Jacob: Sara, what shall I buy you for your fiftieth birthday? Would you like a new Cartier?
Sara: No, not really.
Jacob: Let's take a trip to Paris!"
Sara: No, thanks.
Jacob: How about we finally get that yacht…
Sara: No, no!
Jacob: Sara, tell me what would make you happy?
Sara: A divorce.
Jacob: Well, I wasn't thinking of spending that much.

If we were meant to be biological partners, shouldn't it be easy to work as a team?Today's divorce rate is high. But while the divorce rate has been gradually increasing with each passing decade, making marriage work has never been easy. Somewhere in the beginning of my marriage, my mentor told me unequivocally: "Marriage is not for the feeble and weak-kneed." It takes a lot of focus and resolution to get along.

But why should it be so hard? If G‑d created men and women as a match then shouldn't marriage be a smooth and natural transition? If we were meant to be biological partners, shouldn't it be easy to work as a team?

Five hundred years ago, a Talmudic scholar and Jewish mystic addressed this very question. His name was Judah Lowe, better known simply as the Maharal. Born in 1520, he served as the rabbi of Prague for most of his life.

What would a 16th century rabbi understand about a modern marriage, one based upon equality and individualism? More than we'd think. In his fascinating commentary to the Torah, the Maharal picks up and examines an unusual phrase in the beginning of Genesis (2:18): "It is not good that man is alone; I shall make him a helpmate opposite him."

After creating man, G‑d decides that it's time to create a woman, and before doing so He expresses the dynamic of their relationship: "a helpmate opposite him." This description is a classic oxymoron; a "helpmate" implies assistance, while "opposite him" implies resistance.

The Maharal sees in these words a very telling instruction about the intent of marriage. A person, he writes, can be a helpmate to his parents, for example, but shouldn't ever stand to oppose them. "But a woman," he continues, "who is of equal value and importance to a man, will help him and oppose him."

Perhaps she can help him by opposing and challenging his viewpoint at times. Disagreements in marriage can be a real exercise in humility and maturity and force us to transcend our subjectivity. If we embrace the discomfort of the dispute we can come out with a lot more than a wounded ego.

We grow when our opinions are challengedThe Talmud tells us about two great sages, Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish. They were close friends and study partners (brothers-in-law, too). When Reish Lakish died, Rabbi Yochanan mourned him so deeply that he was unable to be consoled. Without his study partner he could not go on with life. Rabbi Yochanan's students begged him to return to the study hall and study with them. Rabbi Yochanan agreed and his students were relieved. But Rabbi Yochanan was not consoled; he cried out loud saying, "Alas! When I laid out my initial proposition you showed me numerous supporting proofs for my argument—but when I learned with Reish Lakish he would bring the same amount of arguments to disprove the validity of my argument."

We grow when our opinions are challenged.

And then the Maharal brings a second understanding of the words:

A woman's power, he says, is the direct opposite of a man's. When two opposing powers join into one force, an entirely new force emerges, one that has much more intensity than either one individually. If peace and unity prevail between the male and female energy, then the two are indeed very lucky.

It's not only about tolerance and humility, it's about utilizing differences to create a powerful team. In my mind I see it as the weight and thrust dynamic used to launch a rocket. The tug-of-war of forces propels the rocket out of its native atmosphere and into a whole new orbit.

So maybe it's okay to be opposite, and even to challenge one another. After all, woman was created as the helpmate opposite him.