Feder: Hello again, this Mike Feder and welcome to another edition of Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. This evening’s topic is “Finding and Keeping a Meaningful Personal Relationship.”
Jacobson: I was just traveling last week in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Buenos Aires in Argentina and one of the talks I gave there was to a group of students—it had to obviously be translated from English to Spanish—they asked me to speak about how to find your dream soulmate.
Feder: They asked you that?
Jacobson: Yes. So I think it’s an appropriate topic: how to find your dream soulmate, even though you don’t like to be set up and claim that you have a simple answer to a question like that, but perhaps we can cover a topic like this in our show.
Feder: Dream soulmate. Is that something that comes under the category of romance and romantic love? When people in this country… there are all these songs, “I’ve met my dream girl” or my dream boy, “You’re the one for me…” Are we talking about romance?
Jacobson: Well, when I emphasized soulmate, the point here is soul, meaning eternal and something lasting instead of a transient or temporary relationship.
Feder: I guess it would have to be that because after all, let me use myself as a personal example of someone who would be this way, I’m not sure everybody is this way, obviously. I’ve been married a couple of times, and I know some people who have, and certainly everyone listening has had some sort of serious relationship: marriage, marriages.
Feder: I’ve heard it referred to as a plague, there’s like a plague of divorce in this country. Most of the people in this country these days, in the last 30 or 40 years, got married out of what they would have called love: they met “the one.” They met the right one. In other words, we don’t have arranged marriages anymore.
A long time ago, or maybe not so long ago, romance wasn’t the main idea for why people got married. People got married to somebody that they thought was good for them, or there were arranged marriages, families arranged these things. Somehow they seem to do better than we do. Now everybody gets married to the one they think is the perfect one and 52 or 54% of people who get married break up and have these horrible and painful divorces. Is there something that people once knew, like a secret, better than we know now, or is it more complex than that? These are some of the questions we can talk about.
Jacobson: Well, I’m invited to speak often, and there was one place where I was going to give a talk and the host asked me, “What are the favorite, or “hot” topics, that audiences like to hear about. So I said, “Number one is relationships, sexuality, intimacy and Number two of the top ten is pain and suffering.” And he began laughing and said to me, “These aren’t two topics, they’re one topic,” from his perspective.
Feder: It’s like a Henny Youngman joke.
Jacobson: It’s like a double-edged sword because when there’s love there’s always the potential for loss of love and therefore the pain of that loss and pain and love are two sides of the spectrum.
So it’s a topic that I think touches everyone because everyone needs love; love is one of the needs, if not the most important needs, in a person’s life. You can’t live without it, and then some people say you can’t live with it. So I think it’s an issue that covers a lot of ground. I think it would be very gratifying to hear what people have to say, particularly our call-ins, but I would like to just preface by saying one key element:
It’s hard to break complex things into ingredients, but I think it’s sometimes wise to articulate certain ingredients, certain components that are necessary in any healthy relationship. Obviously the ultimate of a relationship is a marriage, but the truth is, it really spills over into any type of relationship, but we’ll talk about the most intimate of all, and that is between spouses.
This question that you’re asking, is it truly possible to expect today to find your eternal soulmate, with the emphasis on eternal? Or do you just try to do the best you can, or as you put it, is it some secret that they knew long ago, or, from a skeptical point of view, maybe they were just conformists then, divorce perhaps was taboo, social pressure was very intense, it wasn’t such an open society, people weren’t so much into their comfort, and their own free expression and free spiritedness. So perhaps all those factors just really forced people together or is it something they actually knew, or both?
It was a simpler type of world, a simpler type of society…today is a more open society. I would say this. The single most important ingredient in a relationship is the thing that is rarely discussed and rarely emphasized, and that is spiritual compatibility.
There is much talk about physical compatibility, emotional and intellectual compatibility, and interests, can people laugh together, and things like that, but there’s a thing called spiritual chemistry, spiritual compatibility. It’s recognizing what a soul is. Your soul and by extension, the soul of another person.
So let me spell out what that component is, and I think this ingredient should it be introduced into a relationship is the key to eternity. The key to a true bonding relationship, and then we can discuss some of the problems around it.
