When Opposites Attract

Why did Avraham consider Eliezer to be cursed if Lavan referred to him as “the blessed of HaShem”?
If the cursed cannot bond with the blessed how are we to understand the unions of Shechem and Dinah, the Queen of Shevah and Shlomo the King et al?
Why didn’t Eliezer seek a girl who would do chessed proactively before having to be asked?

He [Noach] said, “Cursed is Cannan! He shall be a slave’s slave to his brothers”

— Bereishis 9:25

 “I will compel you with an oath in the name of HaShem, L-rd of Heaven and L-rd of earth that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live.”

— Bereishis 24:3

“My master compelled me with an oath ‘Do not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites in whose land I reside. Instead you must go to my father’s house, to my family, and get a wife for my son there.’ I [then] said to my master ‘Perhaps the woman [from your family] will not follow me [back to Canaan]’? “

— Bereishis 24:37-39

Perhaps the woman will not follow me: It [the word אֻלַי (perhaps)] is written [lacking a “vav” and may be read] אֵלַי (to me). Eliezer had a daughter, and he sought a pretext so that Avraham would tell him, to turn to him [i.e. Eliaezers family], so that Yitzchok would marry his daughter. Avraham said to him, “My son is blessed, and you are cursed [Eliezer was a descendant of Canaan who had been cursed by Noach], and an accursed one cannot bond with a blessed one.”

— Rashi ibid

And Lavan said “Come O he who is blessed by HaShem! Why are you still standing outdoors? I have cleared the house [of what you might find offensive] and prepared a place for the camels.”

— Bereishis 24:31

Why is Mt. Sinai so called? [Sinai is, alliteratively, similar to the lashon kodesh-biblical Hebrew; word for hatred] Because it was there that hatred descended to the idolaters [for they rejected the Torah that was revealed there].

— Shabbos 89A and Rashi ibid

The intensity of the hatred that ignorami have for Torah scholars exceeds that of the anti-Semitism that the idolaters bear towards the nation of Israel …

— Pesachim 49B

As faces in the reflecting pool mirror one another, so too do the hearts of men.

— Mishlei 27:19

He [Eliezer] prayed O HaShem, L-rd of my master Avraham, be with me today and grant favor to my master Avraham … If I say to a girl ‘Tip over your jug and let me have a drink’ and she responds ‘drink and I will also hydrate your camels’ she will be the one whom You have designated [as a bride] for your servant Yitzchok.”

— Bereishis 24:12,14

When discussing the metaphysics of matchmaking Avraham declares “… an accursed one cannot bond with a blessed one.” Yet TeNaC”h-the Jewish Torah canon; is replete with desired, attempted and actual unions, both marital and extra-marital, between evil and good.  The assertion that evil cannot unite with good, that curse cannot cleave to blessing; seems to be unsupportable in light of such matches and near-miss marriages as those of Shechem and Dinah, Potiphar’s wife and Yoseph, Kozbee and Zimri and Achashveirosh and Esther, et al.

Moreover Rav Tzadok, the Kohen of Lublin, observes that while, per Chazal, Avraham rejected Eliezers marriage proposal on the grounds of Eliezer being cursed the Torah quotes Lavan as describing Eliezer as “he who is blessed by HaShem.”  Presumably “the Torah of truth” would not record nonsense, hyperbole or the insincere flattery of a sycophant. If Lavans words are true it means that at some point between Avraham rejecting his shidduch proposal and Lavan greeting him, Eliezer underwent a qualitative transformation from being accursed to being blessed.

The Lubliner Kohen illuminates the dynamic of a metamorphosis at least as astonishing as that of the caterpillar-into-butterfly variety.

Evil and Good are in a state of constant and intense antipathy towards each other.  They want no truck with one another and do not desire merger. Shlomo the king teaches in Mishlei that “as faces in the reflecting pool mirror one another, so too do the the hearts of men.” The nature of “emotion” is cyclical and reciprocal and so, the vicious cycle of abhorrence and recrimination between Evil and Good perpetually intensifies the alienation between the two.  But, at the risk of sounding trite, this begs the question: Who started the hostilities and estrangement?  Who’s to blame for the inability to come together?

A close reading of Rashi, “an accursed (one) cannot bond with a blessed (one)”reveals that it is evil that finds itself incapable of cleaving to good; it is not the other way around. I might add that this understanding is further supported by the gemara in Pesachim 49B that speaks of the hatred of the ignoramii and the idolatrous nations first, although it is safe to presume that the Torah Scholars and the Nation of Israel bear reciprocal loathing towards those who hate them. The passage in Shabbos 89A that pinpoints the origin of the Divine Hatred of the idolatrous nations at Sinai, only after they rejected the Torah, further bolsters this argument. Yet this makes it even more difficult to understand why it was Eliezer who initiated the proposed match between the daughter of Eliezer the cursed and the son of Avraham the blessed.

It is important to note that that Eliezer never articulated an explicit marriage proposal.  The proposal, such as it was, was an insubstantial allusion, a mere wordplay.  The Vilna Gaon explains that Chazal detected the subliminal marriage proposal in Eliezer employing the word אֻלַיperhaps; connoting a desired outcome, rather than פן–lest; connoting a scenario to be avoided. Moreover the Kotzker Rebbe insightfully points out that even this mere hint of a proposed match does not appear in the Torahs narrative of the actual dialogue between Eliezer and Avraham.  It is only later, during Eliezers repetition of that conversation to Rivkas family, that he had an epiphany and understood why he had employed the word אֻלַי rather than פן.

Along these lines, and to address the issues of evil and good bonding, the Lubliner Kohen maintains that during his actual conversation with Avraham, Eliezer revealed his subconscious desires in what contemporaries might call a Freudian slip, because he only had blessed potential at the time, but was not quite ready to transform into a full-fledged blessed being until after his encounter with Rivka. The nascence of his transformation from cursed to blessed began as soon as he accepted the mission of his master Avraham but, as he had not yet actualized his potential for blessedness he was, as yet, incapable of verbalizing his desire to unite with and cleave to the good and blessed on an overt level.

