As Difficult as Splitting the Sea

It was a seminal event in our history, one that we mention twice daily in our tefillos.

Less than a week after leaving Mitzrayim, Bnei Yisrael were trapped between a massive army and the Yam Suf. In desperate straits, they cried out to Hashem — and then the sea split.

One of the foremost crises of our generation is a challenge that Chazal compares to the splitting of the sea: finding the right shidduch.

The age gap is considered to be a significant cause of the shidduch crisis. In some segments of the Torah world, the average age of a yeshivah bachur when he enters the sea of shidduchim is several years older than the average age of a girl. Since, baruch Hashem, the community is constantly growing, there are significantly more girls in shidduchim than boys in these communities at any given time.

As discussed at length in recent editions of our newspaper, there has been a concerted effort, under the auspices of leading Rabbanim and Roshei Yeshivos, to try to tackle this issue by urging young men to begin the shidduch process earlier, and for bachurim to be open to marrying individuals older than them.

There is no doubt that narrowing or even eliminating the age gap will be effective in preventing the shidduch crisis from affecting those entering shidduchim. This important idea will, however, do little to aid older singles, and is unlikely in itself to solve the crisis in its entirety.

What is also needed is for far more people to devote time to thinking of and suggesting shidduchim. Few things are as rewarding as playing such a pivotal role in helping build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael, yet there are many reasons why individuals are reluctant about redting a shidduch. Often, people assume that shidduchim should be left to the experts.

While professional shadchanim play a key role in this process, a great many wonderful shidduchim have been successfully suggested by individuals with no prior experience. You don’t have to know everything about the two sides you are trying to bring together. As long as you are truthful about what you do know and encourage the respective families to do their own research. Rack your brains for ideas, and when you are done, take a break — and start again. You may be very surprised what you come up with.

One should never get discouraged if a shidduch is simply brushed off. Sefarim teach us that a set number of shidduchim have to be suggested before the real one can materialize. It isn’t only that you are bringing the right shidduch “one closer” by suggesting a shidduch; even if it is immediately rejected, you are making it possible for the right one to happen.

When Bnei Yisrael arrived at the edge of the Yam Suf, they envisioned various possibilities: Perhaps Hashem would help them and they would somehow continue their way on land into the desert. Perhaps they would successfully defeat the Mitzriyim in battle. Perhaps they would be forced to return to Mitzrayim. What they could not possibly think of was the unimaginable — that the mighty sea would actually split, and they would cross over on dry land.

The Tzelemer Rav, zt”l, taught that the same holds true when it comes to shidduchim. One often thinks that this shadchan or that hishtadlus is the key to the right shidduch. In the end, the shidduch comes via a totally unexpected route.

This concept can also be applied to the rather rigid list of requirements that results in so many rejections. While certain basic stipulations, such as yiras Shamayim and good character traits, are non-negotiable, other demands actually stem from an unrealistic and dangerous obsession with “perfection.”

Hagaon Harav Avraham Yaakov Pam, zt”l, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, would often tell the story of the fellow who came to his Rebbe and told him about a shidduch that had been suggested. The only reason the chassid could think of for not proceeding was: “Perhaps I will find something better.”

“Who says that you will find the metziah [a ‘catch’]?” the Rebbe replied. “Perhaps they will find a metziah in you!”

Well-intentioned but misguided parents often don’t realize that they are being unduly influenced by what would they perceive to be beneficial to their own prestige rather than what would be truly best for their children. Shidduchim must never become a matter of a status symbol.

It is also fundamentally important for our community as a whole to stop the excessive and dangerous focus on externals. From childhood on, our children must be educated that people should be viewed and judged primarily on refinement of character and goodness of heart, and not by how much they weigh or how tall they are.

Another unfortunate myth that is still given credence in some circles is the shallow notion that a wealthy shidduch is the key to long-term Torah learning.

Chazal (Pesachim 49) state that a person “should sell everything he owns and marry the daughter of a talmid chacham.” Yet these very talmidei chachamim struggle to marry off their daughters because they lack material wealth.

A wealthy shidduch has become a status symbol, as if marrying a rich girl somehow confirms that a chassan is a “top catch” and a “serious learner.” In reality, those who marry into wealthy homes are not any more likely to remain in learning long-term or go into chinuch than those who marry into families where mesirus nefesh for Torah learning is the highest priority.

Determined to save his mother’s marriage, the Chofetz Chaim turned down offers of huge dowries, and despite the strenuous objections of much of the family, married his stepfather’s daughter from a previous marriage.

In later years, while discussing shidduchim, the Chofetz Chaim told of a friend who had been considered an iluy — a Talmudic prodigy — in his youth. In contrast to the Chofetz Chaim, he received a dowry of 10,000 rubles and a promise of lifetime support. He was also given a gold watch and other luxurious gifts. Shortly after his marriage he joined his father-in-law’s lumber business. In the end, he grew distant from the Torah and lost his money. Stripped of both Torah and wealth, he became a nonentity.

“Yet,” concluded the Chofetz Chaim, “I entered into a marriage that was not distinguished by great wealth. People did not think it a matter of good fortune for me. Still, thanks to my wife I have become somewhat of a man.”

Finally, all of us are obligated to undertake the most crucial hishtadlus of all: pouring out our hearts in tefillah for all those who are currently — or will eventually be — in the parashah of shidduchim.