Chassidic Dating: Listen to the Body and the Mind

Chava Green, Cherry Hill, NJ
Essays 2018 / Love & Marriage

The most read article on the New York Times website of 2017 was entitled, “Why You Will Definitely Marry the Wrong Person.” More than world politics and climate change, people are thinking, and worrying, about the state of marriage. Everyone knows it’s not in great shape. In fact, with the high divorce rate it is a wonder that people enter into a marriage at all. Yet, they do. There is something about marriage that remains enticing even when logically it seems doomed to failure. This makes sense when we look at it from a Chassidic perspective because marriage is a crucial part of a person’s life. It is when two halves of a soul become one. It is the beginning of building a family and forming another chain in the course of Jewish history.

However, It has become common for people to date casually for years and only once they are settled in a career do they get serious about finding the right spouse. There is a certain logic in making such an important decision when you are older and wiser. So, why isn’t it working? It is becoming clear that dating for years without getting married is actually detrimental to a good marriage. Nevertheless, our society fosters a serious distrust and inability to make a commitment like marriage. We can barely commit to watching a video online longer than a minute without our attention span maxing out. Chassidus offers us a paradigm to understand why the commitment of marriage is actually an essential step in having a healthy, long-term, intimate relationship. Learning about the benefit and necessity of commitment in having a healthy relationship can encourage people to seriously consider the advantage of marriage in their life.

According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe[1], there is a fundamental shift that occurs when a person gets married. Marriage alters a person’s consciousness from one conceptual “world” to another. It moves them from one state of being to its opposite. In the language of Chassidus these two states are called Tohu, the World of Chaos, and Tikkun, the World of Order. Before marriage a person is in a Tohu-state; they have total potential, passion, and freedom yet they are characterized by ego and self-sufficiency. Marriage leads a person to a Tikkun-state where they give up their wild, limitless energy yet gain stability, practically and humility.

In Tohu, which precedes marriage, selfishness prevails. Tohu is characterized by the exhilaration of having an unbounded ego; there is an advantage to this state if you use it well- you can build yourself. Personal, inner work of self-growth and building one’s identity flourishes in the Tohu time before marriage. This is essential because if two broken people enter into a relationship to fix their problems they will have difficulties building a healthy relationship.   Therefore, if two people come together while they are in the Tohu state it leads to what is called “the breaking of the vessels”. Due to their self-interest, they basically crash into each other without any real ability to bend and adapt to the other. They could live together, share grocery bills and have a great love-life, but if they are in the Tohu state, where self-centeredness prevails, there can never be a true oneness. Oneness requires a transcending of ego that is not possible in Tohu.

Therefore, G-d says, “I did not create the world for selfishness (Tohu), which can lead to destruction, but rather, I formed it to be settled (Tikkun).”[2] Tohu, with all of its advantages and power, is only a preparation for Tikkun. This is why the custom of the yeshivas in Lubavitch are for students to get married after only a few years of study around age 20. Although there is an advantage to learning Torah and focusing on one’s studies (i.e. building oneself), the ultimate point of that stage of life is to lead to marriage. There is a danger for people to stay in Tohu for too long since it begins to solidify their ego and sense of self to the point that it is hard to overcome their selfishness in marriage. In addition, without the commitment of marriage to foster a safe space to be vulnerable, romantic interactions require a strengthening of ego and boundaries to avoid getting hurt. Over time this desensitizes a person to the true pleasure of an intimate connection. Obviously, we do not control when we meet the right person, but choosing to date casually instead of looking for a spouse can make it hard to let the right one in.

Marriage is the ultimate goal because, as the passage explains, the purpose of the creation of the world is for it to be settled, i.e. to be in Tikkun. We come into the world to transcend our egos, unite with our spouse and build a stable home. Only the commitment of marriage and, on a spiritual level, the fusion of two souls can truly create the environment of Tikkun where husband and wife can build a lasting, intimate relationship. Commitment is a vessel to receive intimacy and be vulnerable without fear or self-consciousness. It takes out the games, doubts and insecurities that causal relationships and even long-term dating contain.

