soon the world of the solar calendar will prepare for reassessment of the past year and preparation for the next. Rabbi Joshua b. Levi’s insight from the Talmud is a worthy guide to this process. It implies that our actions are both revelations and concealments. We see only the surface of the true principle of God’s creation. Beneath the surface lies the cosmic fact of “measure for measure.” It is on this basis that the Tanakh can declare that sin incorporates its own punishment. No one “gets away with it.” We might not see the consequence now, but as surely as there is a heaven, the consequence will emerge. If I plant an acorn in the ground, I do not get an apple tree. If I plant unrighteousness, I will not reap godly reward. Paul merely reiterated what the Tanakh and the sages taught. You reap what you sow – no matter how long it takes for the crop to mature.
What is of special interest today is the relationship of middah k’neged middah to Genesis 2. Middah is the singular form of midot, which means “a characteristic or attribute; divine or human, or a measure.” It is important to recognize that middah is both. While we tend to think only of physical measurements, middah includes those “hidden” character qualities that eventually show themselves in our actions. More than the scales of justice are involved in this word. Our lives are also representation of middah. Thus the verse, “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27).
K’neged is related to the God-given description of the woman, the ‘ezer kenegdo. This particular combination of prepositions occurs nowhere else in Scripture. The fact that it is central to the fundamental ethical principle of the cosmos is important. The rabbis expound on the word in the phrase middah k’neged middah by connecting it with the study of Torah. They state, “talmud Torah k’neged kulam” means: ‘the study of Torah is equal (k’neged) to all’ [the commandments].” They conclude that k’neged is an equal and opposite “something” that balances the books. K’neged is a counterweight. From this they conclude that the woman completes the man, balances him (Notice, please, that I did not say “improves him”). She is what makes the scales of mankind even. In the same way, middah k’neged middah, reward and punishment is the counterweight that balances the books of life (a bit more about this in the new year).
Perhaps you didn’t realize that there was a connection between “measure for measure” and ‘ezer kenegdo. Perhaps you haven’t thought of the exhortation to mutual submission in terms of an essential balance. Perhaps it hasn’t crossed your mind, husbands, that God put your wife in her role in order to act as your necessary counterweight. Let me assure you that if you ignore her or discount her or inhibit her role in your life, you will be out of balance. Your scales will tip in the direction of self-satisfaction and egoism. You need her as much as night needs day. She is your personal, present provision of “measure for measure.”
One role that the ‘ezer kenegdo plays in the life of the husband is chastisement. Most men resist this or rebel against her God-given assignment. Most men opt for male dominance. And most men are miserable as a result. Rabbi Joshua b. Levi said more than a mouthful when he suggested that joyfully accepting the chastisements of life brings salvation to the world. That includes the chastisements of the ‘ezer kenegdo, those particularly personal rebukes that husbands find so difficult to joyfully embrace. Without them, the balance is disrupted. Without them, salvation does not come to the world.
Perhaps this is a good time to read once more 1 Peter 3:1-7 and James 1:2-4. Perhaps as you (plural) consider the coming year, you (plural) will consider the roles assigned by the Creator in the sacrament of marriage. Perhaps the voice of the one closest to you is speaking something God wants you to hear. Why not let middah k’neged middah guide you to balance this time around?
Topical Index: Middah k’neged middah, measure for measure, Ta’anith 8a, Joshua b. Levi, Talmud, ‘ezer kenegdo