ancient roman marriage
Ancient Roman Marriage via Wikipedia

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The most important health care directive ever issued came from God according to Rabbi Allen S. Maller. Genesis 3:18 teaches us that “It is not good that a male should live alone. I (God) shall make a help mate for him.” There are many reasons why bachelorhood is bad for men. The most recent evidence comes from a new study of 440,000 people in Norway diagnosed with cancer, and shows never married men are less likely to survive cancer than married men, and the mortality gap has widened over the last few decades.

In 1970, never-married men with cancer were 18 percent more likely to die than married men with cancer, and this risk increased to 35 percent by 2007. While never-married women were also somewhat less likely to survive cancer than married women, the difference between them remained relatively constant over the years. Past research has shown that mortality rates from all causes are higher among unmarried people. Never married people, as opposed to those divorced or widowed, have the highest mortality rates.

The researchers found that men with cancer who had never been married had the greatest risk of death, regardless of various factors, such as age, education and cancer stage. Moreover, they calculated that the mortality gap between never-married men and married men increased by 3.4 percent every 10 years. Divorced and widowed men with cancer were also more likely to die than married men, though their risk didn’t appear to increase with time. Marriage has a positive effect on health for both men and women because of the pressure a spouse exerts to eat right, exercise and visit the doctor when health issues arise, doctor Kravdal said.

Rabbi Maller relates a modern midrash (a creative rabbinic interpretation of a biblical text) that explains why a help mate is so important for a man. God said to Adam, “It is not good for you to be alone. But now you are free to do whatever you want to do. When you are alone you don’t have to share things with others. You don’t have to stop talking and just listen when someone else needs to talk to you. You don’t have to help when others need help. You don’t have to care about how someone else feels. If you had a sister or a brother or a good friend, you would have to do all these things and many more.”

“I don’t like being lonely” said Adam, “ I have lots of things for fun and games but I get bored with them after a while. I have several pet animals, but even having animals is not good enough for me.  I still feel lonely and all alone. I need someone who is like me but at the same time is different. I need a partner. Someone to stand by my side and be my best friend. I need someone I can take care of, and who will care for me.”

“I know just what you need.” said God, “What you need is a help mate. A person with a different personality, who can grow together with you in love, and help you become a mensch. I am going to form her right out of your side, so she will stand side by side with you as your equal partner, your help mate. The two of you will be like one pair of hands. You know, one hand cannot wash itself. But two hands can always wash each other. You will have to be responsible for and to each other. You will no longer be independent. You will not be free to do whatever you want anymore. You will have to think about another person’s feelings. You will have to think less about your self and more about another. You will live a much better and longer life with a partner. I will give you a blessing to help you become a couple.”

God looked down and saw that Adam had fallen into a deep sleep. God hoped that when Adam awoke he would remember all that God had told him. Even if Adam and all his descendants didn’t always become the loving responsible help mates that God wanted them to be, God thought they would be become better by trying. And those who were fully responsible partners and help mates would become God’s blessing for each other.

Doctor Kravdal said he thinks that the cancer survival outlook for unmarried people may be getting worse over time because “our society is becoming increasingly individualistic, with less caring for each other.” Unmarried people now have less social pressure to keep up good health practices than in the past, he argued. The unmarried may be in poorer overall physical and mental health than the married by the time they are diagnosed with cancer, decreasing their chance of survival. The study was published (Oct. 13, 2011) in the journal BMC Public Health.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is rabbimaller.com