Feder: It’s interesting that you say “introduced,” which is a very hopeful word. In other words, what you may be implying is, let’s say you’re in a relationship right now that you wish was better or wasn’t working out the way you wanted it to, then you could actually save it perhaps by introducing this quality? Not that it has to start from the beginning, but it could be brought in later?
Jacobson: Or if you bring this quality in, you may see that this relationship is unhealthy. That may also happen.
Feder: You mean, if you hold it up to the light, this may happen.
Jacobson: Let’s be direct about it. We talk about all types of compatibility. Spiritual compatibility means that two people share a vision that’s beyond the sum of the parts. They want to build something together that’s greater than each of them. That love is more about transcendence than about getting needs met.
Now clearly love is a need and it’s important to get your needs met, but spiritual compatibility means that you’re building something greater than just your extension of yourself.
Feder: Often people think that means having children.
Jacobson: Children is a manifestation of building something greater out of a relationship. But it’s more than having children. People can have children and not have any spiritual compatibility and the children actually may suffer because you have two adults who have no shared vision and they brought children into the world.
I’m not in any way suggesting that that’s a bad thing per se, but spiritual compatibility is where you are able to know something about your own soul. The problem in our society is how many of us know about our own souls when we go out into the first serious relationship and get married. As one of the Chassidic Rebbes once said, “If I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, I am not and you are not. But if I am I because I am I and you are you because you are you, then I am and you are.”
In single English it means that if my personality is defined in relation to you, rather than as an independent identity, then I won’t be and you won’t be, we’ll both compromise each other. Often, relationships today are crutches. It’s a search for identity, and that’s why you’ll find sometimes one partner is dominant and the other is more passive, it’s a search for identity, trying to compensate for the lack of your own inner identity.
Love is not just to give you an identity. Love means that you have an identity and now you’re discovering someone else with an independent identity.
Feder: Which vibrates harmoniously with you.
Jacobson: Now, often parents, unfortunately in the dysfunctional society we live in, have not given us that nurturing that allows that self to cultivate itself. So we already adult and we’re in search of a relationship. But we don’t even know who we are spiritually speaking, soul speaking.
When I speak about soul I mean not what you do in your life, career, how much money you have, what color hair you have, and your other personality traits are not who you are but what you do or how you express yourself. Who you are is your deepest innermost vision, and that is an area that is not offered as a course in school to discover yourself; “know thyself…”
Feder: But you know, most people don’t ever even realize that kind of thing, not anyone I’ve met, until they are in their forties and fifties or sixties. I mean, people get married in their twenties and thirties, how many people of that age really know what their true selves are. It seems like such a muddy thing. Should you wait until you discover your true self before you have a meaningful relationship? I guess you are saying that.
Jacobson: Well I’ll tell you something. I’m discussing this in a hypothetical context, not so much in relation to the challenges that our particular society poses for us. In other words, you talk about what did they know then. If they were able to control the educational system of how parents and children, from an early age (let’s talk about the best scenario), and then we can talk about how to introduce it into the scenario of existing realities. So I think that’s a healthy way of approaching it. It’s like all healing. You don’t want to discuss light in the context of darkness, you want to first describe in a hypothetical, quintessential sense how it would work. Well, children would get a very intense spiritual exposure from their parents, meaning, thinking about themselves… Now of course, as a young child we’re not that philosophical, but as we grow into teenagers we do think, instead, today, teenagers are so distracted by so many other things, there’s no time for that, and they’re already thrown into the sexual world and the world of relationships and the complexities and the politics…
Feder: And their own careers.
Jacobson: Right. So essentially we have adults who are essentially spiritual children. And therefore, it’s obvious how our relationships are going to suffer from that. But we’ll discuss what we can do today, under the present circumstances, but we’ll do that a little later.
Let’s just talk for a moment about the concept itself. The concept is about recognizing that relationship, love, romance, intimacy is sublime and spiritual by nature. It’s not like buying bread in a bakery. And it’s not like getting a job, it’s not like getting on a subway. It’s not tangible. You’re dealing with forces that are, I call them, spiritual by nature. If somebody doesn’t like that word, let them use another word, but it’s clearly not material and not tangible and not sensory. It’s super-sensory. That’s why it’s so mysterious and so elusive.
Feder: And yet people sometimes seem so certain that they’ve found it when they’re 22, 28. I’ve been one of those people. And I’ve been wrong.
