Debunking the Jewish Concept of Beshert
By Frank Lepkowski
February 15, 2016
Before we really get into it, let’s begin with a story from way back in the day, around the second century.
A Roman matron asked Rabbi Yosei bar Chalafta, “In how many days did G‑d create His world?” “In six days,” the Rabbi replied. “And what has He been doing ever since?” she asked. “G‑d sits and matches couples,” Rabbi Yosei told her.
“Is this G‑d’s occupation?” she asked derisively, “I could do that too! I possess a great number of men servants and maid servants and would be able to pair all of them off in one hour!”
“You may think it is easy, but for G‑d, it is as difficult as parting the Red Sea,” he said.
After Rabbi Yosei left, the matron formed rows of her men servants and maid servants, a thousand in each row, and said to them, “This man shall marry this woman,” pairing them off as she walked down the line. But when they returned to work the next morning, one had an injured head, one was missing an eye and one had a broken foot.
“What is going on here?” the matron asked.
“I don’t want this one,” they all said. She saying, “I will not take him”; he saying, “I will not take her.”
She sent for Rabbi Yosei and told him, “There is no G‑d like your G‑d. When you explained to me that G‑d is busy making matches, you spoke wisely.”
In Jewish culture, we often use the word “beshert” to mean “soulmate,” but the literal translation from Yiddish is “destiny.” The concept of beshert, for those who believe in it, is much more than finding love by being at the right place at the right time. It is, in essence, fulfilling your personal destiny, thereby playing your part in the destiny of the world. Here are nine beliefs surrounding the concept of beshert that may surprise you:
- Who will marry who is decided in Heaven long before either individual in a couple is born. At the time of conception, an angel asks G-d, “who should this soul be matched with?” and G-d gives an answer. Yup, even before you were a fetus, it was decided who your beshert would be.
- When the angel asks who you should marry, there are a bunch of souls who raise their hand and start yelling, “Pick me, pick me!” The more souls that want to be in the running, the more dates you will go on in the physical life. If you end up going on a lot of dates before you meet “the one” that just means that your soul was super popular in Heaven. Go you.
- Another way to think about beshert is this: imagine you are sitting at your kitchen table with a bushel of apples, and you split them all in half. You mix all the halves up and then try to fit them back together, looking for the halves that fit so perfectly that you can’t even tell the apple was ever split. A true beshert marriage is not a union of two parts, but a reunion of two halves. Just like the first human was a composition of male and female, so too each soul has a counter part. When we come into the physical world, we are separated, and now we look to reunite with our other half.
- But, as good of an anology as this is…a soul is not an apple. A soul has a lot of elasticity. Apples are rigid, so in the example above, there is only one possibility for a perfect match. But souls are malleable, and they can modify themselves through behavior or prayer or commitment, thereby creating a perfect fit with another soul that may not have been the original half.
- You and your beshert will meet each other, it’s well…beshert. So there’s no need to worry. But you can speed up the process and try to make it less painful by praying to G-d. Begging really. Or nagging, depending how you look at it. Yes, nagging G-d helps moves the process along.
- Every date you go on is beshert. You are meant to meet that person at Starbucks and have awkward conversation. But while it may be beshert that you go out with a person once, or even more than once, that doesn’t mean he or she is the beshert you should marry. Your decision to marry and who to marry is a free choice, which brings us to our next fun fact…
- The answer to the angel’s question is not a decree, but more of a strong suggestion based on the soulmates’ natural compatibility. This may seem like a total contradiction from what we’ve gone over so far, but it’s really not. Two souls’ inherent nature predisposes them and makes it easier to choose each other, but in the end they must make the choice to choose. You can think of it this way: say you are born with a gene that increases your chance of having a certain disease. Just because you have the gene doesn’t mean you will get the disease, and your behavior and lifestyle can even reduce the chance of you having the disease. And yes, we just compared a soulmate to a disease.
- What if you don’t get it right the first time? Do you just get one chance? The answer is no. And not because you got it wrong or because G-d got it wrong. Remember, Jews believe in divorce for good reasons. While G-d might have a plan for us, the fact that humans have free will still remains. People can behave in a multitude of ways that weaken and eventually break up their relationships. Even besherts.
- Divorce is a choice, at least by one person. But what does it mean if you are happily married and your spouse passes away? If you get separated by death or divorce, remember that there was a pool of souls that raised their hands to be with you. And they are still there for you. Beshert is not only a concept that is applicable to a soulmate, but it applies to every aspect of our lives — you may know it by the name “divine providence.” And if you were married to a person and it didn’t work out, it doesn’t mean that that time of your life was not meant to be. In fact, your time with that person was preparing you for the next beshert, whether that’s a new relationship with another person or a completely different chapter in your life.