Thursday, April 12, 2012

Are You on the List?

Administrative Note: Below is a post written by someone very close to my heart, my sister Yael. Aliza and I have a lot on our plates on a daily basis, not to mention posting twice a month, which is more work than it sounds like, so Yael graciously volunteered to guest post this week so that Aliza and I can use our vacation to to actually, you know, relax. Muchas gracias amica. Hope you enjoy -Tzvi

Note: I don’t have any solid or definitive sources for what I’m going to discuss. Most of this is based on my own opinions and the opinions of others and what we already know of how Judaism generally works. If anyone knows more or has any other ideas, by all means, please share.

I’ll get right to the point. A very good friend of mine was telling me the other day about how she was really starting to fall for this guy from college. He’s sweet, adorable, charming, they connect with each other in every possible way, they clicked instantly, and he’s everything she ever could’ve hoped to find in a man. But wait, there’s more!

He’s also not Jewish.

Crap.

There are certain aspects of Judaism that, for whatever reason, are considered more flexible than others and aren’t looked at as harshly in most communities; Shomer Negiah, Tzniut, etc. And then there are those that more or less draw the line in terms of whether or not a person is viewed as a religious Orthodox Jew, such as Shabbat and Kashrut. For the most part, these are the things that don’t require as much effort or inner turmoil or decision making. I don’t often see someone who was raised in a religious home tearing their hair out about whether or not he or she is going to use their phone this weekend. And from what I’ve seen, dating and especially marrying a non-Jew is included on that list. It’s a no-brainer. I do know a few people here and there who have gone out and done this, but at the same time they’ve also removed Judaism entirely from their lives in every other way as well. Unless you’re at a point where none of it matter to you anymore, you want nothing to do with it, and you don’t care to be associated with it, marrying someone “not of The Tribe” is usually out of the question no matter what you feel about that person.

And then my friend asked a question that I didn’t know how to answer and had never even occurred to me before: Do you think God would ever make your Bashert (your soulmate, so to speak) someone who isn’t Jewish?

Well, gee, I have no idea what God would or wouldn’t do. But is that even possible? Would that fit in at all with what the Torah says about this concept? The idea that it could even happen made me angry, because why would God do that to you? And we’re not talking about marrying someone right after they converted because generally those people at least had their foot out the door towards Judaism before said relationship. I’m talking straight-up not Jewish with no intention of ever changing that. Could this happen? And this is what started me on my quest for what the actual definition of a Bashert is. Here’s what Dictionary.com came up with: “a person’s soulmate, considered as predestined or ideal,” the literal translation of the Yiddish word being “destiny” or “fate.” I’ve always seen this idea as having two options: a) its referring to your soulmate, meaning the person who is perfect for you and compliments your personality in every way, or b) simply the person that God picked out for you to end up with. Because with that in mind it would seem then that your “soulmate” and the person that God picked out for you could potentially be entirely mutually exclusive.

In the words of some high authorities in Torah, your soulmate and your predestined spouse could be the same person, but they could also not.

It’s confusing, I know, but please just bear with me. I did a lot of questioning, teeth grinding, and producing of frustrated growls to get to the point where I could actually discuss this and I still have so much more to ask.

According to a certain medrash my Rabbi told me about (I’m sorry, I don’t know which one or where to find it), forty days before conception the name of a baby’s soulmate is called out in the heavens. This is the name of the person who could slip into your life and fit with you as naturally as breathing. HOWEVER, this does not necessarily mean that you will absolutely without a doubt end up with said person. It is still our job to find them and we still have free choice. All of the actions we take and the decisions we make and the paths we choose could either bring us towards or drive us away from that future, and it wouldn’t mean that we were never meant to find that person, just that we didn’t. But the source goes on to say that there are several other layers of Bashert. This matches up with the opinion of a different friend of mine who believes that a great factor in someone being your Bashert is about time and place. She says that for every stage of your life there is a different person who could match up with you perfectly, and if you or that person changes in some way then suddenly there is someone else who could fit better. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that idea somewhere before and to an extent I believe it. I’ve heard tens of stories about couples who break up for very good reasons and then somehow find themselves in each other’s lives again years later and, voila!, everything is going swimmingly now. And they always say about their first try, “It just wasn’t our time to be together.”

The medrash mentioned above says that there are indeed other people out there on different levels depending on your stage in life or your ever-shifting personality that, if you were to marry any of them, would still be considered Bashert. But there is still only one true soulmate that was literally created for you. And on top of all of that, it’s considered extremely rare to ever find that person, let alone end up with them, and the chances of it are depressingly infinitesimally small.

So, technically, you could marry your “Bashert” while your real soulmate is still floating around in the world somewhere without you. Probably the biggest struggle for me right now is coming to terms with that and not letting it affect or get in the way of any relationship or potential happiness that I could have in my future.

Ah, but what’s this? Don’t we learn all the time that everything happens for a reason and it’s all part of the Master Plan? Isn’t that how we comfort ourselves when we make mistakes, find ourselves lost in situations we wish we could escape from, deal with pain, deal with loss, and convince ourselves that no matter what this was MEANT TO BE? I know I have. Way more times than I am particularly proud of, but hey, it’s gotten me through some pretty tough times.

