What Does the Hebrew Mean?

I want to know more about your understanding of the term “Ezer kenegdo” (Genesis 2:18) translated as helpmate in English.

What does it actually mean?


Dear Jonathan,

We are delighted that you recognize that any translation of a word or words in the Bible into another language is going to miss out on much of the meaning. Inherent in God’s language, Hebrew, as used in the Bible, are depths of meaning and layers of significance.

Early in Genesis, God declares that He will make an ‘ezer k’negdo’ for Adam. Most English translations do say either, “helpmeet” or “helpmate,” a concept that allows the narrative to continue. Some translations attempt to go deeper, defining the two words as, “a helper opposite him.” We discuss this idea in more detail in our video course, Scrolling through Scripture: Genesis (unit 2).

In that course, we also delve into a penetrating lesson that the phrase suggests. We will share some of that here. Stick with us – it is harder to explain this in writing than in a video.

Certain letters in Hebrew have a thematic connection. Words with one of those letters have a consistent relationship with words in which that letter is ‘switched’ for a connected letter. The equivalent in English might be if an ‘r’ and an ‘l’ were connected so that the words ‘elect’ and ‘erect’ or ‘glove’ and ‘grove’ taught us something about each other. The ‘z’ sound in the word for helper in our verse, ezer, is one such letter in Hebrew. Its companion letter has the sound of ‘tz.’

There is more than one word for a helper in Hebrew. An ‘ezer’ is a specific type of helper and we get an insight into its specialties by looking at the matching word with a ‘tz’ instead of ‘z’ –the word ‘etzer.’ That word means stop or limit and can be found, for example, on Israeli street signs directing cars to go no further.

Surprisingly, one of the best words to know to increase your ability to ‘Get things done’ is the word “no.” No! That’s right, to get done the things you must do, when you must do them, you have to learn to say no to all the other less important things. Unless you limit the distractions offered by things you can do, you won’t get to do the things you must do. Paradoxically, a limitation is the key to achievement and progress.

What is the connection with help? An ‘ezer’ provides help that comes along with a limitation. Many men fear marriage because it cuts off their options. What if the most seductive, amazing, desirable woman crosses their path after they are married? What if they want to buy a new car, but their wife also has things she wants to buy? Marriage, by definition, has limited their actions, but in amazing ways, it opens up many more far important options.

Yet, it is that very limitation that propels them to greater heights. Not surprisingly, married men substantially out-earn single men. Married men are healthier, both physically and emotionally, than single men. There are many of God’s commandments that only married men can carry out. The limitations of being married unshackle a man’s potential. She is an ‘ezer’ to him partially because she is ‘etzer’ him, she limits him.

We hope this leaves you wanting to know more,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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