“What is man?” – the central question of anthropology – has preoccupied thinkers since philosophical reflection began thousands of years ago. From the pre-Socratics and the Hellenistic philosophers through … theologians and down to Kant, Hegel and the existentialists, explicit answers were sought to the questions of man’s place in the world and the nature of his being. And these questions continue to command the attention of Western thought to the present day. (Introduction, “The Emergence of Ethical Man,” Rabbi Joseph B. Soleveitchik,” 2005.)

The New York Times declared this year that this question is no less pressing. The October 6, 2015 New York Times Magazine ran a provocative, confrontational assessment of the confusion we have in establishing and maintaining a personal identity: The Year We Obsessed Over Identity: 2015’s headlines and cultural events have confronted us with the malleability of racial, gender, sexual and reputational lines. Who do we think we are?

In response to both this confusion and changes in forging an identity, we have prepared a fresh approach to discovering the Self. We will see how this search for Self so powerfully impacts one of the most, if not the most, important choice we make in life – whom we marry. By discovering the essence of the Self – that each person has a soul – we become aware, or maybe more conscious, of an entire spiritual dimension which we previously might not have considered central to our identity. We will then explore the implications of this discovery for marriage. If I don’t understand who I am, then how can I find my significant other? Conversely, by having a true awareness of the Self, I am better able to develop my potential, which includes having a happy and fulfilling marriage.

Furthermore, we will explore fundamental ideas about marriage: that true love makes us feel expanded, that we seek unity in a relationship, and what this means. We will ask: What is a soul mate? Must my soul mate be Jewish, and if so, why? What is a healthy relationship? And what is the goal of marriage?

The first class in this four-part series is about the definition of “Self.” Are you defined by your body, or your mind? Or is there another part of you that goes beyond the physical? Who is the real you? We will explore the different ways in which we are used to defining ourselves, and in the process of this exploration encounter the idea that the real Self has a spiritual definition.

Next we go on a journey, following in the footsteps of Avraham – the first person to independently discover the power of his own Self by developing a spiritual identity. Seeing how he did this can help us start on the path as well.

Finally, we take instruction from Avraham for our own quest for the Self. Appreciating his discovery of the soul and its potential will enable us to unleash our own latent power.

In the course of this class we aim to answer the following questions:

  • What is significant about my decision of whom to marry?
  • What limits do we place upon ourselves?
  • How do these limits affect how we define who we really are?
  • How can I tell that I have a soul? And even if I do, what does it matter?
  • What did Avraham, the first Jew, discover that no one else had realized before him?
  • How did Avraham come to his discovery?
  • What does his story have to do with us today?

See the Teacher’s Guide to the Am I Ready to Find My Soul Mate Series