Read more When Opposites Attract

There Are No Perfect People

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

One of the greatest blessings that you can give a friend who is getting married is that the couple live together with peace and friendship. Peace isn’t what people think it is. It is too often confused with a mere lack of hostility in one extreme, or complete concord on the other. While there is absolutely no case to be made for overtantagonism, the absence of conflict leaves an empty space, which isn’t necessarily filled with peace. The word for peace, shalom, is related to the word shalem which means “whole”. A peaceful relationship is one in which each person welcomes the unique individuality of the other, and together try to build something real. It’s dynamic, rather than passive. With that in mind, I will tell you the bad news, which is also the good news.

Everyone settles.

There are no perfect people. Faults that are irrelevant from an emotionally safe distance are sometimes exquisitely painful when you recognize that you are merged with both the faults and virtues of the man who you marry. Recognizing this may feel like watching a dream shatter, if you had illusions that shalom means finding your clone, whose faults are the ones that you have somehow managed to forgive in yourself over the course of your life. If your vision of shalom is dynamic, you will realize that faults are one dimension of virtues. Every trait has two sides.

A person who is angry is saying, “things aren’t the way I would like them to be”. This can be almost idol worship, with the idol being the self. It also can be a misplaced yearning for wholeness, and the bitter fruit of misplaced idealism. If it is you who are the angry one, you have to accept your fault as being real, find a new address for the energy it generates and move on. You can and must learn damage control, but that isn’t the end of the story. If the fault is someone else’s, the temptation is to label it, dissect it, and despise it. This isn’t shalom. You have to be committed enough to see the hidden yearning for truth, and use it to build.

Rav Aryeh Levine, the famed tzadik of Yerushalaim, used to say that there are two kinds of people. There are those who hate lies, and those who love truth. A person who hates dishonesty will be sensitive to its presence, and see it lurking in the dark recesses of people’s inner lives and self-deceptions. They will despise the possessor of the trait because they despise the trait. Another type of person will seek the hidden truth in the heart of the person with whom they find themselves. They love the truth that emerges, and for that reason will love the person.

This isn’t only true in marriage, and the message of shalom is one that has to be carried with you wherever you go. It has to do with friendships, relationships with rabbis (what? Imperfect rabbis?), parents, just as much as it has to do with shalom bayit. The exception to this rule is illustrated in parsha Korach. Korach fermented a rebellion against Moshe. He presented himself as sort of the Jefferson of the Biblical world. We are all equal, we are all holy. Why should one person rule over others? Why should Moshe’s brother be the Kohein Gadol? Isn’t this just warmed over nepotism? The problem in his argument is that these offices were given by G-d and not by Moshe. It is Hashem Himself who gave Moshe the qualities that he had to have in order to give the Torah, and Aharon the traits he needed to bring down blessing to the Jewish people.

It is also G-d who, the Talmud tells us, since the time He finished creating the world has busied Himself with matching couples. This doesn’t mean only that He is the Ultimate Shadchan, but it also means that He creates the right situations to match the abilities of the people he destines to encounter those situations. Your role is to build, and to affirm. It isn’t to destroy or to negate. There are times when building is impossible, and then you have to have the vision and courage to move on. But the way to know whether that is the case can only come to the surface when you are really willing to question your own willingness to build, rather than to satisfy your ego by being the wronged party, or the higher deity on the totem pole. Lots of us enjoy machlokes (the opposite of shalom). It’s root is the word “chelek” which means portion. Finding the hidden truth is the only way out.

Originally Posted on www.tziporahheller.com

Hanging on a Shidduch

By Sharon Mizrachi

The frum community at large has been inundated with articles, lectures, strategies etc. about the current “Shidduch Crisis”. Many have opined the evolution, source, cure, etc., and yet, the crisis continues. Is the problem a result of the influence of the hedonistic & materialistic secular world in which we live? The economy? The sense of entitlement of our young adults? The individuals who perpetuate the crisis? The shadchanim? The parents? The peers? The rabbaim? The milkman??

Of course, there is no simple answer or solution to the “crisis”, but there is one issue I have never seen or heard discussed which is a fundamental problem in the way shidduchim are conducted. That is, communication & yashrus.

As a shadchan, I have experienced a lack of communication in shidduchim. In one shidduch, the girl would only speak to me (the shadchan) through her mother and all communication was based solely on “rules” learned in seminary. The boy would only communicate to me via text and was adamant that his Rebbe in Yeshiva said there should be an engagement by the 5th date or the shidduch must be broken off. The outcome? They are, BH, happily married with children! Even though I, as the shadchan, did not subscribe to their dating philosophy, they were 100% in sync (which is why I thought of the shidduch in the first place!). Clearly, this approach worked for them & I had to facilitate the shidduch accordingly. Although their communication was less than optimal for me, it worked for them. This was an interesting exercise for me in learning how to speak to your audience, a tool useful far beyond the realm of shidduchim.

As a parent, I have experienced both a lack of communication & yashrus. Was the girl/boy even told about the potential shidduch? Parents should not muddle through the minutiae of every prospective shidduch with their children, but how about telling them “I’m looking into someone for you”? Or, giving your children a few details about the shidduch, sans names, and asking them if they are interested in moving forward? Have you made a reasonable effort to research the shidduch? Was your child involved in that research? As the parent, have you communicated with the shadchan in a timely manner?

When you’re the one waiting for an answer, it’s hard to know at what point that waiting time goes from reasonable to ridiculous. Were you yashar in stating your interest (or lack thereof) in the shidduch? Someone who is truly interested will jump on it. If not, do a chesed to everyone involved and tell the shadchan either “it’s not a shidduch”, “my child is busy now”, “this shidduch is not quite what we are looking for”, “the timing isn’t right”, “our goldfish died and we’re observing aveilus through shloshim” or simply “we’re not interested now, but thank you for your efforts?”. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes; are you conducting yourself b’derech eretz?

The damage to the self esteem of a young adult (yes, even boys) by leaving them hanging affects future shidduchim. Anyone in shidduchim can tell you it’s difficult to ascertain what constitutes reasonable hishtadlus, but be mindful that we are dealing with living, breathing, feeling human beings here, so please don’t leave a fellow Yid…
Hanging On a Shidduch

So, You’re Going to Meet a Shadchan?

By Miriam Kolko

Finding the right shadchan is a process in itself. Having spent the last years developing yourself you are ready to build a home and share it with your bashert, but now discover that a shadchan is often a prerequisite to finding a suitable match.

How do you promote yourself so that your shidduch information remains in the shadchan’s mind and does not get lost among the myriad collection of resumes that has gathered cobwebs in a drawer, or vanished into the maw of the shadchan’s computer?

