Tuesday is Valentine’s Day, a secular holiday with religious roots. The third century Saint Valentine of Rome is commonly associated with “courtly love,” according to Catholic Online. This week’s clergy discuss what part a higher power might play in finding a mate.
Rabbi Yakov Saacks
The Chai Center, Dix Hills
On one hand, we hear that a person’s spouse is bashert, meaning preordained by the guiding hand of God. If a match is predetermined by God, then to what extent does human effort play in this process? The Talmud says that before a person is born, God designates his and her mate: “A heavenly voice emerges and calls out ‘this woman to this man.’ ” Talmud also relates that “a man and woman are paired to each other based on their merits.” (Talmud Sotah 2a) How do we reconcile these two positions? There are two answers given. One Talmud section explains that the first marriage is by divine decree while a second marriage is based on a person’s merits. Another offers a different view. Though a natural match is initially made in heaven, prayer can override and change the divine decree for the better. And only God can decide who is better.
The Jewish conventional wisdom goes something like this. God decides who will marry whom. Prayer can help ease the process, so that the two can meet without the need to look for one’s bashert for extended periods of time. It is also possible through our deeds — or misdeeds to be precise — to forfeit the original intended spouse.
This leaves us with another fundamental question. If God is a matchmaker, how can it possibly be that a marriage dissolves and can end up in a bitter court battle? Marriage is a blessing and like any blessing it needs a receptacle to receive this awesome energy. It is similar to a rainstorm after a drought. If you do not put out a cup during the rain then the rain water will not be collected and you still will be thirsty. We need to work on these blessings because who wants to disappoint the matchmaker?
Hindu pandit, Bellerose
The idea of romance, heartbeats and longing for one another involves a combination of several coincidences or acts of the divine. When I respond to this question as a Hindu, and as a pandit who conducts marriage and other rituals according to Hindu religious traditions, a layer of additional awareness brings romance in the orbit of the omnipresent. The ideal couple is expected to sustain spontaneity of joy and a depth of understanding with a wholesome understanding of life.
A perfect companion for learning about life arrives by God’s grace. One hit of a hammer by an expert sculptor carves a beautiful statue, but the same hammer in the hands of a novice may break that stone. God is the only matchmaker, but perhaps he plays a less active role when an individual operates with ego.
Marriage means multidimensional togetherness for becoming oneself. The point of Grihasthi (married life) is to make your entire life an upasana (worship). Let me conclude with this prayer from Taittreya Upanishad, which is also seen on few Hindu wedding cards, “Om! May he protect us both together, may he nourish us both together. May we work conjointly with great energy. May our study be vigorous and effective, May we not mutually dispute. Let there be peace in me.”
The Very Rev. Christopher D. Hofer
Rector, The Church of St. Jude, Wantagh
I’ll never forget my first Valentine’s with my boyfriend, now husband, of nearly 23 years. It was the first time I really ever celebrated Valentine’s Day. I was a bit nervous wondering if he would like my gifts and the special dinner I cooked. Thankfully it went well as we are still together (I still have the card he gave me). On Valentine’s Day, we remember the martyrdom of St. Valentine of Rome, who was killed by Claudius II after Valentine assisted couples to get married and helped Christians escape captivity. For those in relationships, it is a day to take stock of the relationship. Valentine’s Day causes us to think about the beginnings of the relationship. As a priest, I’ve heard countless stories of how couples meet. Sometimes it is love at first sight (like my parents, married 51 years, or my husband and me), sometimes it is one individual pursuing the other until the pursued succumbs to the love, and sometimes it is a rocky road from start to finish. I have often wondered if God is like Yente in “Fiddler on the Roof,” being the ultimate matchmaker. Yet, with half of marriages ending in divorce, I’m not so certain. What I do know is that for a marriage to be successful it needs to be a threesome. That is, the couple plus God. When the couple allows God to enter the marriage, there is no mountain too high or ocean too wide that the couple and God can’t cross.