The Jewish tradition teaches that there will be reward and punishment for how we live in this world. In many ways the the afterlife is central, but nonetheless we must focus on our work in this world. The Ramchal taught:
Man was created solely in order to delight in G-d and derive pleasure from the glory of His Presence, which is the truest delight and the greatest possible pleasure. And the place of this pleasure is truly the World to Come, for it was created with that very design. But the way to arrive at this our desired destination is the Present World, as our Rabbis of blessed memory said: “This world is like a corridor to the next.” And the means which bring a man to this end are the mitzvot which were commanded to us by G-d. And the only place where mitzvot may be fulfilled is the Present World (Mesillat Yesharim, Chapter 1).
We must work hard in this world to be the best we can be and we need partners to achieve that. Our strongest life partner should ideally be our spouse.
I am so in awe of my dear wife and all her virtues, and feel so deeply fortunate every day that she is my wife and life partner. I want to be sure that I am with her eternally and I often think about the afterlife and our connection in the next world. Will we be together? How can I best ensure we’ll be eternal soul mates? How can I reach a spiritual and moral level even close to hers?
The 13th century Tosafist Rabbi Moshe Taku addresses this issue:.
And [after the resurrection] the righteous will take wives in accordance with their deeds, for each one will not marry the wife he had in this world unless the two of them are of equivalent righteousness… A wholly righteous man [who had been married to] a non-wholly righteous woman, or a wholly righteous woman [who had been married to] a non-wholly righteous man, will not be rejoined in the future, for death severs their bonds. When they are resurrected, each person will marry the partner who is appropriate for them, in accordance with their deeds (Sefer Ketav Tamim, translation by Dr. David Shyovitz).
What an inspiring idea, that we must grow together to stay together. Spouses need to strive to raise each other up so that both can grow together. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (The Rav) wrote about the power of marriage to achieve our ethical aspirations. The Rav noted that the great covenant has been compared to a “betrothal of Israel to G-d,” and the marriage betrothal has been elevated to a “covenantal commitment” (berit). Thus, when we look at the meeting of the spouses in marriage,
…the objective medium of attaining that meeting is the assumption of covenantal obligations which are based upon the principle of equality. Hence, we have a clue to the understanding of the nature of matrimony. All we have to do is analyze the unique aspects of covenantal commitment and apply them to the matrimonial commitment (Family Redeemed, 41-42).
The Rav sees marriage situated within covenant (mutual partnership and commitment). He continues to explain the ethical foundation of marriage:
Within the frame of reference of marriage, love becomes not an instinctual reaction of an excited heart …, but an intentional experience in reply to a metaphysical ethical summons …. Love, emerging from an existential moral awareness, is sustained not by the flame of passion, but by the strength of a Divine norm …. Since our eternal faith in G-d is something which defies rationalization, the mutual temporal faith of man and woman united in matrimony is just as paradoxical. (Family Redeemed, 41-42).
Here, science and romantic literature are in perfect agreement with religion. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert recently noted that studies have long confirmed that married people are happier, live longer lives, and have more financial security than their unmarried counterparts. Two of the most prominent 17th century French dramatists illustrated this point. Jean Racine wrote: “happiness held is the seed, happiness shared is the flower,” while Pierre Corneille put it more succinctly: “happiness seems made to be shared.” William Shakespeare also seemed to approve of marriage, having one character tell another in Much Ado About Nothing: “Thou art sad; get thee a wife, get thee a wife!” In the lesser-known First Part of Henry the Sixth, he wrote that an unforced marriage “bringeth bliss, And is a pattern of celestial peace.”
While pundits may tell us to avoid working with our spouses, history shows many contrary examples. Often, when American husbands went to war, became disabled, or died, their wives took over inns, did chores at farms, and kept their families together. In the modern era, the pattern is sometimes reversed. Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords married former astronaut and Navy Captain Mark Kelly in 2007, and everything seemed ideal. Then in January 2011, Rep. Giffords was shot and severely wounded along with many others in a mass shooting. Her husband has been instrumental in helping her achieve her remarkable recovery; can anyone imagine how much more difficult it would have been for her to recover by herself, or that they are equally righteous?
We raise each other up to be our best. Of course we do not know what will happen in the next world (whether or not we’ll have corporeal bodies, whether or not we’ll have identity and memory, whether or not we’ll be physically together with loved ones), but Rabbi Taku teaches us that the best shot we can give is to strive to meet our potential and to help our life partner to meet his or her potential. After all, there may be eternal ramifications.
My dream is to be hand-in-hand with my soul mate so I know I have a lot of work to get to that level. May we learn to convert our love into righteousness and then we may merit eternal love.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder and President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Senior Rabbi at Kehilath Israel, the Founder and C.E.O. of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and is the author of “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” In 2012 and 2013, Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.”