Jacobson: Because we have a soul and there are glimmers of it, and it could have been that the person may have been but we may not have been ready, we may not have known what to do to maintain it. It’s like having a flash of a glimpse into another reality and then you don’t know how to integrate it or internalize it. It’s a process. Marriage is a process. You grow with another person. It comes down into the details of life, it’s sanctifying daily life with the other person where it’s not so much the glamour and the romance that seems so apparent in movies and in books, but in my book Toward a Meaningful Life, I have a story where a woman was having difficulty finding her soulmate, her beshert as they say in Yiddish, her destined one. And the Rebbe tells her that love is not what you read about in romantic novels, it doesn’t work that way. Not “love at first sight” or some type of passionate surge. Love is something that grows over the years with someone with whom you deal with the realities of life and you infuse it with higher purpose and higher meaning.
And that’s why a relationship in that context cannot be compartmentalized. Oh, now we’re having a relationship. It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even when you’re at work, even when you’re doing your own independent things…
Feder: It’s still growing.
Jacobson: It’s a holistic experience and a dynamic one at that. Any relationship that is compartmentalized is doomed. Because when other forces in life take over, there may be no room for the relationship any longer.
Another point I want to make is that there are two types of love. There is selfless love—transcendent love, and there’s selfish love—narcissistic love. Most of us, by default, not maliciously, because we’re not taught any other experience, see love as being another need. Perhaps a more romantic one, but another need.
Feder: Like hunger…
Jacobson: And therefore, a need by definition, is narcissistic. Now I’m ready to give because I know I’m going to get something in return. It’s like a contractual thing. I get something so I’m ready to give. But it’s not driven by the giving, it’s driven by the need, by the taking. Whereas a transcendent love is drive by that higher vision. We want to build something together. There’s something that both of us contribute to each other that neither of us own.
That’s why in the Talmud it says there are three partners in a relationship, the man, the woman, and G-d. It’s not just some religious statement. G-d is the element that is beyond the two, it’s the soul, it’s the soul that is part of G-d, it’s the higher purpose. It’s that we are building something that even when things are not working that well, there’s some force that keeps us together. That’s why in Jewish tradition there’s a canopy, a chupah at the wedding ceremony. G-d is not an abstract concept, it’s the idea that there is some higher purpose to the relationship. That a man and woman live in a G-dly way, in a sacred way. And therefore, when it comes to actual love, what is called sexuality today, it is not merely goal oriented for momentary pleasure, but it is experienced as the deepest manifestation of intimacy, including intimacy with your soul, with G-d — intimacy with your higher calling.
Feder: At this point I think we may have scared enough people out there into thinking that they can never achieve a good relationship and so maybe we should go to calls right now and see if we can redeem ourselves!
People get married and most people, let’s say 75% of the people that I know in my life, friends of mine or maybe what happened to me, they leap right into it without that vision that you were speaking about, but it seems that later on, they leap right out of it so quickly… this is almost another part of modern life, that people seem to be able to leap out so quickly. It’s almost as if you hear people saying, “We should have stricter laws…”
This is a constant argument; I read something about this in the Times a few weeks ago, and there are books about it, that the laws should be tightened up about how easy it is to get a divorce. I’m not even sure about that.
And that keeps people together. There was once artificial constraints that may have been, if you could look inside each one of these marriages in the “olden days” which wasn’t so long ago, you would find that people were forced to do it and they weren’t happy, but the more taboos and the more constraints there were, the more difficult it was for people to jump right out of a marriage, and then, the more they were able to finally work on it and feel that finally had saved something.
So let’s take our first call. We have Jim from Jersey City and you’re on the air with Rabbi Jacobson.
Caller: Good evening. The topic you’re discussing is really interesting and I’m really interested in it, however, the fact remains that when you mention the soul, are you talking about the conscience also? Because in the Old Testament, it talks about the conscience, and it’s rather enlightening if you read the context of that scripture.
Feder: So could you sum up your question?
Caller: What I’m trying to get at is why isn’t the word conscience mentioned rather than just soul?
Jacobson: Well, you’re asking a general question about the soul. I’ll connect it to relationships since that’s the topic at hand, but the Bible does state right in the beginning that G-d formed a human being from the dust of the earth, and blew into it, infused it, with a soul, with a spirit. And I think that’s the critical element, that we are not just dust of the earth, we’re not just materialistic creatures, we have a spirit.