The first step in creating an impression is to actually meet the shadchan. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the significance of a meeting is priceless. Set yourself up for success by dressing appropriately. The way you dress is a declaration to others and can reveal a lot about you. Dress neatly and conservatively. This is not a contradiction to who you really are, but an acknowledgement of time and place and not allowing fashion to overshadow your persona.

Be an active partner. Prepare a shidduch resume and attach a recent picture. Your resume is your calling card; and your photo has retention value. Be sure to include your family background, schooling and current activities. List your contact information and check that contact information for your references are current. Assess your strengths and be ready to describe them. Is there anyone that you admire and care to emulate? Be prepared to describe the kind of home you envision and the specifics of what you are looking for in a spouse. This is a summation of who you are, what you are doing, where you are going and who you visualize accompanying you in life.

Show an interest in the shadchan. You can ask polite questions about the shadchan’s family, be generous with compliments and be aware of the shadchan’s efforts. No mistaking the purpose of the meeting, it is about you, however, showing that you appreciate the time that the shadchan is spending with you demonstrates that you are a warm and caring individual.

Smile! A smile can make you more attractive. A nice, friendly and genuine smile influences people positively and is always noticed and reciprocated. Your only cost is the effort it takes to lift your mouth. Make sure that your smile radiates onward to your eyes and outward to others.

Send the shadchan a thank you by way of email or standard mail. It can be a simple note or a more elaborate letter, yet it will cement your image and in combination with the previous suggestions help create a positive impression.

Miram Kolko is the manager of the Rebbetzins. The Rebbetzins is a free shidduch program designed to provide singles from Baal Teshuva background with a way of connecting to reliable information about other singles throughout the United States and Canada.

The Rebbetzins program has a centralized network of trustworthy Rebbetzins in major communities. A Rebbetzin is a wise, life-experienced, reliable person who actively works on behalf of one single at a time, as a parent does. Your Rebbetzin will take the time to get to know the real you. You’ll never be just a name and a resume.

To find out more about The Rebbetzins please go to www.rebbetzins.org or simply call our office, 732-730-1000 Ext. 263, a coordinator will be happy to answer any questions and assist you in filling out an application

Quest over a Narrow Bridge: Asia, Harvard, and Shidduchim

By Ben Clayman

I wrote my last article on the day I graduated university last summer. A lot has happened since then and I thought that Hashem’s loving kindness in showing me new insights in my life could help others in their life journey towards growth.

The Talmud says that when a baby is born, the parents have a level of prophecy when choosing the baby’s name. Benjamin is the name of the famous Jewish traveller, Benjamin of Tudela, who went around the Jewish world during the Crusades almost 1000 years ago. He chronicled most of the major centers of Jewish life.

I also set out to see the state of Jewish people on my journey. Rashi comments at the beginning of Exodus (2:11) that “Moshe saw their [Israel’s] burdens”. He focused his eyes and heart to be distressed over them. The most important lesson from my trip is the status of the Jewish people is a tale of two cities, both the best of times and the worst of times. Me, with my beard, kippa, tzizis, went around the world without a single negative incident. There was kosher food available, helpful locals, and strong communities in the farthest corners of this world. I met many converts and people wanting to convert. I met Jews from all backgrounds strengthening their commitment to Judaism. I met an Israeli who met his New Zealander wife in Laos at Kiddush in Auckland. I learned with a Swedish yeshiva student who was just in Germany for the year in Kowloon, Hong Kong. On the flip side, I got to give a small present of kosher candy to a Jew in prison in Cambodia. I saw a neglected, weatherbeaten Jewish cemetery and dying smaller communities. I witnessed missionaries preying on needy and ignorant Jewish youth.

My Rebbe, Rav Noach Weinberg ztl, said to me, Never forget how amazing it is to simply be part of Am Israel. I once got in an argument with him over whether kiruv was really focused in the right place. I argued that in my generation it is exceedingly rare to find someone who is passionate, who cares at all. All this talk about saving the Jewish people would fall on deaf ears, instead the message should be solely personal enrichment by Jewish teachings. He told me, “Make sure you can make them passionate, get them to care.” Hillel blew the famous clarion call, “If not me, then who? If not now, when?” Rav Noah expected everyone to be on the front lines and to answer the call.

I met a Jew while skydiving near the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney, Australia who taught me that no matter where you come from, all that matters is where you are going. In Hong Kong and Sydney, I bumped into a doctor (three times across continents in grocery markets, what hashgacha pratis!) who invited me to meet his wonderful family for Shabbos in Melbourne. On my return from China in Los Angeles airport, I asked the guy sitting next to me what time it was. He responded with an Australian accent and so we started to schmooze. Turns out, he is a Jew in university who lived close to where I stayed with a warm Rabbi and his awesome family and we spoke about Jewish views on business. A few weeks after my return to America, I was on the subway heading towards Brooklyn and the guy next to me said a few words in Hebrew on his phone. We started to talk and it happened that he grew up with the Aish Rabbi of Melbourne I spent Shabbos with. The world is a tiny place, do not let the size fool you.

Then after the highs of traveling, I returned to America to decide what to do next. I turned 22 on March 7th while visiting my parents in Boca Raton and the next day I got accepted to Harvard for graduate school. I was soaring, my life was exactly on course to becoming what I always wanted to be. I went back to Eretz Israel for Pesach to be by my Rosh haYeshiva, Rav Hillel Weinberg shlita. If you have not yet met the new Rosh Yeshiva of Aish, he is a Talmud Hacham par excellence and who has profoundly influenced me with his middos, advice, and sensitivity. After a month in Israel (with stories involving ruach hakodesh that I witnessed with Rav David Abuchetzera shlita, of the Baba Sali’s family and receiving brachos from Rav Elyashiv shlita), we spoke about the direction of my life. I really thought about it and decided that what I needed was at least another year in yeshiva and that Harvard could wait. If you know of someone going through the same debate or your child decides to push off higher education, I would be honored to explain to you the pros and cons and relieve any parents fears.

