Navigating the shidduch parsha can be akin to traversing a vast forest in the dead of night with no torch in hand. As a result, decisions are made, often inadvertently, that may be counterproductive or even harmful. It is my hope to shed light on a few areas of concern that have presented themselves recently. B’ezras Hashem, these ideas, based on many conversations with those involved in shidduchim for decades, will help guide those of us who are trying to navigate the shidduch parsha as well as increase dating opportunities for our singles.
A Tale of Hashgacha
The following story was recently told to me, and I would like to begin with sharing it here in order to help illustrate a very important point.
A friend of Reb Shlomo Carlebach received a personal invitation to attend a wedding taking place at Reb Shlomo’s shul that night. It would be a great zechus to attend this wedding, he was told, as there was a special story behind it. The man happily agreed, and after the wedding was over, Reb Shlomo told him the following story.
Some time before, Reb Shlomo was on a flight and got up to ask for a drink. To his amazement, he saw a stewardess standing in the back davening intensely, with a siddur in her hand. After she finished, he said, “I saw you were davening, I never met a religious stewardess before.” The woman replied, “Actually, I converted to Judaism,” and she proceeded to tell Reb Shlomo her story. It was clear that the stewardess was both deeply sincere and passionate about her commitment to Yiddishkeit.
The young woman then asked Reb Shlomo if he could possibly help her with a delicate situation. A friend of hers had set her up with a nice Jewish man, and after a few dates it was obvious that they were perfect for each other. However, when his parents found out that she was a convert, they forbade their son from seeing her any more. “Maybe if you give his father a call, you could change his mind?” she asked.
Reb Shlomo happily obliged, but when he called, the father immediately responded, “It is not subject to discussion. I have only one son, and being that I went through the war, I have a responsibility to my family who perished to carry on the tradition in the best way. This does not include my son marrying someone who just became Jewish a few months ago. I don’t know her intentions. I just want my son to marry a nice Jewish woman from a regular Jewish family like ours.” Reb Shlomo tried his best to have the father reconsider, commending the true sincerity of the converted stewardess, but he was unsuccessful, and it seemed the case was closed.
Several months later, Reb Shlomo received a phone call from the stewardess with some astonishing news. Two days earlier, she had been informed that her mother was near death and had a request to make. Not having been in touch with her mother since her decision to convert, she was not even aware that her mother was sick, let alone dying.
Upon entering the hospital room, her mother made a strange appeal: “Please promise to bury me in a Jewish cemetery.”
Shocked, she asked her mother, “Why? And why are you asking me? Ask Dad to do it.”
Her mother responded, “I can’t trust him to do it. You see, we never told you, but really we are Jewish. After we survived the Holocaust and made it to America, we made a firm commitment never to reveal that we were Jewish. Your father always worried that there would come a time when it would happen again. We raised you the way we did because we thought it would be for your benefit. However, it was a mistake. Please, bury me properly as a Jew.”
Exhilarated by this astounding news, she asked Reb Shlomo to please call the father again and explain to him that she was, in fact, Jewish from birth. Reb Shlomo called, but the father was very skeptical and continued to refuse to hear about the shidduch. “Please,” said Reb Shlomo, “Let’s be reasonable. What if I come to your house with her and her father? If you would just briefly meet them, I am sure you will be convinced.”
The father agreed, and the three of them arrived at the house. When the door opened, the two fathers looked at each other in shock. “Yaakov, is that really you?” the stewardess’s father whispered.
“Moshe?” whispered the boy’s father. Suddenly, they were in each other’s arms, laughing and crying, hardly daring to believe what had just transpired. These two men had been childhood friends who grew up together in the same shtetl.
“Yaakov,” said Moshe, “Do you remember our pact?”
“We promised one another that when we get married and have children of our own...”
“Oh yes,” interrupted Yaakov. “We promised that if one of us had a boy and the other a girl, we would marry them off to each other. Well,” Yaakov laughed, “It looks like it’s time to keep our promise.”
“And that,” Reb Shlomo concluded, “is how we ended up dancing at this wedding tonight.”
Hashgacha versus Bechira
What a breathtaking glimpse of Hashem’s hashgacha, and how it is truly He who is running the world at all times. But what also struck me was that, had this man’s father continued to refuse the shidduch, it might have never reached its fruition. What would have happened if the father continued to refuse to hear about the shidduch, even after being informed that the woman was, in fact, “from a regular Jewish family like ours,” just as he wanted? Had he refused to take even a few minutes to meet the woman and her father, it is very possible, al derech hateva, that the story would have never reached its beautiful conclusion.
