The Talmud (Yevamot 63b) relates that it was customary in ancient Israel to ask a newly wed groom: “Have you found or do you find?”

The question refers to an apparent contradiction between two statements of King Solomon, the wisest of men. In the book of Proverbs (18:22) he declares:

The souls of the truly matched couple derive from a common soul-essence

He who has found a woman has found good.

Yet in the book of Ecclesiastes (7:26) he states:

And I find woman more bitter than death.

Although these two verses seem to convey conflicting images of woman, if we examine them closely we can detect some subtle grammatical differences that will explain the apparent discrepancy.

To begin with, the verb in the former verse is in the past tense—“he who has found a woman,” whereas in the latter it is in the present tense—“and I find woman.”

According to our tradition, the souls of the truly matched couple derive from a common soul-essence (Zohar III 43b, I 85b). For this reason, the two are destined even before birth to unite in matrimony (Sotah 2a). The use of the past tense in affirming the good to be found in marriage suggests that—both in the process of seeking a wife and in relating to the woman he has married—a man should strive to discover and focus on this deep-rooted, shared mutual identification.

Should he ignore this instruction and focus instead on the transient gratification of his immediate desires and predilections—as implied by the present tense employed in the second verse—the relationship will inevitably prove to be a bitter one.

This is further alluded to by the fact that in the first verse the verb (“he who has found”) is followed directly by its object (“a woman”), implying that what the husband has sought and found is indeed his wife. His mind and heart focus on her, and his conscious concern is to meet her needs and the needs of his family, as opposed to his own. This is why the Talmud states (Chulin 84b) “One should eat and drink less than his means allow, dress in accordance with his means, and honor his wife and children beyond his means.” This is the foundation of a happy married life.

In the second verse, however (which in the original literally reads: “and find I bitterer than death the woman”), the subject (“I”) is interposed between the verb (“find”) and its object (“woman”), as if the subject of the verb were also its primary object, thereby implying that the man is really more concerned with finding himself—i.e., with his own self-gratification.

Selflessness is the key to “finding” and relating to one’s wife at the level of their common soul-root

Thus, selflessness is the key to “finding” and relating to one’s wife at the level of their common soul-root. The egocentric husband will be unable to achieve a genuine, mutual relationship with his wife that will sweeten with time rather than grow bitter.

Although in such a case the husband is apt to feel that his wife has become more bitter than death,” it is in fact his own interposed “I” (which he projects on her) that has become so. This is indicated by the fact that the phrase "more bitter than death” directly follows the word “I,” even before the mention of “the woman.”

Let us look at these verses again. The first verse reads in full:

He who has found a woman has found good, and will elicit [good] will from G‑d.

The second verse reads in full:

And I find woman more bitter than death,
for her heart is snares and nets,
and her hands are fetters.
He who is good before G‑d will flee from her,
but he who sins shall be caught by her.

In other words, just as King Solomon calls the positive relationship between husband and wife “good,” so does he call the flight from a negative relationship “good.” The previously self-seeking husband begins his return to the “good” state by reorienting his consciousness such that he stands “before G‑d” rather than being concerned solely with himself. By doing this, he “flees from her,” i.e., from the image of his own ego that he has projected onto his wife. Only then can he proceed to find his true soul mate.

Not surprisingly, the pivotal verb of these verses, “to find,” figures prominently in the creation of Eve, the archetypal woman:

And G‑d said:

"It is not good for man to be alone,
I shall make him a helpmate.”
So G‑d formed from the earth all the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky,
and He brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and whatever the man called any living being was its name.
So the man named all the animals and birds of the sky and the beasts of the field, but for himself, Adam did not find a helpmate
(Genesis 2:18-20).

It evidently was not enough for G‑d to simply create Eve and present her to Adam; a true wife must be looked for and found.

Upon her creation, Adam gave his wife the generic name “woman”, “isha,” which in Hebrew is simply the feminine form of the word “man” “ish” :

This time, bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,
This one shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken from man.

Having found his true soul mate, Adam named her after himself, recognizing the common origin of their souls.

Looking at the original two verses yet again, we notice that in the verse “And I find the woman more bitter than death,” “woman” appears with the definite article. This implies that one is relating to one’s wife as a member of a generic group rather than as an individual who shares his soul-root. This fundamental lack of unity prevents one from finding good in his relationship with his wife.

Adam and Eve were originally attached back to back

In contrast, in the verse “He who has found a woman,” “woman” appears without the definite article. This implies that one who finds his true soul mate names her after (i.e., recognizes) their common source, as happened in the story of creation. And therefore, “He who has found a woman—has found good.”

To be sure, viewing one’s spouse as part of oneself can be the sign of an exaggerated ego as well. In such a case, one sees his spouse as merely an appendage of himself and thus feels no need to relate to her as a distinct individual. This is alluded to in the verse “and I find the woman more bitter than death,” in which the egocentric husband sees only himself in his wife.

The proper way to see one’s wife as part of oneself is by sensing their shared soul-root, which, as we have said, is possible only by cultivating true selflessness. As we will explain, one’s true individuality originates in one’s soul-root. Paradoxically, it is only when spouses relate to each other with this awareness of their common source that they can see each other as truly unique individuals. According to the sages (Eiruvin 18a; Rashi on Genesis 5:2), Adam and Eve were originally attached, back to back. In this state, Adam and Eve were “one,” but Adam could not see her; he was conscious of her only as an appendage (an extra “rib”). In order to make her his wife, G‑d “sawed” her off. Once Adam was able to see her for the first time as an independent being, they could join face to face, as husband and wife.

Our sages teach us that “it is the way of man to search for woman,” (Kidushin 2b) for he is in fact searching for his own lost side or rib. (Breishit Rabbah 17:6). Spiritually, this lost side is the unconscious level of his own soul.

When one learns to relate to (“find”) one’s wife on the level of their common soul-root, he “finds” not only a good marriage, but the goodness inherent in the unconscious level of his own soul, as well. A “good” wife is one who makes her husband conscious of the depths of his own will to be good. This is the deeper meaning of “He who has found a woman has found good.”

In sum, by referring to the contrasting language of these two verses, those who posed the above question to the groom were hinting to him that the outcome of the union, for good or for bad, depends on his attitude. The blessings of marriage are contingent upon the abandonment of egocentricity and a positive reorientation toward inner truth and reality. This is why the numerical value of the Hebrew word for “found” “matzah” is equal to that of the word for “humility” “anavah,” reinforcing the idea that humility and self-nullification are prerequisites to success in finding one’s true soul mate.