Which leads us to a new chapter in my life: shidduchim. I started my search for my bashert quite unprepared, thinking this was like any other competition in my life. Oh was I naive! I have never gone through such a character building, soul searching, and emotionally charged experience so far. Before exploring this part of my life, if I could not quantify it on a balance sheet or a logical flow chart, I tried to ignore it. Getting in touch with my emotions, attempting to be sensitive and nurturing for another human being, willing to give all that I have for the betterment of another is an amazingly tough time. Yes shidduchim are tough, being rejected is not walk in the park (and far worse is saying no to someone else), feeling as though you are being judged, investigated for your past (especially as a BT), and having your life questioned are part of the process. But with the right attitude, it becomes a cleansing process where you start to appreciate who you are a lot more and also what you have to offer your future soulmate. However, I have never felt more close to Hashem, feeling His guidance in all of this. I have also never fully appreciated Jewish women until now, every girl I have met so far is a diamond. Shidduchim has had me go through a paradigm shift when looking at my fellow Jews. We are all one family, and like I always look at my mother as the most beautiful woman only out for my best, I started to see the girls I am meeting as such as well. They are kind, sweet, smart, tznius, yirei shamyim, and all around phenomenal people. Mi K’Amecha Israel, Who is like you Israel?

I continue to daven that everyone single find their zivug emes very soon. Bezras Hashem, we should merit quickly the reestablishment of Beis David, our majestic capital city of our hearts and souls, and this upcoming Tisha B’Av be a day of celebration and preparation for the Tu B’Av where everyone will find their bashert!

The Shy Student: An Adventure in Shidduchim

by Ross Kryger

Every character trait has its benefits and detriments. On my very first day in Israel, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, I decided to visit a popular tourist site called “The Wailing Wall” (whatever that was). Glancing around, I was intrigued by so many people praying outdoors, and although I wondered could be on the other side of this impressive structure, my eye was on the ramp. What could be up there? I thought, totally unaware that my “invisible impurities” presented any type of barrier from my finding out. I slowly ascended the ramp, and when I almost reached the top, I was suddenly halted by an exceedingly tall man holding a large brown robe. “In order to come up here,” he whispered in a rather demanding tone, “you must put this on.” I was confused, but I was also a bit shy by nature. I did not ask the reason, and I did not want to put on his robe, which anyway was about three sizes too large. I looked downward and subtly shook my head, then turned away and quickly returned to ground level. I remember that months later in yeshiva, upon hearing an Eliahu HaNavi story, I thought about this strange man.

My best friend landed in a BT yeshiva two years before I arrived in Israel, and although I now accepted his invitation after graduating college to visit him, I had no desire to meet his other orthodox comrades. Being a shy stranger in a strange land, I stuck closely with him, and eventually started paying attention to some of the ideas I was learning. I extended my stay (from two months to just over four years) and for the first eight months, we spent every Shabbos together. I was friendly to everyone in the yeshiva and made a few acquaintances, but after my best friend transferred to another yeshiva in a different town, I felt lost. While it didn’t affect my learning all that much, I wasn’t able, on my own, to gain the emotional support I sorely needed. My family at home was understandably hostile over my absence at my brother’s church wedding, and my decision to remain in Israel during the Gulf War sent matters spiraling downward.

I was never one to make conversation easily. I was the Haggadah son who didn’t know what to ask, so I rarely had any occasion to approach a rabbi about anything. The rabbaim were always friendly and polite, but I was missing that necessary deeper connection. Many times I would notice another student sitting at a table and talking with a rabbi for an hour or more, wondering what they could possibly be talking about, and feeling a twinge of jealousy over not having the same attention. Even learning with a chavrusa was somewhat difficult. Although much of the time I understood the basic meaning in the Gemorrah, I never offered an argument or a different perspective, but rather found myself nodding my head to any type of logic presented (perhaps to some guys, I would be a dream chavrusa!) Hillel says in Pirchei Avos that a student who is too shy will never learn, and I certainly have no doubt that I missed out on countless opportunities.

By far, the parsha of shidduchim was the most difficult. After noticing for a while that guys who have been in the yeshiva as long as me were either getting engaged or actively dating, I approached a rebbe who knew somewhat of my family circumstances, and sheepishly asked him when I should consider starting. He stared at me incredulously and said, “You’re not dating yet?!” The words, “I was waiting for you to tell me when and how to begin” luckily didn’t escape from my mouth, as the last thing I needed was a rebbe who thought I was full of chutzpah. He then gave me the name of a few shadchanim and their addresses, and told me I could later give him a name to check out. I was a little curious that he didn’t discuss with me about the process in general, or even if I was ready.

Most shadchanim smiled when I informed them that in my “former” life, I never had a girlfriend (it seems my shyness turned out to be an asset after all.). Although they offered me names of girls from all types of families, I was most excited to hear the names of BT girls. I really wanted someone who could understand me, and where I was coming from in life. She would have a spiritual side, and we could grow together. (I’ll give away the ending—I married a wonderful FFB, but the contrast in our married life is for a different article, perhaps.) The first name I received was of a BT girl, and I passed it on to my rebbe, who told me to go out for now, and he would check her out. The shadchan set up the date, and I just needed to take a bus and meet the girl at a hotel. What a great system for a guy like me! On the designated night, I was a little nervous, and arrived at the hotel. There were four girls standing outside. They all looked at me, waiting for me to do something. Since I couldn’t pick out the girl myself from the lineup, I was at a loss for the proper protocol. Luckily, one of them finally decided with a grimace that I just couldn’t be her date, and walked away (well, excuse me!) With great embarrassment, I chose one of the remaining three at random, and stammered, “Are-are-y-you Sh-sh-shoshana?” “No, I’m not,” she replied firmly. I was somewhat relieved, as she was about five inches taller than me. The real Shoshana slightly smiled and introduced herself. She seemed to be knowledgeable in this system, as she explained that this happens quite often. We left the final contestant outside (presumably brokenhearted) and found a quiet table in the lobby.

I sat down, and she sat down. I nodded, and she nodded. I smiled, and so did she. How long was this date supposed to be? I really don’t know what I had expected a date to be like, but pathetically, guys like me need a manual. Was there one under the table? Little did I know that I was expected to…talk. And talk. Certainly not my area of expertise. The date was on the short side (I know it was, because when we left the hotel, contestant number three was still waiting for her date). The next morning, I was more than a little surprised when my rebbe quietly remarked, “The date was how long?” But I must have done something right, because she agreed to go out again. Then the floor completely fell through. My rebbe informed me of certain information which might effect this shidduch, and advised me not to continue. I had no problem with that, but then I stupidly (!) passed this on to the shadchan, and somehow it got back to the girl who traced the information to its original source. I still remember the dreadful conversation with that rebbe, who was understandably livid, to say the least, and hinted that I should find someone else to consult with. I was devastated. (Not to mention disgusted over the pain I must have caused the girl.) And now I was totally alone. This was my introduction to the world of shidduchim.

