Project Genesis

“Beshert” and Fatalism

Beshert means ‘meant to be’ (destiny)...fatalism. I thought Jews are not fatalists. I feel I am steering my own ship in life…

That’s one great question you ask (it’s even more impressive considering you asked it of your own volition and not because you were somehow predestined to).

You wrote that “Beshert means ‘meant to be’ (destiny)...fatalism.” Actually, beshert doesn’t imply fatalism at all. After consulting a language expert, I discovered that “bashert” actually comes from the same root as ‘shern’, to shear (as in a beard) and in middle-high German, “bescheren” meant more or less “to give”. (Aren’t I lucky I run a Jewish outreach program at Yale U. where I can find scholars expert in this kind of information?)

So beshert in Yiddish means something that G-d has given you. According to Torah thought, all your natural intellectual and physical abilities are beshert for you, as are things like the parents to whom you were born and the country in which you were born. All these things are part of the unique potential with which G-d endowed you. From the dawn of creation ‘til the end of days, no other person will ever have exactly the same potential as you.

Of course, what we do with that potential is another matter. That’s our responsibility. Every human being possesses free will and each of us is responsible for developing our G-d given potential: this is one of the most important principles of Judaism; perhaps the most important.

The reason why G-d gave each of us a unique potential is because He has a unique position assigned for us to do our irreplaceable part in perfecting the world. Each of us receives exactly the inner potential we need in order to be equipped to meet the all the life challenges that G-d designed especially for us.

According to my encyclopedia, fatalism is the “doctrine that all events occur according to a fixed and inevitable destiny that individual will neither controls nor affects.” Nothing could be farther from the Torah truth. Our individual wills certainly control and affect things greatly. Our free willed moral decisions make us into who we really are. It can’t be our innate potential that makes us who we are, because that potential was, in a sense, predestined (at least we had nothing to do with it). But what we CHOOSE to do with our potential, every day and every moment, is who we truly are.

OK, well that seems to answer every question except for exactly the one you asked. What about our spouses? Don’t we choose them? (And isn’t that one of the most important choices we’ll ever make?) What could beshert mean over here?

The Jewish answer is that way back when G-d designed our unique life mission, while customizing our inner potential, at the same time He also created a potential partner of the opposite sex who would possess exactly the perfect qualities to compliment ours, so that together we could accomplish in our life’s mission far more than we ever could have alone. That ideal match is our beshert.

According to Torah, most people will meet their beshert by early adulthood. Of course, they’ll meet several thousand other people by then too. Now if G-d would just give us some prophetic inside information so we’d know right away whom that person is, a lot of dating services and discos would probably go out of business. Instead, it’s up to us to figure that out and make the right choice when we do.

What do I mean by that? Well, we may meet a person that we should know, if we deeply examined our heart, is an ideal spouse for us with whom to build a family and contribute to the world. But we might decide that instead we want someone richer or more attractive or more of something else that our baser nature desires. Now that doesn’t mean your bashert won’t be a billionaire. If he truly is your bashert, he’ll probably become the most attractive man in the world to your eyes, but it still takes a certain maturity and moral strength to reach that plateau.

It sounds from what you’ve written that you’ve truly found your bashert. I wish you much continued happiness and growth together. Just remember, that bliss doesn’t come automatically (it’s not predestined). It requires us to keep making the right choices, which are often difficult in the beginning, but always make things much easier in the end.

Best wishes,
Shlomo Shulman
Waterbury, CT

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