In 2021, Cris Galera, a Brazilian woman living in Italy, invited friends to her marriage ceremony—to herself. It seems things didn’t work out so well because only three months later, she divorced herself to marry someone else.

I didn’t get to ask Ms. Galera if she no longer loves herself. The evidence is there: If she still loves herself, why did she require a divorce from herself? I checked, and neither in Brazil nor in Italy is there any law against people married to their own selves marrying someone else’s self.

But obviously, she saw this as two conflicting sides of the coin: Either she loves her own self, or she loves someone else’s self. Can’t do both.

Had Ms. Galera asked us here at, we would have assured her that in this case the Torah explicitly demands the coin land on both sides at once, as it instructs us to "love the other guy as you love yourself."

Now, obviously, that's telling you to love the other guy a whole lot. Which implies that you have to love yourself a whole lot. Otherwise, what’s the point of having to love someone “like yourself?”

Must be that we are all capable of loving both ourselves and everybody else simultaneously.

Sounds nice. But empirically flawed. We all know that if you love yourself a whole lot, there's no room left for the other guy.

When you say, "She's madly in love with herself," you mean that whatever she does for others is really for herself. A narcissist lives inside a two-way iron dome, impervious to the missiles of love and incapable of firing them off, all radiant energy fated to only echo back towards its source.

This would seem to lock us into a recursive loop: If loving others precludes loving yourself, why does Torah place so much value on loving the other guy "like yourself?" Quote the contrary, it should say, "Love the other guy unlike yourself."

But that would be even more incongruous. Because we all know that as much as we may be disappointed, fed up, ashamed, and really outright angry and spiteful of our own selves, we're all totally obsessed with ourselves nonetheless. Mothers excluded, at least 90% of your thoughts and 100% of your breathing, eating, and grooming are dedicated to one yours truly alone. And my suspicion is that mothers, as precious as we all hold them, simply see their offspring as an extension of themselves.

As for all that inner-directed anger—why would you spend so much fury on someone you don't care for? Self-hatred is patently just another form of self-infatuation.

So far, it sounds like “love them like you love yourself” is a classic oxymoron. If so, Ms. Galera clearly did have to choose between herself and someone else.

Fortunately for us, the classic Jewish work of ethics and psychology called Tanya comes to the rescue, undoing this Gordian knot in one fell swoop—not with a sword, but with a peeler.

Yes, you must love yourself, and at the same time, you must be totally fed up with yourself. Because there's two of you: There's your peel, and there's your banana; there’s the packaging, and there’s the nifty delivery inside. Don't fall in love with the packaging because you'll never get to eat the fruit inside.

So, no, Ms. Galera did not need to divorce herself. She only needed to shed her outer self to make room for someone else’s self. She could have simply molted, like snakes, bugs, and crustaceans do.

Okay, let’s look at that step by step:

Molt Like a Snake

The Zohar, in an oft brutally misinterpreted phrase, calls the human body, "the skin of the snake." As with almost everything in Zohar, none of those words are meant to be taken literally. Skin doesn't mean skin, snake doesn't mean snake, and your body is not slimy, scaley, or reprehensible.

Quite the contrary, without a body, the soul cannot climb beyond itself. Your soul descended to this world and squeezed itself into a body because that's the only way it can experience perfect union with G‑d—by performing a mitzvah, which can only be done from within a meat-and-guts physical body.

Rather, when the Zohar says "body," it means simply your outer self—as the word for "body" (guf) generally means in Talmudic literature. And the comparison to a serpent's skin is not because the Zohar thinks we’re slimy, but simply because a snake grows by shedding its outer self from time to time. It literally, punctures a hole in its skin and then crawls out of itself like you take a sock off your foot.

For the snake, an intractable attachment to its outer self would be a terminal sentence. Narcissism is not much different, and no less deadly. In the words of the Talmud, “Give me friendship or give me death!”

Yet the snake is only able to divest that skin because it instinctively knows this is not who it truly is. It knows there's someone deeper, bigger, and more permanent inside that must grow and continue to live—and the only way to do that is by repeatedly breaking out of the prison of its outer self.

So too, you're only able to reject that outer self when you believe in your inner self. You know you are a divine soul, and therefore, you recognize your current personality is not really you. It's only a stop along the way, a chrysalis to be broken.

That neatly explains how the fiercest, most stubborn personalities of Jewish history were also the most humble. They were all earth-rattling snap, crackle, and pop from the inside, with a crisp, easily dispensable shell on the outside.

Moses, “the most humble man on earth,” had the grit to put Pharaoh in his place and even to argue with G‑d when necessary. David composed poetry describing himself as a worm, a subhuman, and a weirdo—yes, the same David who took on Goliath without hesitation and vanquished the Philistines. The list goes on.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but the two attitudes go hand in hand. When you’re coming from a position of inner strength, you have no need to cling to your outer presentation. And vice versa, the pathway to sense that inner power is through a crack in your love affair with your outer self.