After a break, I did start dating again, but every date was so exhausting, and keeping the conversation going was worse than heavy manual labor. Things would inevitable fizzle out. I also had nobody to talk to in the yeshiva. In addition, it was very hard for me to say the word “No” to a shadchan. It was all quite confusing. Soon after, I made a decision to return to America, and entered a yeshiva in Brooklyn, far from my hometown. My issues with shidduchim followed me there, and to make matters worse, I actually had to call the girl before we went out! There were guys who told me that they spent four or five hours on the phone with a girl, and I couldn’t imagine how this was possible. (I once spent two hours on the phone, but that was when my insurance company put me on hold.) And then, after an actual date, I had to make the decision, of course, by myself.

Another problem which came up is that I began to develop stereotypes. Even though looking back, I feel that every girl that I dated, without exception, was a special person, I really did not feel that a Brooklyn FFB girl would be able to understand me at all. For whatever unfortunate reason this came about, I really did not want to pursue such a shidduch, but again, I found it too hard to say “No”. (It would be a great punch line to say that my wife is from Brooklyn. She’s not. Sorry.) Overall, my career in shiddichum lasted for six long years. Luckily, I never became depressed or despaired, although I couldn’t figure out how guys became engaged. It was like a huge mountain. When I did finally become engaged, I saw that the whole process entailed enormous siyata d’shmaya, and I guessed that up in Heaven, they were tired of watching me go through this.) The first few dates were quite a lot of work for me, but I just kept plowing through. On my last date, we were driving through my hometown, and she casually remarked, “If you’re waiting for me, I’m ready.” I grasped the steering wheel. It was the closest I ever came in my driving career to hitting a tree. We’re now married with six children.

Everyone knows that the biggest rule in shidduchim (besides serious davening) is that one must have someone with whom to consult. In BT yeshivas, a guy is fortunate if he makes that vital connection with a rebbe with whom he feels comfortable. If the guy feels the rebbe understands him, then he’ll take the leap of trust in the rebbe’s judgment, even if it seems that he personally would do the opposite of what the rebbe says. People do make mistakes, but a guy must trust someone, and as my Rosh HaYeshiva once said, one has siyata d’shmaya when he listens to his rebbe. But not everyone is so lucky, especially guys like me. Sometimes it’s not easy for us too search out the help we need. We find the same occurs in school age kids. Many times, a rebbe might not concern himself with a student because it seems like he’s doing just fine…he never complains, he does everything right, and he sits so quietly in class. How many students have fallen through the cracks because in reality, they were not doing just fine, and could’ve have really used some attention? Many are just ashamed to ask. Guys in a BT yeshiva are like school age kids. They’re in a somewhat new environment, and are learning just like the school age kids. And they all need attention, especially when it comes to shidduchim.

The yeshiva must make sure every guy has appointed to him a mentor or a rebbe when he begins to date. Every guy must be accounted for, everyday of his yeshiva years. (There must also be a service provided through an organization for single guys who are not in yeshiva, or living on their own). Sometimes you have one rebbe whose job is too deal with shidduchim, and guys need to make appointments to speak with him. But that’s very hard, because after a date, a guy needs someone to speak with NOW. Having hanging indecision for a lengthy period can also be detrimental.

The fact is that practically, there aren’t too many solutions to this problem. But I think that everyone who is employed a BT yeshiva should, before he goes to work, sit on the floor with his legs crossed and eyes closed (like the Jews in India before they discover Jerusalem and yiddishkeit) and repeat over and over, “He has no family, he has no support, he is alone.” Or can they can just repeat this mantra in their heads while surveying the beis midrash and finding at random a guy to shmooze with about his life. Even if the guy seems he’s doing just fine. BT yeshivas are filled with rabbeim who understand human nature and can guide others according to the Torah, and everyone should have strong connection with one.

As we watch our families grow, may we always merit the proper guidance and may we only share simchas together.

A Modest Proposal for Ending the Shidduch Crisis (with apologies to Jonathan Swift)

Over the past few months I’ve started going to a shidduch club. Eshewing the traditional matchmaker model, our club essentially conducts a good natured swap meet for humans, each of us describing one or several singles we know, in the hope that someone listening will come forward with their beshert.

Aside from our fastitidous attention to the laws of proper speech—all singles are described anonymously with a contact person’s phone number to locate them, what I like best about our club is its openness. We handle anyone—and I really mean anyone. Ashkenazi, Sefardi. Litvish, Chassidic, national religious, young, old, short , tall, healthy people and people challenged by physical or mental handicap, even fat people (whom have the hardest time of all) . We like to think that everyone deserves to find his or her beshert and no one is ever turned away.

It is a heady undertaking. When the meeting ends—it takes about two hours in total, I’ve got a notebook full of descriptions of eligibles and strains of Oh Yishama running through my brain.

But then I phone up the Mom’s of singles that I know to “redt” someone I heard about at the meeting and the music in my head abruptly switches off. No one seems to buy what I am trying The answers go something like this:
“No, he’s hassidish (or sefardi or litvish or too young or too old) … Or he/she is too short, small or (worst of all) too heavy. As I put the phone back into the cradle I feel like yelling.. What is going on here??. I feel like yelling. Doesn’t my friend realize that her daughter is thirty five years old.What is she expecting will happen??

Look I’m not naïve. I know that today the Jewish people is a tapestry of diverse groups each with its own subculture, but c’mon….

It isn’t forbidden for an ashkenzi to marry a sefardi or a litvak a hassid or a tall girl to marry a short boy or anyone to marry anyone fat—and unlike ethnicity, weight can be changed.

I”d venture to say that a change in our shidduch mentality would probably promote better health overall. If we readjusted our concept of beauty to include the fuller figure, eating disorders would quickly disappear just as if more ethnic intermarriage would minimize the incidences of Tay Sachs, Guachers and other Ashkenazi genetic scourges.

People who don’t share a common ethnicity( or body type or body size) aren’t necessarily high risk for divorce. Of course, couples need to be attracted and to communicate but people have many different points of contact. A couple may share a love of music or hiking and we all share a common legacy the Torah which provides more than enough to talk about.

