Rabbi David Aaron
Excerpt from “Endless Light”
The problem is that the concept of a soul mate is very misunderstood these days. We seem to think that we can recognize our soul mates the moment we meet-love at first sight.
A student once said to me, “Don’t you think I would know my soul mate if I met her?” So I asked him, “Do you know yourself?”
How many people think they would know their soul mates instantly, when they don’t even know themselves? And somehow they think also that an encounter with a soul mate is an event preordained in heaven, and therefore is accompanied by all kinds of signs from above. Indeed, unusual oc-currences can happen. But beware of signs; they are only testing you to see if you can make choices. If you are looking for some mystical assurance that your relationship was made in heaven, you should recognize that the only thing made in heaven is what you are going to build on earth. That is it.
The Torah tells us a very insightful story about how Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, sought an appropriate wife for Abraham’s son Isaac. Eliezer set off with ten camels loaded with provisions to the city of Haran, where Abraham had asked him to search. When he reached the well outside the city limits, he camped there, waiting for the young women who might come for water. As he waited, Eliezer prayed that the girl who would give him water and then offer to give water to his camels be the right woman for Isaac. Such a girl, named Rebecca, did indeed appear, and she not only gave Eliezer water; she refilled her jug over and over, running back and forth, watering the camels until their thirst was satisfied.
Many people think that this story teaches us to ask Hashem for signs. But Eliezer was doing no such thing. He knew that the most important qualities to look for in a potential spouse are respectfulness, humbleness, sensitivity, and kindness. He prayed that he would meet a woman who would embody such qualities. Eliezer expected that such a woman would respectfully give him the benefit of the doubt when he asked her for water. She could have easily thought, “Why doesn’t he get the water himself? He is taking advantage of me. He doesn’t look handicapped. Maybe he is simply lazy.” She could also have asked, “What’s the matter? Do you have a problem, sir?” But Rebecca demonstrated that she had the sensitivity not to risk hurting or embarrassing him, if perhaps he had a hidden handicap that prevented him from doing the hard work of lifting many jugs of water himself.
Eliezer also expected that such a woman would take the initiative and go beyond the call of duty. Indeed, Rebecca’s watering of the camels was just that. Ten camels can drink about 140 gallons of water. Clearly this woman was an exceptional person and, in Eliezer’s view, the ideal candidate to be Isaac’s wife.
Rebecca and Isaac met and married. The Torah tells us that “she became his wife and he loved her.” His love for her came after marriage. Thus, the Torah makes the point that real love happens only after there is a commitment.
You have to be able to distinguish between having a good time together and creating an eternal time together. And to do that you need to make the commitment to respect, and give to each other. Of course, there has to be chemistry, there have to be sparks. Attraction is important – it has to be there. If you don’t feel some kind of physical attraction, then something is wrong. But you have to work on that spark of attraction to build it into a big fire of love. And if you succeed, you will know it. You will recognize why this relationship is so different from the others you might have had, because true love enables you to develop a spiritual unity beyond the physical realm. And then the physical expression of it has eternal meaning.
A couple whose unity is based in the spiritual realm of understanding each other, making a space to include each other, giving of one to the other, won’t have to look into books for ways to improve their relationship, because it won’t be boring. It could never be boring, because for them it will be an ex-pression of eternal unity-eternal oneness-right now. This is what the Torah promises when it says, “And he shall bond with his wife and they shall become one flesh.” If you establish a spiritual bond, you will have a fulfilling physical bond.
One of my friends told me that, as much as he hates to admit it, the first time he said, “I love you,” to the woman who eventually became his wife, he had no idea what he was talking about. He didn’t even know what that word “love” meant. And he didn’t learn what it meant until he had the chance to commit to and build a relationship. True love doesn’t come along until after there is a commitment, because only then can a person reveal the things that make him or her the most vulnerable and the most different, the most other.
When one of my students told me he had been living with a woman for five years, I asked him, “So, do you want to marry her?” “I’m not really sure yet,” he said. “I still need some more time to get to know her.” “How much more time do you need?” I asked skeptically. “Well, I’m just not prepared to make a commitment.”