And love is very much connected to the spirit. And when the spirit is fed, love will emerge. The same is the opposite way around. When one wants to achieve a long-lasting relationship, it’s critical to identify with that spirit and soul.
Caller: I understand. But my question is with relation to conscience.
Feder: So how is that reflecting on personal relationships here?
Caller: Because we all have a conscience also which is intangible. And that would refer to the soul as well as the conscience.
Jacobson: Okay. When you look into the Kabbalistic teachings, in any discussion of the soul, the soul manifests itself in many ways. It includes a conscience. Without a soul, we would have no conscience. A corpse doesn’t have a conscience. An inanimate entity does not have a conscience or doesn’t have feelings. But I would describe a soul as having parts to it. The soul consists of intellect, emotions, the subconscious, and a conscience.
Let me define what I see as the conscience. When G-d came into the Garden of Eden, and Adam and Eve had sinned, they had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, it says that Adam was ashamed and Eve was ashamed and they covered themselves. That’s a sense of conscience, a sense of healthy shame, where you know you could be better and you realize, I haven’t lived up to my potential. That’s a direct expression of the soul. If we had no souls, we would be completely unscrupulous, insensitive human beings. So in that context, the soul is very much related to the conscience.
Feder: Okay. Thanks for calling. The number to call, and we’re looking for your calls, is 212-244-0150.
Now we have Nathan calling from New York City. Go ahead, you’re on the air.
Caller: Hi. On one hand, if you speak of the concept of beshert, and on the other hand, you speak about working on a relationship, they almost seem contradictory. Because if the person is your beshert, you might assume that it wouldn’t take that much work to make the relationship work. And if the person is not your beshert, then no matter you worked on the relationship, it wouldn’t help. Such as the matron who asked, “What is G-d doing now that He created the world,” and the rabbi answered, “He’s making matches.” And she said, “I have 500 female slaves, 500 male slaves, I can match them together.” The next day they come back and one has a black eye, one has a broken leg. The mates were fighting with each other. And she comes back and says, “Oh, how wise you were Rabbi, that it really takes G-d to make a proper match.”
Now, those improper matches that ended in fighting and all that, no matter how much they would work on the relationship, it would seem from that story, it wouldn’t help. It would have to have been the right match for it to work.
Jacobson: That’s a very good question and I appreciate it. First, let me explain to the audience what the word beshert means for those who don’t know, the question is, how do you reconcile the two elements? On one hand, there’s some type of predestined soulmate which is clearly stated in the Talmud and in many Jewish sources, that 40 days before every child is born, there’s a call from heaven that says, “You will marry your soulmate, who is this and this individual.” So there’s a concept of beshert…
Feder: You’re predestined to meet somebody.
Jacobson: Predestined spiritually in heaven. This is not prearranged by a parent, this is prearranged in heaven. On the other hand, the point here that I’m discussing is that it takes our initiative, we need to put work into it. So if the person isn’t destined for you, that’s the question that Nathan’s asking.
So let me explain. It’s a good question, and the issue here consists of two things. Even if someone is destined for you, you have to be an appropriate vessel, appropriately fit to be able to receive that person. I know someone who was dating, and the two were very compatible, but ultimately, it didn’t work out. Ten years later they met again and they got married then. And it was clear to me that they were both not ready at the time.
So the work that we put into a relationship is in a sense trying to discover that which is destined.
For example, people who have talents, innate, inborn talents that you were given by birth. Yet, without real work, you may never expose or know that that talent exists. So we can be our own worst enemy that something out there that’s waiting for us, and that’s right for us, still requires our work to discover that potential.
Feder: So in other words, you could run right into a person at a certain time and place and not even recognize him or her.
Jacobson: Yes. You could even mess it up. On the other hand, there’s another concept in the Talmud which says that a person, through their initiative, can change their predestiny. In other words, even though a certain soul was destined for you to be your soulmate, the Talmud says that a person, through their effort, can find even a better soulmate than the one who was predestined.
In other words, though there are predispositions, we can control destiny as well. And this touches upon a bigger concept. For example, there are people who have overcome very difficult handicaps. So it really comes down to this. We’re partner with G-d in the creation. There is a certain plan, and we’re expected to live up to that plan and work at it, but a person, through their efforts, can sometimes surpass that which was allocated for them. And there’s the concept in Kabbalistic thought about often where a second marriage can even be greater than a first one—it’s called a zivug sheini—because it came through the human effort rather than that which was so to speak designated from Above.