This kind is the fuel thinking (he’s too litvish, she’s too fat) is the fuel behind the current much touted shidduch crisis. I know several no longer young women who have been waiting for Mr. ethnically and religiously “right” for so long that they have probably lost their chance to become mothers.

It is especially infuriating to watching my BT friends following their FFB mentors in adapting this narrow minded and self destructive mindset, even more so when one considers that our secular brethren hook up with people from any ethnic or religious background.( although they too are prejudiced against the scale challenged) .

If we want to insure our survival and by that I mean, giving the maximum number of our people a chance to procreate we are going to have to rethink our shidduch choices. Who knows what that may create. Ashkesfards, chassido-litvaks, a new appreciation for the Rubens figure and other interesting developments .Vive la revolution.

Anxious Ima has started a blog at A Thin Thread of Faith.

Should a Single Observant Woman in Her 30s Consider a Non Observant Spouse?

Last week, Rachel, a columnist in the Jewish Press (Chronicles of Crises in Our Communities), published a letter from an older single in which she is considering marry a not yet observant spouse. Here is a relevant excerpt:

Recently I started dating someone who is considering becoming religious, to conduct a Torah household when he is married; however, not at this point in time. This is someone I truly like and can see myself with. He is kind, generous, smart, funny, honest, serious and mature. What do I do? He is not the type of person that comes around often. I am not oblivious to the consequences when children are in the picture; education and lifestyle need to be considered. I would like to raise them in a similar fashion to my upbringing, but I know that I will have to take a chance with their religious education.

I have finally met someone whom I can relate to and admire and can live with what more can I consider right now? I am aware that it is usually the more religious minded partner in a relationship who will end up changing, rather than the “left”-minded one. I just have to make a decision – knowing that there is the realistic probability that I may not have Shabbos Zemiros or Torah conversations at the table. Perhaps I will need to compromise more on the actual halachos than the Spirit of the law.

I am taking the risks quite seriously and the pros on my list do not outweigh the cons. This is something many of the women of my generation are considering and yes, it is sad in a way, that dating has come to this point. But what am I to do?

This week, Rachel published her response to the writer in which she seems to advise against marrying a non observant man.

Here is a relevant excerpt:

You claim to be G-d-fearing, religious and serious. Surely, then, you take your religion seriously. You feel that matchmakers are not as concerned with you (older singles) as with the younger generation. Do you mean to say that you have actually entertained the thought that your Maker, the Arbiter of all matchmakers, is less interested in you than in the younger generation? Believe purely and simply that nothing is beyond His capability; beseech Him purely and simply to guide you in the right direction; rely on Him whole- heartedly to lead you where you were meant to go and He will relieve you of the enormous burden of uncertainty.

If all your friend can offer is a “maybe one day I’ll think about becoming observant,” your projection as to how your future with him will play out may prove prophetic. Notwithstanding that the choice is yours to make, be forewarned that the consequences of that choice will be with you a lifetime − and the hands of the clock cannot ever be turned back.

If it is children you yearn for, consider the option of becoming a foster or adoptive parent to a child who has already been brought into the world but has been shortchanged and is in desperate need of a mother’s love and nurturing. The satisfaction and benefits of such an arrangement can be vastly fulfilling.

I was in a similar situation (although divorced and with kids) and I did marry a non-observant man. He is still not observant. We are an older couple so we have no children together. All our previous kids are now grown up.

Do you agree with Rachel? What would you do?

– Phyllis

The Parental Shidduch Crisis

By “Reuven”

Let me make something clear from the outset. The crisis I’m addressing is not “out there.” It’s very alive within ME. There’s a very definite, if not controlled panic that is building up within my kishkes. The kind that slowly but surely weighs down the whole system til it becomes effectively dysfunctional.

Oh, I still eat decently (though inconsistently) and socially interact with aplomb. But a growing sub-experience is smoldering anger, bitter disappointment and at times just plain mental cracking, which naturally gets in the way of my learning seder and employment searches, responses to “how’s life?” and ability to pray seriously without breaking down in a sob. And let’s not even speak of my sleep!

But please don’t misunderstand me. This is not a classic religious crisis. I have no doubts as to the Alm-ghty’s existence. Rather I feel as clear about His reality as Avraham probably would have after ACTUALLY doing the Akeida! It’s a sense of betrayal, on the highest level.

You see, I’ve come so far. Left so much for His sake. Worked so hard to clarify the theological and moral imperatives for serving Him. I invested valiantly in raising an exemplary family; in encouraging the kids to go all out for r-e-a-l-l-y living the truth of Torah. And they came through. They’ve truly made us proud, in the best way. The problem is that the older ones are now reaching the age of independence…

And G-d said: “Thou shalt find them Shidduchim!”

Well not exactly. In fact I didn’t hear Him say that at all. Actually I heard him whisper the opposite. Way back when I found my beshert without any third party. And G-d seemed so very, very pleased. So what in the world is this very spoken about unspoken rule about me having to find my son’s Shidduch??

Oy, the irony. The worst part of my crisis is that the kids are all such fine “catches.” The Rebbe and their teachers and our community members all tell us that. And I don’t doubt it. Bla”h, they excel in school, exude diligence, interpersonal sensitivity, humor and faith. Most importantly they each, in their own way, strive to be as Jewishly pure as possible. So, you see, I can’t just pair them up with the child of the BT next door.

They need “real” shidduchim!

Do I sound cynical? I’m trying hard to. Because while I could easily speak of all the wonders and grace in this holy system, I’m literally getting sick and tired of it. Just last month, after having seen tremendous signs of Hashgacha (Providence) in how the father of the same girl that my 17 yr. old daughter recently noted seemed like a perfect match for her older brother (and we quickly confirmed upon a little investigation), just “happened” to ride a bus with him and was so impressed by “speaking in learning” with him that he insisted in speaking with friends of ours about considering him for a chassan. But now the word is that his hands are tied since his wife insists on marrying her daughter to a miyuchas (nobly descended) family!

