Recently, I met someone with an extraordinary pulse about him. Someone who bore a more dignified and radiant humanity than most I’ve previously encountered. Despite the busyness of his own brain, somehow and always, his mind trained with empathy and curiosity on my emotional experience of us and on the collected stories that ferried me to this point in my life. It felt as though he were uniquely gifted in his capacity to hold the mind’s meditations—his own and mine, at once.
He was—in astounding measure—kind, respectful, reflective, admiring, humble, and so very alive.
We come from different worlds—whether vastly or marginally so, I’m still uncertain. But assuredly different.
Which schools would meet both our expectations? Which synagogues? Which summer camps? How would we dress and present as a family? And with what sort of amalgam of our values would we raise little ones?
And, as we weighed hope against fear, idealism against reason, and essence against details, I pushed for an imagined future—fortified by emotional connection and compromise—to trump our differing hashkafot (worldviews). I don’t believe that our articulations of philosophical vision—no matter how carefully constructed and beautiful they may be—are reliable determinants of a partnership’s success. They’re just words—and, despite my affinity for language, I know that it is, by nature, limited. More than that, we all know that life can make exquisite mockeries of even our most clearly expressed plans.
How, then, do my espoused beliefs matter?
Only insofar as they introduce another person to my heart’s inclinations at a moment in time. Only insofar as they invite another person to debate with me or revel in shared ideas. Only insofar as they remind us of where one person ends and another begins. And that’s not nothing. That’s the stuff of intimacy and relationship building. It’s how we make sense of the surrounding world. It’s how we locate ourselves within the multitudinous ways of being.
But, while beliefs occupy and shape homes, they don’t build them. Love—and the choice to love—does that.
When, finally, it was decided that our outlooks were too damningly divergent, I wasn’t only sad. I felt disappointed and like I’d been bested by some construction that cunningly anchors mightily in the mind, but is, in reality, quite feeble. When we’re ripe, wrinkled and engaged in retrospective musing, will it have mattered where our children attended school? Or, at the very least, will it matter more than that we raised them—in and with love—to be powerful, committed and compassionate Jews? To know that community and family must be primary? To know that Israel is home? To know that Shabbat is our sanctuary in time? To know that faith and hope are safe ports in life’s storms? To know that ours is a sacred tradition that lives in hallowed history and in our yearning for the future? To know that we are—all of us—built in God’s image?
In the dispiriting wake of the decision to part, I felt the need to take a closer look at this construction—this metaphysical scheme that had blunted my counterpart’s optimism and curtailed our journey.
To identify one’s hashkafa, in its totality, seemed an elusive task. When we spoke of our differences, his articulations of them were fuzzy. Yet, he was resolute about the chasm between us, and he described a rootedness that felt based in a comfort amid the familiar, in the fulfillment of familial and communal expectations, and in a long-held vision’s being realized.
Valid, I thought, but not insurmountable. Real and substantial, but worthy of bending when a twin soul comes knocking. After all, any time another entity crosses into and occupies your peripheral vision, perspective necessarily shifts.
I keep thinking of Rav Soloveitchik’s distinction between man-natura of the first chapter of Genesis and man-persona of the second.
…man and woman of whom the first chapter speaks have not made as yet the momentous decision to turn a non-reflective, instinctive existence into a self-conscious one…In the first chapter, he (man) could not reflect upon the environment, as he was part and parcel of this environment. This being struggles hard…to liberate himself from the anonymity of being just an individual man whose task it is to represent the species. He strives to attain the distinctiveness of an individual who represents not the species but himself, who bears a name identifying himself as an I who cannot be equated with the thou, who passes through this valley of tears only once in an eternity and who cannot be replaced or reproduced…Man-natura is a realist, man-persona a dreamer…man(-persona) discovers in himself an incommensurability with nature…The creative urge in man frees him from the state of all out-integration into one’s environment. -Family Redeemed, “Adam and Eve”
If our own worldview does not, at all, represent a break from the home or community from which we came, are we living only as Adam 1? Will we never find ourselves “redeemed,” as the Rav terms it, without transitioning from man-natura to man-persona? Are we meant to “sever the umbilical cord that attached us (him) to Mother Earth”? Or, perhaps, if we incline towards an existence as man-natura, should we partner with man-persona, and, in so doing, endow our partnerships with a fullness that can only emanate from the combination of both modes of human existence? After all, shouldn’t our homes be suffused with a Judaism and faith that respond to both the Elokim that interacts with man-natura in Chapter 1 and the Hashem of Chapter 2?
Later on in his essay, “Adam and Eve,” Rav Soloveitchik—who ardently describes the need for man-persona to partner with woman-persona, writes, “Because the woman projects a totally different existential image, her companionship helps man to liberate himself from his loneliness. In the interpersonalistic existential tension both man and woman find redemption.”
Thus, in the spaces between us—in our distinctiveness—lives the magnetism that makes us whole and fully redeemed. And it’s there—in our separateness—that we find a haver li-de’agah, a friend in whom one can confide, as well as a haver le-de’ah, a friend in whom one has absolute trust and faith. It’s there that we find “a community of destiny, of feelings, of emotional vibrations—a union of two lonely hearts which beat with the same rhythm.”
In my research about hashkafa, I came across the following:
So say the ba’alei asufot: It is impossible for the opinion of the sages to be singular. And it is impossible for there to be no disagreement between them. For there is no issue about which there can be only one viewpoint. For, even if the thing is impure, it is impossible for it to be without a point of purity. Similarly, even if the thing is pure, it is impossible for it to be without a point of impurity. Moreover, people reason differently, and it is impossible for all people’s logic to be in agreement…And it is for this reason that they are called the ba’alei asufot, a term meant to convey that they sit in gatherings and busy themselves with the study of Torah, and, though they disagree in their reasoning, nonetheless they gather together. And, when they gather, between them they possess all of the disparate viewpoints in existence…Everything was given by the Master of all Creations. And, when God gave the Torah to the Israelites…He said that each law has an element of innocence and guilt, permissibility and impermissibility, or legitimacy and defectiveness. Just as, in the world, things are found that contain opposites—and just as a tree may be said to obtain its foundational support from the water beneath it, it may also be said to obtain it from the air that feeds it—you will not find anything that is, in absolute terms, simple. -Be’er HaGolah, Well 1 (Note: author’s own translation)
I believe that much of what motivates our choices is based in the deep, evolutionarily rooted instinct to survive. We seek community and connection because, somewhere within us, we know that we are less likely to persist and thrive on our own. As the book of Genesis states: It is not good for man to be alone.
If, though, we are courageous and wise, we will recognize that, intellectually, we are quite separate from each other. But while, by God’s very design, our minds will never be in alignment, still, like the ba’alei asufot, we can choose to gather. We can choose to live and be together, combing through each other’s minds and finding that, between us, we hold so much more of the world’s wisdom than we do alone. And it’s there—in that choice to gather—that we find our best chance at survival.
When we met, I told this astonishing man that I would rather spend my life as equal partners, fighting over the steering wheel and making little progress than be a passenger or solo driver in order to cover a lot of ground. But, I suppose, there are certain places he’d like to go.
As for me, I just want to be home.