Feder: So even this second one, which wasn’t predestined, could actually be by your own efforts, something greater?
Feder: So then, with all due respect, why would G-d have to come into it at that point? If it’s all your own efforts…?
Jacobson: It’s a two-way street. There’s no “all your own efforts.” It’s a combination. You meet halfway. It’s like G-d blesses those who help themselves. It’s halfway. Human initiative, human effort, human work, allows and opens up the channels for blessings. We all need a blessing.
It’s like Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me; if I am only for myself, what am I?” We need to have that kind of delicate balance.
Feder: So their vision needs to be brought in at all times.
Jacobson: Right. But the key here is going back to our initial theme which is that a human being has a spirit and a soul. Being in touch with that is the key to every relationship. When you open yourself up to that, then the right people come your way.
We know today in psychology, people who have experienced serious emotional abuse as children, and they are always finding the wrong relationship for themselves. In other words, they also have a destiny, they also have out there a soulmate, yet the reason that they can be their own worst enemy is that their psychological tools have been impaired and they are always searching to find an unhealthy person, a dominant person who may remind them of their unhealthy father…
Feder: So what you’re saying is that their soul, their own essence, is obscured from themselves because of these problems.
Jacobson: Yes. Exactly. And that’s why it’s critical to see a relationship not just as how you deal with another… it’s not just a matter of how to communicate with another person, it’s learning how to communicate with yourself. With your own soul.
Jacobson: And then you will learn how to communicate with another.
Feder: Let’s just take a little break to reidentify ourselves. You’re listening to Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson, and I’m Mike Feder. This is WEVD 1050 AM in New York.
Let me give you some of the ways in which you can send us questions on the various topics you are listening to, anything that you have to direct towards us. The most important thing is the telephone number: 1-800-3MEANING or 1-800-363-2646. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’d like to also tell you that we have a new website that’s currently under construction where you can download transcripts of this program, and previous and future programs. It’s www.meaningfullife.com.
I also want to mention that each week the blueprint, the guide that we refer to quite often is Rabbi Jacobson’s book Toward a Meaningful Life and this is published by William Morrow, currently in the stores, a wonderful inspirational book.
Now, you were talking about getting to know yourself first as the essence before you relate to somebody else. Now, that’s too vast a topic to try to address tonight. But let’s just say, there you are in a relationship. This is so typical of my generation. You have a couple, let’s say, that’s thirty years ago. They’re married for six, seven, eight years, they have a 2-year-old child. There are such people in the tens of thousands of people around the city, and some of them are listening right now, who are looking at their lives and looking at each other, and wondering what on earth happened to them, as if they were in a battle and they’re shellshocked. They don’t know what to do with each other anymore, there are divorces all over the place. At this juncture, it seems so easy for so many people, and they do it, to jump right out of their relationship.
The question is, at this point, what do you do? Let’s say you’re on your own, and not everyone can run out and find a counselor, what can you do, you’re in the house, on your own. What do you do in a relationship when both people are just standing still, just staring at each other and saying, “I can’t take this anymore. I don’t understand what this is all about. I don’t why I did it in the first place.” And not everyone’s going to go run off to a shrink or a counselor. Not everyone is affiliated with a religious group either. What on earth do people do with themselves who are in a position like this.
Jacobson: Well, if they remain in the status quo, then they’re going to have the results that they had yesterday. I mean, if you’re talking about someone who’s motivated to do something about it, maybe they do have to go to a shrink, frankly, or in the context that I’m discussing here, is introduce in their lives something that is perhaps more spiritual, that is not just driven by economic and selfish concerns.
I’m not suggesting that I have a short solution. You know, “What do you do in a bad relationship?” It depends on how bad it is and it depends on how abusive it is. It could be very unhealthy and maybe you have to get out of it. It’s too general a question.
If it’s something that is not overtly abusive, and it’s something of a more subtle psychological thing where you’re not sure if this is the right thing for you, that I can address much more easily.
If you’re sure that it’s destructive, do you stay in there because of other concerns, children, economic concerns? That’s a question that you have to weigh the abuse and the convenience level.