Recently, I heard Rabbi Shraga Neuberger say that “both hashgacha and bechira play a major role in shidduchim.” Of course, there is unbelievable hashgacha in every shidduch, but we can also use our bechira to choose to push away the hashgacha. Shidduchim are no different than any other area of life, where we are given the keys to make our own decisions how to act. Hashem can drop a shidduch in someone’s lap, and that person can just as easily cast it aside, as the father in our story nearly did.
Over the past months I have been become aware of a recurring theme, shared by active shadchanim, dabblers in shidduchim, and regular community members who have tried to redt a shidduch: After meeting a single, they receive many phone calls and emails from the parents, sometimes in distress, asking them to please get a date for their child. Most often, the shadchan had indeed made many calls on behalf of this single, only to be given a no. Finally, they get a yes: a yes from a fine family with a fine single. With great excitement, the shadchan calls the parents to inform them of the good news and asks them to look into the shidduch, so the shadchan can in turn get back to the other family. Within a day or two, the shadchan receives a call, and they are told something along these lines:
“Thank you so much for thinking of us! We looked into the family and they seem wonderful, and the young woman/man seems to really be what our son/daughter is looking for. However, I happened to overhear the mother talking one time, and she seemed a little too yeshivish/not quite yeshivish enough.”
Or, “We would like to meet the young man in person first to judge if he can date our daughter,” or “Before we say yes, the young man/woman needs to agree to an extra slate of genetic testing,” or “We absolutely will not allow our daughter to travel for the first date, because we must see the look on the boy’s face when he first sees her,” or “Our son/daughter has to live in Baltimore, and if the other side will not agree to that up front, we will say no,” or “We will not allow our daughter to date any bachur from that yeshiva! But please keep trying for us; we really need you to get a date for our child already.”
Of course we must do proper hishtadlus, and of course we cannot say yes to a potential shidduch if something truly objectionable is discovered. It is only natural for parents to do everything in their power to protect their child. In the same way that we guide our young children away from a hot stove or teach them not to talk to strangers, we also do our best to guide our grown children when it comes to shidduchim.
However, at times, this can lead to our becoming unnecessarily demanding or overly sensitive with our decision-making as we try to select what is best for our children and protect them from potential danger. Any one concern might be perfectly sensible and appropriate in its own right, but when one or two understandable concerns grow into a lengthy list of demands, that is when we can begin to miss the forest for the trees. When we begin to overlook the existence of the most important factors, giving precedence to more minor worries or hakpados, in a search for perfection, that is when our decision-making process can become counterproductive.
We need to ask ourselves, “What is my motivation in passing on this shidduch? Am I being reasonable, or am I going overboard and possibly using my bechira to push away hashgacha?” If one has a true objection to the family or the young man/woman, or, if based on the research, one really just thinks it’s a bad match, even though the family and young person are by all accounts fine people, that is one thing. But if the family is fine, the single is fine, and it sounds like a reasonable match, we must take the suggestion very seriously before rejecting the opportunity.
We cannot supplant G-d in our search for perfection, because perfection does not exist outside of G-d. No person is perfect, and no marriage is perfect. If an opportunity is legitimate and has potential, we owe it to ourselves to consider it earnestly. Each couple will have differences, but if they feel they are right for one another, they will figure out how to compromise and make it work. Our goal should be to truly focus on our children’s needs, not our own, and to strive to always help and guide our children, never to undermine or hold them back.
Our challenge is to accept that we can never know everything, and can never predict what will make our lives go smoothly and what will not. We can imagine what those things are, and we are tasked with doing reasonable and sensible hishtadlus to protect ourselves and our children – “Ushemartem me’od es nafshoseichem” – but it is only Hashem who truly ensures and watches over our future.
