May 21, 2019

How I Found My Two “Basherts”

“You may be familiar with the Yiddish term bashert—“destined” or “preordained.” It conjures up the image of a divine matchmaking service in which, 40 days before a child is born, a heavenly voice proclaims: “The daughter of so-and-so is intended for the son of so-and-so.” Commonly invoked by Jews looking for their partners in life­­­, this folk belief (with its source in the Talmud, no less) escorts the male basherter and female basherte to the marriage canopy under which they establish a new unit of the Jewish people.

And there’s something more: to be identified in this scheme specifically as someone’s daughter or son implies that even if the respective parents haven’t directly involved in locating the destined soulmate, they approve the match. Love results in a marriage ratified and sanctified by the community in fulfillment of the Almighty’s plan.

The literature I studied at college inverted this scheme. The eponymous Tristan is sent by his ruler King Mark to Ireland to fetch Iseult, the monarch’s intended bride. Mindless monarch! In reading the famous medieval romance, I could hear my father’s voice rendering his beloved passage of the Passover Haggadah, “‘And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt’—not by the hands of an angel, and not by the hands of a seraph, and not by the hands of a messenger, but by the Holy One, blessed be He, Himself in His own glory and in His own person.”

The king’s plan backfires because he failed to heed God’s teaching: if you want something important done, you must do it yourself. On their long sea voyage, Tristan and Iseult are not merely drawn to one another as any two hot-blooded youngsters might be; they “inadvertently” drink the love potion intended to be shared by Iseult and Mark at their wedding. Who can doubt that this pair are now destined to give themselves up utterly to love?”

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