This sort of thinking allows for the belief that ANYONE we may choose to be with is our Bashert because it wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t meant to be, right? (But please, I beg of you, don’t make me start getting into the intricacies of free choice and how it coincides with this concept, I’m really only focusing on this one area and how it applies here). This seemingly outright contradiction has been infuriating me for days, but there is a Hebrew saying in the Gemara that finally eased my suffering a bit: “Ha’ba l’tahmay potchin lo, ha’ba l’taheir misayim lo,” meaning that one who comes towards sin will be opened to, and one who comes towards goodness will be accompanied. This refers to the metaphorical idea that for every action there is a door with angels guarding it. If it is a door of sin the angles will block it, but if you knock hard enough they will simply open the door for you and allow you to pass. And if it is a door of goodness then not only will the angels let you through, but they will also guide you onto that path and help you accomplish whatever it is.

In terms of what we’re talking about here, mainly marriage and relationships, there are people that exist outside of your “Bashert at Stage X of My Life” list that you should never ever be with in any scenario. The idea mentioned above applies here in the sense that if you begin to take that direction with someone not on that list, you are more likely to encounter obstacles and complications throughout your relationship, as opposed to when you take that direction with someone God intended for you and (normal relationship issues aside) things run fairly smoothly.

So here is where I will finally tie all of this back to what I originally started with. Considering how difficult it would be to build a relationship consisting of similar ideals with, live with, and raise a family with someone who isn’t Jewish if you are in fact still religious, I have to believe that God would never create the soulmate designed perfectly for you as someone it is pretty much impossible to ever be with. I honestly don’t know what kind of comfort this would be to my friend or anyone else who has fallen in love with someone they can never have under any sort of circumstances if they plan on maintaining their lifestyle. But at the very least, if it was me, I would be happy to know that this is simply a result of certain decisions and actions that I and this other person took that led us to meet each other, and that God is not in fact setting out to torture me.

At the end of the day, all we can do is hope to find someone incredible with whom we can grow and share a life in the best way possible, and pray that they’re on the list.

Yael

10 comments:

  1. The "medrash" you mention is Gemara Sota. The voice calls out thirty days before is only for a first wife. Re a second wife it says its harder than krias yam suf.

    Re Bashert, a bashert is a not the person one "needs" to marry. A bashert is someone who is there to help a the other partner achieve something. They are not needed per say, only a highly recommended and very useful tool. That being said, its possible for a person to have more than one bashert. It is similarly impossible for someones bashert to be a non jew as they cannot be a help to them in any way. All it can be is the "old wise willy man" having fun plying tricks with the poor girl.

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  2. One more point, its things like this that help me see truth time and time again in the wise words of our sages that נשים דעתן קלה. The more life experience I gain the more I see it...

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    1. The 'wise words of our sages' also said that lice and small bugs are generated ex nihilo, not from eggs as we know now. Hmm.

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    2. To borrow an old, wise Yiddish phrase: “Against stupidity; God Himself is helpless.”

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    3. The sages also say pretention is bad, but mead is good.

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  3. Just because someone "falls in love" (I hate that term) doesn't mean that person is automatically a bashert. Just because she gets along with "forbidden fruit" doesn't make him a candidate for bashert.

    When it comes to dating, I don't take that sort of thinking into consideration. "He's nice, but is he my bashert?" Since I can't get God on speed-dial, such a thinking process is futile.

    ZP had a post on this, and her conclusion was that once one gets married to a person of their choice, now that person is their bashert. One can't spend the rest of their lives debating if the person they married was really right for them. One has to state: "Yes, my spouse is perfect for me."

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    1. The story about my friend wasn't so much to focus on figuring out whether or not she and this particular guy were made for each other, rather it was just what led me to find out if that sort of thing could even happen, to anyone in the world. As I said, I had no previous knowledge on how this sort of thing really works or what Judaism says about what a "Bashert" actually IS, and all of the answers I attained between then and now are mostly from the beliefs of people in my life, and from my Rabbi.
      Obviously the answer to my friend's question seems clear without having to do any further research but, to quote myself, "Well, gee, I have no idea what God would or wouldn't do." Nobody does, and some people have a more difficult time coming up with a response to that question in an immediately logical way than others. I know plenty of people who married converts but started dating them and building a relationship beforehand. Of course every situation is different and the details are intricate but I felt the need to explore it a little more so I could find an answer that would make more sense to me than "I don't know..Probably not?"
      But you make a very good point, so thank you for that. I'm always open to more answers.

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  4. Very nice job, Yael! Also, I personally don't subscribe to the idea of there being one bashert out there that G-d hand-picked as our end-all be-all. I think the term "bashert" much better defines the person you have potential with, who you care about enough and they care enough about you to make the relationship the top priority, make sacrifices, and make it work. AKA, you have several potential basherts. The real one is the one you are both so committed to holding on to, you make it work. I think you become someone's soulmate over time. AKA - soulmates aren't born, they're made.

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    1. Thank you, Aliza! But see, this is exactly what I mean. Everyone has their own ideas about how this works so its very difficult to come up with a solid answer that makes everyone happy and everyone agrees with. But we come up with our own interpretations of Judaism all the time in almost every area, so at the end of the day I guess people are going to choose the response and follow the idea that allows them to comfortably deal with that situation. But of course I agree with you that a person could be perfectly happy with someone if they put in the effort. I could've gone on forever and ever about this topic and spread off in a million different directions with it (really you should see my notes, there are waaaaayy more that I didn't even touch on) but I tried to keep it focused on one question and one idea. Maybe a follow-up someday =P

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