Believe me, that’s just the last straw. It’s been building up since we began to settle in to established Yiddishkeit. So that’s why I chose to write this. It’s a pressure release. Call it airing out my dark side…

Doesn’t G-d realize this “religious” ethic of parents-must-find-their-children’s-soulmate is torture for idealists? It was one thing to want the best of the best in search for my wife and Rebbe. But now also for these so precious, young Yidden about whom I most definitely am handicapped in taking the bull by the horn? People say “you must compromise.” Very nice when you’re speaking for yourself. But what if I steer my boy wrong? Maybe the couple needs to experience the wonder of stumbling upon one another. Maybe he needs to exercise that manly sense of hunting, stalking and catching his prey. Maybe they need to cry a little together in uncertainty over when exactly to tie the knot.

But of course all these thoughts are totally against the rules.

Did I say rules? Hmm. I guess that’s what I mean by crisis. It’s starting a dominoe effect. I’m now beginning to critically review so many other rules in this holy society that just don’t seem to be, dare I say, so holy.

Please help me, dear friends, if you have any insights / words of encouragement.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match…

By “MG”

While on some level, my mom probably still has the idea in the back of her head that I am going about my daily business with an inner monologue singing for someone slender and pale and waiting for a telephone call from The Matchmaker with “The One”, she acknowledges that she doesn’t _actually_ think that’s _actually_ how things work… Anymore.

As it turns out, Baruch HaShem, shidduchim was one of the first topics that I explained to my mom that she thought was a good idea. Goal-oriented dating with marriage in mind was something she approved of. It sounded like a good approach. She didn’t seem to be caught up in an idea that it was outdated, and she understood it for its practical relevance.

So, thank G-d, my mom is supportive of my approach in dating. And she’s interested in being helpful. “Mom, I’ve been thinking about the characteristics that I need in a husband. What do you think?” is a beginning of a conversation with her. She is also thoughtful and insightful in her responses to questions on some of my best characteristics. I’m grateful for the relationship that we have.

While this is good, I don’t think that it is enough to get me, as a BT, through the phase of shidduchim.

As a BT ‘in the parsha’, I find that my experience is vastly different from the experiences of others in the parsha in my community. Of the families who I am reasonably close with who have been blessed to be involved in recent wedding celebrations, it seems that the majority of matches have been made through family members, chevrusas, or other friends of the family. In other words, it’s a small enough Jewish world that the natural Jewish networking (likely combined with a fair dose of parental advocacy—‘Do you know anyone for my Rivkele?’) is sufficient, baruch HaShem, to create many happily married couples.

This network is also something extremely helpful for checking references. A parent checking out a potential match for a child may already know the potential match’s rebbi or the staff at the camp where the potential match was a counselor. With a personal connection established, maybe directly, maybe through a close intermediary, more information can flow more freely about the appropriateness of the suggested match.

As a BT, I have not had a lifetime full of connections in the frum world, and my network seems to be relatively small.

Practically speaking, when it comes to shidduchim, I need to outsource a few different things that would otherwise be done ‘in house’—in the family.

I have to actively think about how to expand my network or access the networks of others, and I need to solicit and make myself available to shidduch suggestions.

I need mentorship in the shidduch process in general and in investigating individual matches.

I need someone who will check references of the men suggested to me.

I need a personal advocate who will be on my side throughout the trials of the process.

Some of these roles can be played by friends and mentors that I have in the community. And the last one can be played in part by my family (frum or not) and select friends. But in some senses, the all-too-easy default option, is to take on myself, as many of these roles as possible.

While that may be convenient for a while and have the advantage of minimizing my obligation to others, I worry that it is not a sustainable model. When I put my energies into shidduchim and fill these various roles, I sometimes feel like I am working four jobs. Personally, professionally, physically, socially, and spiritually, I sustain myself and try to grow. I serve as my own network advocate. I call references, ask questions, and get more phone numbers in order to track down the connection through which the information will best flow. And I encourage and advocate for myself, saying, ‘You’re one phone call closer! Aren’t you excited to find out all the great things about this guy?!’

I’m not sure that it’s possible to do things this way, and if it is, I don’t think that it’s the best idea. I think that many other BTs are facing similar challenges. These BTs would benefit from a lot of different types of assistance in navigating shidduchim. If you want to help someone you know, there is more than one way to do it. If you think you know someone who is appropriate, you could certainly make a suggestion, but if you don’t, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be helpful. Serve as an entry point into ‘The Jewish Network’. Maybe you know someone who knows someone who is an appropriate match. Offer to call references. Suggest that if there are any references from your yeshivah or seminary, you would be happy to make the connection. Be a mentor for the shidduch process in general. Be a more general source of support, or suggest someone who could play that role.

Jewish marriages involving BTs happen between people who are living in distant states and between people who may have grown up in different countries from where they were when they developed into who they are today. As such, it takes more than just one matchmaker/person to bring together the zivugim that HaShem calls out. You can choose any of several ways to partner with HaShem to help bring these matches together.

Matchmaking: Not just for Yenta anymore.

What No One Wants to Talk About

Beyond Teshuva is now just about a a year and a half old. I think we,as a community, have done some great things. We’ve pretty much taken at least some small steps in the direction of our tag line “learning growing, giving”. Our posts have pretty much run the gamut from noserings to sartorial splendor, economic pressures to “Big Fat Secular weddings”. However, there’s one area that I consistently see us failing to address and that is the issue of singles, dating and marriage. Sure, we’ve often detoured into the area and touched upon it on the periphery of related topics. But, no one seems willing to step up and address it head-on. That “no one” includes me.

Maybe together we can bring the issue to the foreground. I will throw out some questions for discussion and hopefully we can start a meaningful dialogue in the comments. Please get involved by giving your input.

Here goes:

Is there really a singles “crisis”?

If so, how did we get here and how do we address it?

Is the problem more difficult for BTs?

How is dating for BTs different than dating for FFBs, if at all?

In general, should BTs date FFBs?

What are some dating mistakes to avoid?

What is the best advice you would give someone who is dating?

How can singles expand their contacts beyond their own local geographic area?

How can the average married person get more involved in shidduchim?

How does the dating process differ between Eretz Yisrael and Chutz La’Aretz?

*** After writing this post, I saw an advertisement for “The Shadchan Magazine” which is a new magazine that states “Here’s what we’re doing about the shidduch crisis” and says “You don’t have to be a shadchan to make a sgidduch. The website is here. Has anyone seen the magazine? Any thoughts?

Book Review: Shidduch Secrets

I was browsing the Aish website one day when I came across an article called “The Pickiness Factor”, the article was a shorter version of the first half of the book “Shidduch Secrets” written by Leah Jacobs and Shaindy Marks. I found certain aspects of this article to ring true to me and I decided to order the book.