Now we understand through the lens of Chassidus why the commitment of marriage is so powerful and essential in having a relationship that will last. This has a direct impact on the Chassidic perspective on dating and choosing a partner. When it comes to dating, it should be seen as a means to an end, not the goal in itself. The relationship built during dating in Tohu can never have the strength and power of the relationship of Tikkun; in fact, it can take away from the eventual marriage because you built the foundation of your relationship with one foot out the door. Therefore, we should look at dating simply as a way to assess a person’s compatibility for marriage. With the fear of commitment so prevalent, however, how does a person make such a far-reaching and weighty decision?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe laid out three steps to use in dating as a way to move confidently into marriage:

  1. The first is to ascertain if the person has the same values as you. The Rebbe framed it for Jewish couples as a commitment to living a Jewish life. He told a young woman who asked what to look for in a potential partner that, “first and foremost the person should be trustworthy, so that he could fully be relied upon in all his promises relating to the establishment of a truly Jewish home.”[3] It is important to share a vision for what values and ideals your family and home will be based upon. This compatibility is what makes a long term relationship easier to sustain and enjoy; each partner is able to maintain their own values without needing to compromise on important decisions and grow resentful.
  2. The second is to assess the person’s character. Regarding this the Rebbe writes, “it is possible to find out about his family background, his upbringing and education, and his general conduct in the daily life. For a person’s character is a combination of all these factors and influences.”[4] Assessing a person’s character takes a cool, level-headed appraisal of their actions without getting emotionally involved yet.
  3. The practical aspects mentioned above are very important but without an emotional and physical spark they cannot lead to marriage. The third piece of advice is that there must be a “drawing close of the heart” (Hamshakas HaLev); there must be an arousal from the body. Chassidus teaches, counterintuitively, that the body actually comes from a loftier source that the soul.[5] The body is rooted in Tohu. That is why the body can easily express such passion, lust and desire for the physical world, while inspiring the soul is much more difficult. So, when it comes to dating the body must not only be reckoned with, but when the practical components are in place it is actually the deciding factor.

Once these three things are present in dating, and everyone takes different amount of time in determining if they are, then the Rebbe would encourage people to take the plunge. As we have seen the commitment of marriage is what catapults a person from a self-sufficient, self-centered mindset, whether or not they are aware of it completely, into a relationship where their newfound dependency can lead to true unity with their spouse. Choosing to marry the person you are with, if they have these requirements, is the best move to ensure your relationship will endure. A psychology study by researchers at Emory University showed that people who lived together before marriage to test out the relationship or for practical reasons like sharing finances tended to report less dedication to their relationship and lower marital satisfaction if they did get married.[6]   Dating for a long time to get to know someone will not actually show you what it will be like to be married to them and can even detract from a marriage.

Ultimately, the Chassidic approach to dating and marriage is all about having the most fulfilling, pleasurable, stable relationship possible. Being in Tikkun with all its commitment, stability and consistency might sound less romantic and fun, but divorce or a bad marriage is certainly neither of those things. The viewpoint of Chassidus reveals why people in the religious community get married at a younger age and in general have more fulfilling, stable marriages. Using the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s dating advice to assess a potential spouse is a practical way to implement the security of Tikkun without losing the deep power of Tohu.   Ultimately, the goal is to have a Tikkun marriage with all of the fiery passion and excitement of Tohu. Hopefully with this in mind, we will all be blessed to enjoy clarity in choosing a spouse and recognizing the value of commitment and marriage.

[1] Toras Menacham, Chelek 10, page 201

[2] Yeshayahu, 45:18

[3] Letter from the 13th of Tammuz, 5725, July 13, 1965.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ranat, “Yom Tov Shel Rosh HaShana” Chelek 8.

[6] Dush, C. M. K., Cohan, C. L., & Amato, P. R. (2003). The relationship between cohabitation and marital quality and stability: Change across cohorts?. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 539-549.