But our discussion here is not on that technical level, it’s much more of: how can you introduce hope into the relationship if both parties are willing and interested, obviously that’s a prerequisite, but we’ll assume that, but it’s critical that they introduce more dimensions into their lives than just sustenance and material survival.
Relationships cannot exist on just material survival. By definition, relationship means that there are two spirits, there are souls there. Children will be hurt. There has to be some type of higher purpose.
I was discussing earlier more of an initial sense, what does one do?
Let me say this. For a relationship to flourish, the two parties, the spouses have to do more than pay bills or go out to eat together, they need to study together, they need to pray together. They should perhaps take a time every week, an hour, a day, or a week and designating it to studying—I don’t mean about mathematics—I mean about life, about G-d, about philosophy. Something spiritual where they spend time in a more meaningful way than just survival.
In Jewish tradition, there’s the Sabbath. The Sabbath table is one of the greatest gifts. In the Torah, in the Midrash there’s an interesting story that when G-d created the universe, he created it in couples. Sunday and Monday are a couple, Tuesday and Wednesday are a couple, Thursday and Friday are a couple. So Saturday came and complained and said “I’m single. I’m a lonely single.” So G-d said, “Let me find for you another lonely single. And He looked around and saw the Jewish people. And He said, “I will match the two. The Jewish people and the Sabbath.” Two lonely singles as one beautiful couple.
The Sabbath has always been for Jews an extremely important day for relationships, besides the fact that it’s a day where we try to suspend our involvement and immersion in the material world, therefore, it’s a day that’s conducive for study, for prayer, for personal communication. To spend time with the family. That’s why the Sabbath table is such a powerful force. I would suggest that if anyone’s dating someone—we’ve talked about finding your true dream soulmate—invite them, don’t just go out to party together. And not in a corny way. Go join something spiritual, go to a Sabbath table, go to a class. You’ll see new elements of each of the people emerge and you’ll begin seeing the spiritual side of the human being.
This is what a serious relationship is about. It’s not just whether or not you can have fun together, whether you can support each other, whether the partner is financially able…these are all important elements. But the single most important thing is invite each other, and spend time in an environment that is more spiritual, and you’ll see that you’ll begin to see parts of the other’s person’s personality emerge that you would not have seen.
Now, in our society today this may sound a little strange, because this is not what dating is about. Dating is much more about fast lane, and about partying, but if we don’t take control of our lives, no one will. We live in a vicious cycle.
The social pressure and peer pressure on young people today in high schools and what they see around them is so intense, that in life, as I often like to say in the classes I give, either you are going to be influenced, or you will influence. If you don’t take your life in your own hands, then it will be taken in the hands of others.
Not any one individual, but we drift off and we are all chasing each other’s tail and nobody even knows whose the driving force.
Relationships is a key arena where this battle takes place. Who’s in control? Are you a victim or are you not? I would say in most cases we end up being, by default, victims because of what we’ve been given on a platter. The pressure on boys and girls in high school to conform and do it this way is very intense. You don’t want to be a nerd, and someone who stands out. Or too modest or whatever it is.
And I think that women in particular have been hurt more than men in a way because in a sense, a woman has a gentler nature, and in Jewish thought, in Jewish mysticism, the woman in a way, appreciates romance and love much deeper than a man does. A man also has a feminine side, but women have to, in a sense, rise to the occasion and reclaim what we’ll call the innocence, the beauty, the sublime nature of what romance and love is all about. And not succumb to the pressures that so much of our male society has imposed upon us. And you’ll see that men will appreciate that as well too, because love and relationships ultimately are beautiful because of their elusiveness, their magic, the mystery involved. It’s not about technique. If somebody dedicates their time to intellectually articulating romance, then you’re destroying, undermining the entire purpose. So it’s important to appreciate that.
There are things in life that when you let go, that’s when you master it. If you try to master it, you can never control it.
Feder: Now, of course you’re not suggesting that on a first date, when somebody meets somebody—or maybe you are—we go to a class or a religious service together or something like that. Most people are going to go to a movie, or out to dinner, right?
Jacobson: It’s very hard: I see from the mail we’ve been getting that the audience is very diverse. So it’s very difficult to make a general statement. It depends on who the people are and what their givens are.