The first part of the book focuses on blocks that might be getting in the way of someone trying to find his/her soulmate. At the end of each chapter, the authors list four or five questions that pertain to a particular block. The reader is supposed to think carefully about whether each question applies to him/her. There are no right or wrong answers, as long as you are honest. You could find that one or two blocks completely apply to you or you might find that you have elements of more than 1-2 blocks that you have to work on. It is important to keep these blocks in mind for the 2nd part of the book.

In the 2nd part of the book, the authors ask you to write down a list of what you want in your soulmate, you can write down anything that comes to mind. Eventually, you will have your list of Top 10 character traits that you are looking for in a potential spouse. The authors go over ways to decide which traits are the most important on your list. After the list, the final chapters focus on: how to date using your Top 10 list; how to naviagate going to a matchmaker;, what questions you should ask of your dates in the beginning stages; how to proceed if you come across issues in the dating process (if you find out something not so nice about your date).

Throughout the book, the authors use stories from their clients to illustrate their points. I like that approach because in most cases you can relate to these stories and you have an easier time understanding the ideas behind the book. Anyone who is dating for the purpoes of marriage or who knows of anyone dating for the purpose of marriage should read this book.

The Shidduchim Process – Marrying Off Your Children – Rabbi Yaakov Haber – Mp3

Today we’re posting an audio file from the Life After Teshuva conference, by Rabbi Yaakov Haber titled “The Shidduchim Process – Marrying Off Your Children”. (Click on the link to listen or to download the audio file to your computer, click with the right mouse button on the link and select Save Target As.)

One of the insights that Rabbi Haber offers is that in the FFB world, there was a “business deal” aspect to Shidduchim. I know from friends who recently married off children that the financial arrangements for the beginning years of marriage are a major issue, especially if the boy is learning and the girl is finishing school, and it makes sense that we should be aware of this reality.

But the major point that Rabbi Haber makes in this audio is his suggestion that due to culture similiarities, he feels that the best matches are a BT to BT, or a child of a BT to a child of a BT. He brings support for his position and acknowledges that it caused much controversy when he presented it at an Agudah convention in about 1986, but at the time of this talk in 2001, he still stuck firmly by his position.

We all know of many BT-FFB and other cross-cultural success stories, Rabbi Haber makes it clear that he isn’t saying that it can’t work, just that it makes the most sense to keep cultural differences to a minimum when searching for shidduchim.

Give the audio a listen and let us know what you think.

Shidduch Considerations – Seeing Challenges As Opportunities for Growth

My parents are divorced. No one else in my family is frum. I have a lot of non-Jewish cousins. Unfortunately, but realistically, my brothers will probably marry non-Jewish women. I live very far away from the rest of my family, seeing them about once a year.

All of these things are not normative in the frum community. Therefore, they are marks against me on the “shidduch market.” You often hear people say they want a girl from a “good” family, someone who has a great relationship with their relatives, someone not from a “broken” home. So, there are times when guys are suggested for me, and after doing a bit of research, they decide they don’t want to go out with me. Based on all these things that are not me, they are my family.

I agree that having these hurdles in life is difficult, and it certainly does make an impact. But the impact it had for me was to make me a stronger person. I learned how to work through my challenges, how to face adversity and make the best of it. How to carve my own life and my own destiny in the image that I feel is the right one.
Read more Shidduch Considerations – Seeing Challenges As Opportunities for Growth

How Do You Chose a Shadchan?

A friend writes in the following:

Here’s a question that has become increasingly relevant to our family of late. How do you chose a Shadchan?

Here’s the nitty gritty of our question. We are basically a yeshivish family (kollel, chinuch career) yet have been open minded in encouraging our daughter to attend college. We have done so in part because of our awareness that it will help her make ends meet, and partly because she’s very bright and really needed to do this. She would have been a misery her whole life having a mindless job. The first encounter with a teacher in our daughter’s school who has been instrumental in helping many girls find their bashert was eye-opening. My wife and I both got the sense that since we didn’t fully “go along with the whole program” (ie. no college, only strive for a guy who wants a kollel lifestyle), the school doesn’t fully respect or understand us.

So the question is, are there shadchanim out there, who are essentially Bais Yaakov minded, who can look at a girl who has gone to college, and will continue post graduate school, who wants a guy that is quite frum and intends to earn a living from the start of the marriage, and take her seriously? Going to my past Rosh Kollel for guidance on this one is not an option for obvious reasons.

Denial & Balance in Dating & Beyond

I remember laughing at a cartoon (New Yorker magazine?) years ago of a yuppie-looking man and woman meeting at a party, both with expressions of obvious excitement on their faces. The thought-bubble above the man read: “Sex object.” The thought-bubble above the woman read: “Meal ticket.”

Obviously, a match made in heaven.

While that image was intended to poke fun at modern romance and mores, I want to use it here in just the opposite way.
Read more Denial & Balance in Dating & Beyond

Reverse Discrimination in Dating

A friend of mine who is also a BT was recently dating a guy who was frum from birth. She really liked his personality, his enthusiasm and his sense of humor. There seemed to be a lot going for them as a couple, which is why they were introduced in the first place. But she had a real problem relating to him on one level – he had never had much to do with the secular world, had never had secular or non-Jewish relatives; and that was a very important part of her life.

My friend is very close with her non-religious family. She grew up with some frum friends and a lot of non-frum and non-Jewish ones, many of whom she is still in touch with. She thinks it’s extremely important that whoever she marries feels comfortable going to her family for non-religious holidays, occasional Shabbosim and family events.
Read more Reverse Discrimination in Dating

Shidduchim, the Dating Scene at Penn, and the Baalat Teshuva

If you can’t tell by now, I go to a secular university, but one that has a quite large frum population (around 300 including both undergrads and grads). The community is very Modern Orthodox, so shidduchim don’t happen around here so much. We’re all stuck on this campus for four years, and thus if anyone is dating, it is usually another person from within the Penn community. And although 300 is a big number, that means there are about 150 frum people of the opposite gender, and if you take out the people who are taken, and then the people who you would never date, and those that would never date you, it turns into a very small number, which may or may not be equivalent to 0.
Read more Shidduchim, the Dating Scene at Penn, and the Baalat Teshuva