Dear Rabbi Bernath,
If our soulmate is our other half, then why are we attracted to other people? Is love supposed to be painful?
This a really great question. Thank you for writing to me about it.
Before we get to the answer, let me make sure I understand what you’re asking.
People talk all the time about soulmates. But anyone who stops and thinks about what that word means usually ends up with a multitude of questions, such as: Can you not meet your soulmate? What happens to people who get married more than once? And can you marry the wrong person?
I assume that you’re asking the question because you’ve thought deeply about what a soulmate is. If the other person is truly the other half of our soul, then shouldn’t our feelings of attraction – which come from the soul, like everything else about us – be exclusively tied to them?
There’s one kink in this ironclad thinking: the idea that we have more than one soul.
According to the Kabbalah, we have two souls: one that is spiritual-oriented and one that is material-oriented.
This causes a little bit of a schism in our mental state – we can be at the greatest spiritual high, but that’s just our spiritual side. Our physical side can remain completely unaffected.
Very often, I hear variations of this question along the lines of, “I had this amazing spiritual experience and I was really inspired for a few days, but then it just faded and now I’m back to my old self.” Or more prosaically, “Why, after an amazingly uplifting Yom Kippur, do I just want to go eat a hamburger?”
In the context of marriage, connecting to one’s soulmate is a spiritual experience that enters the physical. It is so powerful that the spiritual connection can actually generate physical attraction.
But inevitably, it’s in our nature that the physical-oriented soul (in Chabad philosophy, we call it the “animal soul”) comes back to the forefront of our consciousness. And the animal soul’s nature is to be attracted to things that it likes.
That is a basic answer to your question. I’ll take it one step further and ask: Why would God create us with this psychological schism? Is He trying to play a trick on mankind?
In our world, we’re taught to value product over process. “How much did you earn?” takes precedence over “how did you earn it?”
So when we think about spirituality, we think that it should work like a video game: the more you practice, the more experience points you earn to master skills and go up a level. But spirituality doesn’t work that way.
As Jews, we don’t value the accomplishments because they are fleeting. Spiritual plateaus can be broken and a person can descend to the depths in an instant. Even material accomplishments can disappear in an instant.
What nobody can take away from you, though, is the struggle. We believe that God values the struggle more than the accomplishment.
In that way, marriage is not a decision you made in front of a rabbi and your whole family at some point in time. Marriage is a decision you make every day, maybe even every moment.
If we were to lose our desire to stray from it, it wouldn’t be a struggle. It would be, in God’s eyes, kind of worthless.
So if the fact that you’re still attracted to people who aren’t your spouse gets you down, don’t let it. Every time you choose right over wrong, you’re doing a mitzvah. It’s a gift that you choose your marriage not just once, but all of the time, and this is something that you should embrace.
Appreciate that your spouse may very well be doing the same. That should deepen your mutual respect and appreciation for one another.