Dear Rabbi Bernath,
They say that a person “needs to feel whole with themselves before they can give to someone else,” so why do you say that singles should feel like half a soul that’s trying to look for the other half?
And how does self-love come into play here?
This is honestly the best question I’ve had in years.
And here’s the best answer: there is nothing more whole than a broken heart.
OK, we’re done here.
Just kidding. I’m going to do my best to explain the paradox that you’ve brought up. Let’s call it the “ego paradox.”
What does it mean to be whole?
If you look up the word “whole” in the dictionary, you’ll find that there are two main definitions: “complete” and “undivided.”
If we translate the word “whole” as “complete,” well, let’s imagine what a “complete” person looks like:
She probably has everything she needs – a great job, a great social life, happiness and contentment. Her ego is complete, therefore this person doesn’t really have room for anyone else and doesn’t need anybody else – that’s what complete means, right?
This definition of whole totally contradicts the idea of feeling like half a soul – hence your question.
But what if we translate “whole” as meaning “undivided”? What would that person look like?
An undivided person is not perfect. He doesn’t have it all. But what he does have, he has explored and accepted – including his own faults.
This person – the one who knows himself well and accepts his faults as his own – is a person who is ready to get married. This person understands the reality that he is not perfect, so he feels the need to have someone else in his life who will help in the areas in which he is deficient.
Now, for your second question: how does self-love come into play here?
The way I understand your question is, “Do I need to love myself before I love somebody else, or is loving myself unconditionally just like having a big ego, which is bad for marriage?”
The way that the Torah commands us to love our fellow unconditionally is very interesting. It says, “You shall love your fellow as yourself.” That would seem to imply that if you don’t love yourself, you can’t love anybody else.
But let’s be real here. It’s hard to understand the people who love themselves so, so much, isn’t it? Nor is it easy to imagine that such a person could truly love someone else.
But if we go back and look at our two definitions of “whole,” we are going to have two very different kinds of self-love.
People who are perfect and complete will love themselves because they have no faults, and because of their own amazing qualities and material possessions. They will also be looking to love someone else who is just as perfect – and self-absorbed – as they are. But the only way they will find somebody perfect is if the other person presents him or herself to the world as being perfect, too.
Of course, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, neither of these people are really perfect.
What will inevitably happen is that they will discover each others’ faults. When they do so, they will also come to realize their own faults.
At that point, two things could happen: they will either hate each other for uncovering their faults, get divorced and continue life as wounded victims; or, if they have the right guidance, they will become more profound people and learn what love truly is.
The undivided person loves herself with full knowledge of her own imperfections and will therefore love her imperfect partner the same way. That is true love.
This is the ego paradox – the larger the ego and the more perfect the person, the more fragile and insecure he or she really is.
Now, I hope you understand what I mean when I say that “there’s nothing more whole than a broken heart.” There’s nothing more whole, no stronger ego, than a person who knows his or her own imperfections.