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Parshas Chayei Sara (5771)

“Bashert”: What it Really Means

Bashert is a Yiddish word that means "destiny". It is often used in the context of one's divinely predestined spouse or soulmate. It can also be used to express the seeming destiny of an auspicious or important event, friendship, or happening. In modern usage, Jewish singles will say that they are looking for their bashert, meaning they are looking for that person who will complement them perfectly, and whom they will complement perfectly.

According to the Talmud in Sotah 2a, Rav Yehudah taught that 40 days before a male child is formed, a voice from heaven announces whose daughter he is going to marry - literally a match made in heaven!

The Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism) speaks of husband and wife as “plag nishmasa – half souls”. And Nachmanides explains in his Emunah U’Bitachon (Chapter 24) that G-d takes the soul whose time has come for it to enter into this world, and separates it into two halves, placing one half in the male and one half in the female. And when these two halves meet again in matrimony, their original connection and love bond comes back.

I should point out that finding your bashert – your true soulmate - doesn't necessarily mean that your marriage will be trouble-free. Marriage, like everything worthwhile in life, requires dedication, effort and energy. Even when two people are meant for each other, it is possible for them to ruin their marriage. That is why Judaism allows divorce.

Interestingly, one of the Scriptural sources for the concept of bashert can be found in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Chayei Sarah, where the story is told of Abraham’s faithful servant Eliezer and the shidduch (match) he made between his master’s son Isaac and a special girl named Rebecca.

As the Talmud in Mo’ed Katan 18b states: “Rav said in the name of Rabbi Reuven ben Itztroboli: We can prove from verses in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings, that the marriage of a man to his wife is predestined by G-d. From the Torah, [When Eliezer came to get Rebecca as a wife for Isaac,] “Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, ‘The matter stemmed from G-d’” (Genesis 24:50). From the Prophets, [When Samson wanted to marry a Philistine woman,] “His father and mother did not know that it was from G-d” (Judges 14:4). And from the Writings, “A house and wealth are an inheritance from fathers, but an intelligent woman comes from G-d” (Proverbs 19:14).”

To gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the concept of bashert, we need to further examine the narrative in this week’s Torah portion. After acknowledging that the match between Abraham’s son Isaac and their sister/daughter Rebecca was clearly made in Heaven, Laban and Bethuel said to Eliezer, “… we can say to you neither bad nor good” (Genesis 24:50).

The Chasam Sofer asks: The words of Laban and Bethuel are difficult to understand. While these two might have felt that there was no point in their trying to stop the proposed marriage by saying something bad about it, since it was obviously bashert and meant to be, why couldn’t Rebecca’s brother and father at least say something good about the match?

In the beginning of the Torah, when G-d is about to create woman, He says, “I shall make for him [Adam] a helper against him” (see Genesis 2:18). The Talmud in Yevamos 63a interprets this verse as follows: If the man is worthy, the woman will be a helper; if he is unworthy, she will be against him. The Dubno Maggid explains that the ideal marriage according to Torah tradition is not meant to be without any tension or disagreement. Certainly, when the husband is doing as he should, then his wife will complement him and there will be smooth sailing. However, it is often the wife’s responsibility to oppose her husband in order to get him to act properly, even challenging and criticizing him as necessary to help him achieve a common course.

In fact, our Sages teach us that one of the main purposes of marriage and a big part of G-d’s plan in putting these two ‘half-souls’ together – in addition to having children and raising a good Jewish family - is for the couple to grow together through the various spiritual and other challenges (bad character traits, annoying habits, etc.) that they were meant to present to each other, and to learn to deal with those challenges.

In other words, it might very well be bashert for a person to end up marrying someone who is not “perfect” at all – but who, because of his/her imperfections, is “perfectly” suited to foster maximum growth in the relationship. One could even say that the most powerful vehicle for a person’s spiritual growth is marriage! (Who knew?) As a wise rabbi told me when I first got married, “Treat your wife well – she’s your ticket to the World to Come!”

It is for this reason, explains the Chasam Sofer, that Rebecca’s relatives were hesitant to say anything at all – bad or good - about her proposed marriage to Isaac. For if they were to mention to Eliezer a particular virtue that Rebecca possessed, it might turn out that, based on who Isaac was and what kind of challenges he needed in the marriage in order to grow the most, this virtue would make her incompatible with Isaac! Better to say nothing at all, realized Laban and Betheul, since the matter stemmed from G-d, the Ultimate Matchmaker, Who knows best what Rebecca and Isaac need in order to have a beautiful, long-lasting and growth-filled marriage.

The Kabbalah teaches that, if we merit it, we will get to share life together with our soulmate not just in this temporal world – but for all eternity. And if we’re going to be together for that long, we might as well learn to appreciate everything about our bashert who was predestined for us by G-d – the good, the bad and the ugly.

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