If I was speaking to an audience that was exclusively non-spiritual, but they’re interested in having a good relationship, an enduring one, a healthy one, a wholesome one, then my approach would be: listen, we all have a spiritual side to ourselves, whether you call it that or not. How you date is obviously going to be formed and determined by what your preferences are. So let two people find their own preferences. I’m just stating that at some point, if a relationship is to get serious, introduce that spiritual side to it.
It may be a book that’s touched you deeply. Share that with the person you’re dating and ask them to read it. And discuss it. The point is to bring it to another level that society does not offer us. That’s my real point here. And for everyone in a different way. There may be two people who happen to be religious and they’re dating. The point is, it should be a priority…there’s a tradition that when Isaac got engaged to Rebecca, in the Bible, he spent 2-3 years studying and spiritually refining himself before he went into the marriage. Because he understood that that would infuse the relationship with an entirely different dimension. And he spent time away from Rebecca, interestingly.
It reminds me of one of the quotes I have in Toward a Meaningful Life about relationships. One of the Rebbes says that when you are close when you should be distant, you’ll be distant when you should be close.
Part of a relationship between a man and a woman consists of a certain dance, you could say, that reflects a cosmic dance, which is, that there are two entities here, each has its boundaries, its space, yet they want to come together. You have to respect the space at the same time come together. So how do you do that by recognizing that there are times where that line, that boundary, has to be respected. Times of silence. Not always good to be on top of each other all the time. It’s important that people are able to pray on their own—I mean p-r-a-y, not p-r-e-y
Feder: I remember that people feel like they have to be with each other, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and materially almost all the time. And they almost feel like it’s a sin, or they’re breaking some kind of romantic love connection if they feel like they want to go off on their own to be themselves. It’s such a terrible thing that people feel this pressure.
Jacobson: Well, it’s a balance that needs to be reconciled. There’s so much to be said on this topic because it’s such a large topic. I’m not trying to simplify it, but I do think it comes down to looking at your own life in a new way, with a fresh perspective.
Now many people, to play the skeptic, will say, “Hey, leave me alone with all of this religious, spiritual stuff.” Look, you can’t expect that overnight that suddenly a new climate in relationships is going to take over, but I will say that, from my experiences and travels, is that there is a very high degree of misery when it comes to relationships. Sometimes people need to hit rock bottom to be able to look at it in a new way. And you said it very accurately. Most people need to be at least 40 years old, and to have gone through at least one crisis and loss to really see that they have to look at it differently. You become much wiser with time.
I still think that young people, and that’s what we can do through the education system and as parents, can be introduced to “reclaiming” a long lost secret. Which is that the spirit is quite a healthy and important component in life. We need to do away with the stereotypes and misconceptions and myths that spirit is this religious dogma that you have to be afraid of.
Most people, when you speak of the word “romance,” don’t connect that to a religious thing. But frankly, if you read Song of Songs, one of the most romantic narratives of King Solomon, we are taught that King Solomon was simply using the metaphor of a romance between a man and a woman to describe the romance between human being and G-d.
And when you look at romance in that way it’s a very powerful thing. One of the things I stated in my talk in South America…
Feder: This is not just an American problem. This is a worldwide problem.
Jacobson: Well, America and South America, but I believe it’s all over the place. It’s an interesting thing. That when you get down to issues of love, romance, tears, whenever anyone says to me, how are you able to be so universal. I answer, have you ever seen that human tears are different from one country to another. Do the Japanese cry differently than Americans?
When it comes to the real human emotions, nothing has changed. We’re really all the same in many ways. And we all experience pain, we all need love. It’s just that we’re so caught up in the things that divide us, we sometimes forget that.
But the point I made was, and I’d like to submit this to you, Mike, and to the listening audience, is to juxtapose for a moment the two approaches to romance and love. We’ll call it the predominant conventional secular evolutionary approach, and I will submit the Torah, biblical, spiritual approach.
There are many scientific reasons given why there is sexual attraction from man to woman and from woman to man. The predominant one is the evolutionary theory. Perpetuation of the species is the single most important law in life. That the species must survive, survival of the fittest. Because that’s the single most important thing, therefore, evolution (so the theory goes), nature, evolved in such a way that man and woman need to be attracted to each other, because if not, they would be no perpetuation of the species.
