The shrill ringing of a cellphone is heard in a home located in the heart of a populous Jewish community. A mother picks up the phone, pulls out of her drawer a well-worn notebook, and listens patiently as the caller, a popular shadchante, spends six minutes explaining why a particular girl would be a perfect shidduch for her son.
After asking a few pertinent questions and scribbling down the answers, the mother concludes the conversation with the words, “Okay, I’ll add her to the list.”
Some time later, this same mother phones an acquaintance and reads off several names from her “list.” She is pleased to discover that her acquaintance personally knows two of the suggested prospects.
“So, how would you compare the two?” she asks.
* * *
A well-known menaheles calls the mother of a young man in shidduchim. “Do you have an email address?” she asks. “I have several young ladies I think you should consider for your son. I’ll forward their résumés to you. Check them out. Let me know if you’re interested in any of them.”
* * *
The above-described scenarios have become so familiar that many don’t even realize how incompatible with Torah values these practices are.
Hagaon Harav Avraham Yaakov Pam, zt”l, would stress that the shidduch process isn’t a “shopping market,” where buyers inspect produce and then decide to keep on looking to see whether they will find something better.
Every Jewish girl is a bas melech, who deserves to be treated with the greatest dignity and respect. The very notion of being put on a “list” of candidates is deeply degrading. Asking sources of information to compare and contrast prospective suggestions — whether they are boys or girls —is unfair and inappropriate. Offering a half dozen names to sift through and compare is demeaning to the individual and nearly meaningless. Every Yid is a priceless, incomparable treasure and must be considered on his or her own merits. Where is our sensitivity, our care in choosing our words?
There is often a temptation to seek a shidduch that will be “impressive” and will enhance the family’s prestige. But precisely how friends, neighbors and relatives will react to a shidduch should be of little significance. In an era where far too much emphasis is placed on the external and the trivial, and where the spike in shalom bayis problems sends shudders through our hearts, one must be very careful to concentrate on what is really important, such as compatibility, middos, tznius and yiras Shamayim. Academic performance can make a huge difference on a report card, but may have little or no bearing on a girl’s potential to be a devoted wife and caring mother.
Every effort should be made to respond promptly to shidduch suggestions, and while there is a mesorah in some communities not to explicitly say “no” to a shidduch, one must be very careful not to send misleading signals that can cause another side to wait in vain.
It is essential that everyone who is in a position to be approached about shidduch information be proficient in the practical application of the pertinent halachos. Those who are contacted to give information must be very careful, both in regard to what they reveal and what they choose not to reveal. We are often influenced by our personal likes or dislikes. Even a subconscious moment of jealousy can disastrously affect the words we choose to describe the person or family being inquired about. In a similar vein, feelings of friendship or misplaced compassion may lead us to choose not to reveal crucial facts — facts which, according to halachah, one is required to reveal — with devastating results to all parties, including the “protected” one.
An equally vital aspect to recall at all times is that the entire shidduch process must be viewed as a spiritual experience. With the continuity of Klal Yisrael at stake, and the goal being the building of a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael — a home where the Shechinah resides — the approach must demonstrate an understanding of that objective. The process of shidduchim must be viewed solely through the lens of Torah, not as an adapted and sterilized version of the secular society’s view of finding a spouse.
The fact that “shidduchim are bashert” is one of the most common phrases heard within our community, yet what is sometimes obscured is the recognition that since matches are pre-ordained, the role of humans in this matter is limited and proscribed. While we are certainly obligated to undertake the requisite hishtadlus, these steps must be limited to that goal and always conform to Torah values. The fact that in some circles certain types of conduct have become the norm doesn’t make them appropriate or even acceptable.
In discussing the mission of Eliezer, who, as described in this week’s parashah, was sent to find a shidduch for Yitzchak, Hagaon Harav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, zt”l, points out: “It’s significant that the one person whose wishes should have been regarded as decisive in this arrangement has nothing to say in the matter. Yitzchak, whose wishes should have mattered the most, remains silent throughout. While Rivka is asked for her approval before any arrangements are made in her behalf, Yitzchak permits his father and his faithful servant complete freedom to act for him in a matter which … will be decisive to his personal happiness.”
He goes on to explain that “Jewish marriages… are made on the basis of calm deliberation and careful reflection, testing whether the prospective partners are mutually compatible in their emotions, character, personality, and all the other factors that determine marital happiness. These are considerations and reflections of which neither the young man nor the young woman are capable, but which are within the capability of the parents, relatives, and friends of both parties … A Yitzchak who chooses his Rivka on his own may well make a mistake, but a Yitzchak who permits his father Avraham to bring his Rivka will rarely be disillusioned.” (Collected Writings, Vol. VIII, pp. 107– 108.)
May we all merit the wisdom to appropriately navigate the sea of shidduchim, and may all those waiting for their zivugim find them speedily and easily.