Divorce your shell. Marry the true you.

Love Like Me

And now, look at the other guy.

If you would be married to yourself, locked into an obsessive relationship with your outer personality, you would be incapable of seeing this other guy as anything more than an accessory to your own pretty package.

Just like some people can't eat the cake because it looks so pretty, or can't open the gift because the bow on top is so neat, you wouldn't be capable of leaving yourself to commune with another person. You would be perpetually stuck with, "I like these people, because they really enhance everything that makes me so amazing."

Or: "This guy affirms for me that the tone I chose for my hair is just the right shade."

Or: “This person is good for me, because her approval confirms that my expertise in Torah knowledge is significant and I really am a holy dude.”

Or, on the flip side: "I can't stand these people, because they just don't match my color scheme."

Or: "They don't appreciate me when I spread my feathers and glitter in the sun."

Or: “Hey, if they can exist without me, like, why am I here?”

So there's no real love or friendship in your life. Everything is contingent on self. Lonely self. “A human being without a friend,” wrote Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz in 16th century Tiberias, “is like a left hand without a right.”

But if you're in a perpetual state of self-transcendence, of "un-being," incessantly molting and escaping the trap of any defined state of "I am this," then love and friendship is always within your grasp.

You look at the other guy, and you say, "Wow, this holy dude is on the same journey as me—stuck within a crusty layer, struggling to break out and fulfill some divine mission within this reality. A divine soul! Who knows how great and sublime that soul must be to take on such a mission inside that hunk of meat and bones? Mamesh, I can identify with that soul so deeply. At some point, really deep, we are one and the same."

As much as you love yourself, your inner self, so you love the other guy. Because you are the other guy.

If your outer self is an isolated particle of matter, your inner self is an instance of all-pervasive energy.

If your outer self is a chunk of meat, your inner self is the life force that renders that meat just one iteration of an awesome living being called humankind, itself nothing more than a single breath of the Life of All Life.

If your outer self is a high-definition pixel at xy coordinates, your inner self belongs to a current that courses through all colors, shapes, and forms, and is not defined by any of them, a oneness of being, perpetually transcending all boundaries, the kicking bronco anathema to the walls of self, the juice of infinite sweetness and love.

Indeed, this inner self can hardly be called a self at all—if not that it has been temporarily locked within the cell of a particular person and assigned a particular mission for the duration of a human life.

Turns out that by divorcing your outer self, you end up married to every other soul in the universe.

Sparrow In a Cage

But hold on—how about we all love that snake-skin self just a little?

Why can’t I say, “I really love the way I part my hair. But I can appreciate that others might like to part their lovely hair differently.”

Or “I believe my external persona, the way I handle my SUV, the tone to my biceps, the suave with which I deal with social situations, makes me a truly hot dude. But, hey, a world of nothing but hot dudes could overheat real fast.”

Or maybe, “It’s so nice that I do so many beautiful mitzvahs and know so much Torah. My very sincere and altruistic mitzvahs make such a a pretty outfit for a neshamah such as mine! I love everyone else so much, I want them to have a mitzvah-wardrobe just as nice.”

As you can see, this isn’t going to work. We’re dealing with a classic eat-cake/have-cake duality. The two loves are mutually exclusive.

The reason is obvious. If your outer self is a cage, your inner self is a sparrow, an eagle, a moose, or maybe even a tiger. If your outer self is a stone tower with iron-grid windows, your inner self is the fair maiden awaiting the rescue of some prince in shining armor. Whatever it is, to define yourself within a persona is to fossilize your soul.

And who is this outer self after all? Nothing more than some modality you found for yourself over the years that works, sort of, but often not so impressively, when dealing with others. It's mostly built around how the instinctual beasty into which you were born reacted to others in the first six years of life, with a few minor tweaks during your crazy adolescence. Embracing who you imagine yourself to be is no different than sticking to pablum because that's what you started with.

Even if you’ve fastidiously installed upgrades to that persona on every new release, no matter how adult, how refined, how suave, resilient, empathetic, and all the other nice adjectives you make yourself, even before the paint starts to dry, it's time to get another one. Because the soul inside does not accept adjectives. It's infinite.

So the truth is, as much as you love yourself, that’s how much you will be totally fed up with yourself. Because true love is love of your inner self, that inner mysterious beauty that can never be soiled or blemished.

And if you truly love her, you’re charging toward the dragon and the castle to liberate her from her prison. You’re ever-ready and eager to totally rip apart your outer packaging so that the butterfly can emerge from its cocoon to fly up, up, and away.

Divorce yourself. Discover love.