Saying No with Sechel
Another aspect of this concern that I would like to address is how it relates to the singles themselves. It is of utmost importance to be careful not only with one’s decision-making but also with the words used when telling a shadchan that one does not want to date, or continue dating, the person to whom he or she was redt. Of course, no one wants to speak negatively about another person, and it is to our credit that we understand that although this person was not right for me, he or she may be right for someone else. It can be challenging, however, to properly articulate why one feels that this person is not right for them. It is something that one might know and feel but that can prove hard to put into words. When that is the case, what is often reported to the shadchan is something along these lines: “You know, he/she is really great, really exactly what I am looking for. This person is going to be a great husband/wife and father/mother, but his/her hobbies are different from mine, so we must be incompatible” or “I was unimpressed with a vort he said on one of our dates” or “She has blond hair, and I prefer brown hair” or “I won’t date anyone shorter than five-foot-five or taller than six-foot-one, so I would like to move on.”
None of us wants to sound mean for saying no to another date, but please know that the responsibility of building up this young man or woman does not fall on your shoulders. Shadchanim do not expect that every young man and woman they set up will get married just because they suggested it. But when a shadchan hears a response like those above, it often leaves them wondering: “You just told me that this person is exactly what you want, will be a great husband/wife and father/mother, but her hair is the wrong color or his hobbies are different from yours, so you want to end it?!”
If one has come to the conclusion that it is time to end it, but can’t quite find the right words to explain their decision, sometimes it is best not to give a specific reason. It can be far more effective to simply say, “Thank you for setting me up. I see why you set me up with him/her, but the attraction and/or emotional connection is just not there.” Making such a statement keeps one from sound unreasonable or picky. On the contrary, it is honest, straightforward, and easy to appreciate and understand.
Additionally, when one does not juxtapose their decision to say no next to all of the virtues of the young man or woman they have been redt to, it stops the shadchan from wondering why this single has chosen to stop dating a person who appears to have all of the major traits that this single had previously stated they wanted in a spouse. By sounding reasonable and secheldik, it prevents alienating the shadchan or giving them the impression that, “this single is just too difficult to work with.”
Finally, when a shadchan has redt a shidduch, and the single is hesitant to go out with the person or to have another date but is going to give it a shot anyway, just to be sure – which is often an excellent thing to do and has led to many a happy marriage – it is crucial to do so feeling sanguine about the opportunity, and to go into it with an open mind, fully considering that this might be the person they will marry. If one of the singles has already decided that this is a bad idea and is walking into the date expecting to end it, it will almost surely be a failed date and a waste of time for both of the singles.
Furthermore, when a single tells the shadchan something along the lines of “My gut tells me that this is a bad idea, but fine, I’ll do it anyway,” it does not leave a great impression. If one is simply unable to feel hopeful about the potential of the shidduch, they are probably better off not going on the date and politely telling the shadchan that they appreciate the shadchan’s efforts but will not be dating or continuing to date this person.
Appreciating the Shadchan’s Point of View
One final point relates to the shadchanim themselves. Not all shadchanim are created equal, and like the rest us, even the best of shadchanim can make mistakes or at times be off-putting. By and large, though, I have found shadchanim to be a very kind and hardworking group of individuals, who devote untold energy to help the singles of klal Yisrael.
It is both fair and logical for shadchanim to focus more of their very limited time and effort on singles with whom they feel they will have greater success and who are easier to work with. No shadchan can help everyone, and it is appropriate that they direct their attention towards those parents and singles whom they feel they can more realistically help – not because they are greedy and only in it for the shadchanus, or because they only want to work on the easiest of situations, but because it is frustrating and tiring to expend time and energy only to be rebuffed for reasons that are quite difficult to grasp.
It is vital to consider all of the work that shadchanim put into getting a yes and how many calls and emails it takes to get that yes. Let us be aware how often shadchanim are implored to find a date for a single they met and how they often absorb the fears and pain of both parents and singles. Lastly, we must be mindful of the fact that shadchanim are often working for a great many singles at once, trying their best for each and every one.
In consideration of the shadchan’s position, let us then appreciate how it feels when a shadchan is told “thanks but no thanks” for reasons that do not appear to add up, and understand why shadchanim will likely focus more of their attention on those parents and singles who are more likely to pursue a shidduch that is sensible sounding, and not turn it away due to extraneous or minor concerns.
The more reasonable and sensible we are, and the more carefully we choose our words, the more opportunities we will most plausibly find coming our way. B’ezras Hashem, may we all be successful in effectively exercising our sechel in the most appropriate way, and combining our proper bechira with Hashem Yisborach’s hashgacha, to see wonderful outcomes for all of klal Yisrael.
Shlomo Goldberger is the Director of The Shidduch Center of Baltimore (www.shidduchcenter.org). He can be reached at 443-955-9887 or shlom