December 25, 2020
This week’s Torah portion, Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27) has a beautiful phrase, “His soul is bound to his soul.” (44:30) In the dramatic scene when Judah is pleading for Benjamin’s life, Judah describes the special relationship between his father Jacob and his youngest brother Benjamin. The goal is to keep Benjamin from being arrested for allegedly stealing a special goblet. (We all know that Benjamin was totally innocent.) Judah uses the phrase regarding Benjamin and his father, nafsho keshura benafsho “his soul is bound to his soul.”
In modern parlance, we might use the term soulmates. Of course, we are talking about the relationship between a father and a son. The term soulmates can refer to any close relationship between two human beings. But most often we use the phrase to refer to lovers. Romeo and Juliet were soulmates. Winnie the Pooh and Piglet were soulmates. To use an example of two men from the Bible who may or may not have been lovers, David and Jonathan were soulmates. Young people tell me their dream of finding their true soulmate, the perfect other person who is meant to be their life partner. It is a beautiful image, although it does not always work out. Many people go through life searching for their soulmate and never find anyone.
The romantic in me loves the idea of souls bound together, or souls that touch one another. Rene Descartes said that we humans have both bodies and minds. Our bodies are extended in space, and therefore two bodies cannot occupy the same space. But our minds, or souls, or spirits do not take up space. Two souls can therefore touch each other on some spiritual plane beyond space. Jewish philosopher Martin Buber spoke about moments of total encounter between two human beings. In an I-Thou relationship, the self disappears because it exists totally in the presence of the other. The ideal in life is to have such encounters with the other. Buber goes on to say that each I-Thou is “a glimpse through to the Eternal Thou,” a glimpse through to God.
Does each of us have a soulmate? Plato spoke about how human was originally androgynous, with a male and female joined together. They were then separated, but the goal of each man and each woman became finding one’s another’s opposite half. This Platonic legend entered into Rabbinic thought, particularly among Jewish mystics. Each of us tries to find our missing other half. If we are lucky in life, we connect with that person. Unfortunately, as said earlier, many people never find their soulmates, becoming frustrated, and end up alone.
A fascinating question is whether a person can have more than one soulmate in life. I have done many funerals where someone found love twice or even three times in life. They outlived the spouse of their youth and found another spouse later in life that made them extremely happy. In fact, I have counseled people who are widowed, after a reasonable time of mourning, to search for someone new. Often people are lucky and find such a person. Unfortunately, other people seem to go through life without ever finding a significant other.
The mystic in me loves the idea that we have a soulmate and our job in life is to find the other half of our soul. The rationalist in me knows that the idea is somewhat absurd, and there are countless people who may serve as a proper partner as we go through life. The question is, how do we find that person.
There was a time that people used a shadchan or matchmaker. That is still the practice in traditional communities. Many people use more informal matchmakers – family or friends. Others meet their bashert at Jewish summer camps!
Today more than half the weddings I perform are for couples who met online. If classical Judaism teaches that God brings people together, today it is the internet. Match.com, J-Date, J-Swipe, Plenty-of-Fish, Frumster.com, SawYouAtSinai, Coffee Meets Bagel, all help people meet their soulmate. Or perhaps we can say, if God is the ultimate matchmaker, God’s favorite tool is the World Wide Web. The internet mixes the ancient and the modern to help people meet their soulmate.