That attraction, as is discussed in many scientific journals today, is that the woman searches for certain type of man for the “best” type of potential seed, the man searches for the best type of woman, one who can bear the healthiest child. The attraction is all a means to the end called perpetuation of the species.
So ultimately, and I’ll exaggerate a little just to make my point, romance is really not an end in itself. We can almost say it’s a trick of evolution and nature to get them together. It doesn’t have any value in and of itself.
Sophisticated human beings are not going to just mate if they don’t have some type of romantic vision. But basically, when you come right down to it, from a purely dispassionate, merciless view, it’s like two bacteria coming together. Except if you tell that to people they will say, “No, it’s not bacteria. We have museums and art and romance and love. And there are books and poems. I’m dying for the person I love. How could you compare me to bacteria?”
But essentially, it is an evolutionary concept that it is bacteria mating, except that you need to coax them into the room, so in some way, the romantic visions have been created and you have this whole illusion of love. But love is not an end in itself. When it comes down to it, it’s a almost completely depersonalized element, perpetuation of the species.
As I said, I exaggerated a little just to make my point.
The biblical view now. The Torah view. The reason that the sexes are attracted to each other, man to woman and woman to man is that they were created as one entity: “Male and female He created them,” it says in the Bible, and split them into two and they search for each other.
They are searching for unity. Their own unity and for unity with G-d. For becoming one with a greater reality.
Children is a second level of perpetuating the species. That is, G-d says to Adam and Eve, “Mate and have children.” But the romance itself is an end in itself. It has a beauty of itself, and the romance is the search for unity, the search for G-d, the search for your inner self, your whole self.
Not to suggest that a person is half a human being without his or her mate. That’s not my point. It’s just that there’s some search for the elusive, for the beyond. And you become greater than yourself through love and romance.
So I submit this to everyone. You compared the two and you tell me which resonates. What really resonates when you are truly in love. And should the latter approach resonate more, I would say that is spiritual love. It’s not just about perpetuation of the species. And I’m not taking away any of that importance. It’s not a means to an end. Love itself is the search for G-d. And it’s not, per se…
Feder: Maybe the search for love is the search for G-d.
Jacobson: Okay. But love equals G-d and G-d equals love. That’s why when the gentleman came to Hillel, the great sage in the Talmud, and said, “Teach me the entire Torah standing on one foot,” do you know what he said to him?
Jacobson: “Don’t do unto others that which you don’t want done unto you.” Love equals transcendence equals all of Torah. The ability to appreciate that spirit dominates over matter and not matter over spirit. That’s what true love is.
Feder: Well, that one resonates more with me, and probably more with most people. We’re approaching the end of the program. This has been Mike Feder and Rabbi Simon Jacobson. This is Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. You can write to us at the Meaningful Life Center, 788 Eastern Parkway, Suite 303, Brooklyn, NY 11213.
I want to mention that this program was underwritten, made possible, by Dr. Ronald Hoffman. We thank him very much for doing so.
Jacobson: I should add that Dr. Hoffman has his own radio show.
Feder: Yes. It’s on WOR. Right. A health program.
Jacobson: I want to voice my own appreciation to him as being a big support to the show and inspiring others as well to be part of this.
Feder: We have about two minutes left. We usually end with a practical suggestion but, you almost gave it already, to study together, to look for something higher, more transcendent…
Jacobson: No. I’d like to sum it up. Number one, we’re dealing with many situations, but for those who are dating, as I said, you want to find out as much as you can about your partner. One of the best ways is to—throw them I was going to say—bring them into an environment that is not a natural environment. Some people are great in bars. Some people are great in pool rooms. Some people are great in movies. Some people are great at the dinner table, and so on. To introduce and bring two people into a more spiritual environment, it could be a class, and I don’t mean this in any type of corny context, but to introduce a new element can always bring, and merge, and surface new dimensions; that’s for people who are dating, that’s one practical suggestion.
It could be a Sabbath table, it could be a class, it could be a discussion between the two that deals with spiritual matters.
For those in relationship already, in marriages, it’s critical that the soul emerges. You must have the soul there. For your children, for your spouse, for those around you. And that will nourish and allow a relationship to flourish.
And I want to finally conclude with a blessing. We live in New York City, which is the Mecca of singles. So let me say that all those who need to find their soulmates, it’s out there, but you have to do your part. And G-d meets you halfway.
Feder: Thank you very much.