Now that I understood. He was right in feeling that he didn’t know her, because people will not reveal all of themselves to their partners until they know they are safe, so their partners won’t run out on them. But this young man had it backwards. He wanted to know everything first and then maybe he was willing to make the commitment that is necessary in the first place.
There is no way of learning everything about another person up front. And the truth is that you will never know everything about the other person. You will find out something new every day. But that is good, because you already have made the space to accommodate what you will learn. You already know the real art of loving, which is the ability to create that space, to give and nurture the other person.
You have already learned to accept that the other person is incomplete. Your partner won’t be complete. He or she won’t be perfect. But this shouldn’t be disturbing to you, since you shouldn’t be looking for someone who is the same as you. Rather you should be enjoying what makes each of you different and how your differences complement each other.
That is why I say that love is a choice, not a conclusion. You can get to know only so much about the other person before you have to take the leap and make the commitment. Sooner or later, you have to say, “I know enough to go forward and choose to love.”
There is a very interesting custom in a Jewish wedding, one that acknowledges the role of choice in a marriage. Before the ceremony, the groom goes to the room where his bride is waiting and covers her face with a veil. He then leaves her and goes to wait for her under the wedding canopy. The traditional explanation for this is that he is checking to make sure he has got the right bride. Why? Because Jacob was the victim of a last-minute switch by his father-in-law, who substituted Leah, the older of his two daughters, for Rachel, the one Jacob loved. Jacob discovered the deception after he consummated the marriage with Leah, in the dark. Although not happy with being swindled, Jacob decided to accept his fate nevertheless, and later also married Rachel, the bride of his choice.
But if today’s groom were indeed checking the bride to make sure he got his choice, shouldn’t he uncover her face and escort her personally to the ceremony, never taking his eyes off her? So there must be more to it. And indeed, the Kabbalah helps us understand the real secret behind this custom.
The Kabbalah teaches that Leah represents fate-she is the woman whom Jacob ended up marrying. Rachel represents choice-she is the woman whom Jacob chose to marry.
When you get married, the truth is that although you think you are marrying just Rachel, the person of your choice, there is bound to be some element of surprise. Later you will discover that you ended up also with Leah, who is the side of your spouse you never knew you were getting. And this side may be exactly what you need. Leah was not Jacob’s bride of choice, but she was actually a great source of blessing to him, and in the end she was the one with whom he was buried.
THE LEAP OF CHOICE
When you make the choice to marry, you also have to make a space for your partner’s hidden and unexpected side and have faith it will be for the best. This is what I call the leap of choice. That is the lesson the Kabbalists teach us in the story of creation-that love, like the act of creation, is a choice, a decision, an act of will. Remember, the story begins: “When the Endless One wanted to create the world . . .” Love doesn’t just hit you. It doesn’t just happen. You must in one way or another say, “I want to love.” It is an act of will and a will to act.
If you’re going to make a big space in the center of your life for another, you will have to get some part of yourself out of the way. Making a big space takes humbleness. To move a part of yourself out of the way also takes willpower. And that is a conscious choice. You have to choose to love.
You choose to make a place and space for a vessel who is incomplete, broken, imperfect. Isn’t that amazing? Love is accepting the incompleteness, imperfections, and hidden surprises of the other.
That is why it is so important to get to know a person before you say, “I love you.” You have to know, at least generally, the person’s strengths and weaknesses. If you don’t know the weaknesses, the faults, and vices-if you know only the strengths-you are not yet ready to love that person. People are shocked when I ask them what they don’t like about their potential spouses. If you don’t know what you don’t like, you don’t know if you can love. And once you do know, you can go ahead building toward a real relationship and true love.
Love is a nurturing process. You are nurturing a broken vessel. It takes enormous strength to do that. To give place and space to someone who is truly other than you, and to nurture that person, knowing that he or she is imperfect, incomplete, takes great self-restraint. You have to hold yourself back to make enough space for the other. You make yourself small, but in so doing, you actually become much bigger, because you now include the other.
It occurs to me that the one kind of love that takes perhaps the most self-restraint and strength and putting up with the imperfections of another is the love that it takes to raise children. Not everyone has had that experience, but certainly we have all had the experience of being raised. And the concept of having, raising, and loving children will add another dimension to our understanding of the Kabbalistic picture of creation.