He immediately knew where he was this time. Rosh Hashana. The Heavenly Court. Singles department.
He looked around at the many thousands of people waiting with anxious, pain-filled faces. The group was significantly larger than last time. Nearly everyone from the year before was back again, still single. The older singles seemed like prisoners with a life sentence appearing before a parole board. It was a tired ritual for them, just going through the motions, the outcome pretty much decided. Many of them had put on weight.
Their ranks were increased by hundreds of fresh-faced, wide-eyed youngsters there for the first time. Any excitement they might have displayed was quickly dashed, especially after looking around.
There were also several thousand people of all ages who hadn't been there last year; they were newly single for a second time. They stood separate from the rest.
He stood in front of the group of singles, where he had been last year. Seated on the dais were two familiar faces: the Rabbi Judge and the Guru Judge. The Rabbi Judge was engrossed in a sefer, while the Guru Judge just sat there, smug and content. The third seat was empty.
There was a sudden flash of light. The Shadchan Judge had finally arrived.
"Sorry I'm late," she announced breathlessly. "I just have so many things going on right now, and I really don't have time for this."
He spoke up. "So why did you come at all and grace us with your majestic presence? Surely there is no shortage of people to judge singles."
Her head snapped to him with an expression of shock, which quickly changed to fury; then recognition; then a slow, wide grin dripping with contempt.
"What a surprise to see you here," she said. "I never would have expected it, after that display of bravado last time. It doesn't seem like you learned anything. As for me, I sacrificed of myself to be here because my services are essential. What would all these poor singles do without me?"
"What did they do with you?"
The Shadchan Judge glared at him. "I can only help those who help themselves." She flashed her trademark condescending smile and marched to her seat.
The Rabbi Judge closed his sefer. "The court is in session. Getting married is not optional; it is a mitzva. A small number of you may be temporarily absolved due to extenuating circumstances, but the rest of you spent the year making excuses instead of treating this as an obligation."
"That is unfair," he said. "This isn't like other mitzvos. This one is dependent on factors beyond our control, such as the opportunity to meet a suitable partner, and other people's free will. You can't just ignore that."
"I see you still haven't learned when to keep quiet," said the Rabbi Judge.
"He comes on too strong," said the Shadchan Judge. "Too opinionated. No woman wants that. I say this as a woman."
"Right," he said. "As a woman. Because all the billions of women in the world think alike, and you speak for all of them."
"I could help him work through his issues," said the Guru Judge.
"It is a mitzva for you to arrange sessions with the Guru Judge," said the Rabbi Judge. "You need help fixing what is wrong with you so you can become marriage material."
"I want so badly to help you," said the Guru Judge. "There is a nominal fee of 300 shekels per 45-minute session. I think with a minimum of ten sessions we can make real progress."
"I bet," he retorted. "A little more progress and you'll have enough for a down payment."
"You see!" said the Shadchan Judge. "A woman wants a man who listens. Your personality is very unattractive to women. No wonder you have such a hard time. Even a desperate woman wouldn't go for you."
"I don't think my wife would appreciate that," he said.
A stunned silence descended in the court.
The Rabbi Judge was the first to recover. "What did you say?"
"I don't think my wife would appreciate all the nasty things you are saying about me. She wasn't desperate, either."
"You...got...married?" managed the Shadchan Judge.
"Baruch Hashem," he said. "Sorry to disappoint you."
"We're very happy for you," said the Shadchan Judge with a frown.
"I offer counseling for couples," said the Rabbi Judge.
"It's not too late to work on your issues," said the Guru Judge. "It's more urgent than ever."
"I pity her," muttered the Shadchan Judge.
"Wait a second," said the Rabbi Judge. "Why are you here? The married people get judged in the regular court. This is for the castaways."
"Come join us," said the Shadchan Judge, brightening. "You're one of us now. Judge the singles, too. You're obviously better than them, otherwise you wouldn't have gotten married."
"I'm here for precisely that reason," he said. "To judge. But you've got it wrong. This year it's different. This year you're the ones being judged. And I'm here to stand with the singles."
He turned to the Rabbi Judge. "You place us in a difficult position. We respect your scholarship and wish to show you honor. However, you have failed the singles in your community. You lecture them and admonish them, but you do nothing to actually help them. You turn a blind eye to their suffering. You don't want to be bothered with them. You pass them off to some shadchan or some guru and absolve yourself of further responsibility. You pretend that hosting an event in your shul or mentioning the 'singles issue' once in a while makes you a champion for the cause. You pass yourself off as an expert on the subject even though you never delved into it. You simply repeat what you hear others say and act as if you are leading."
"I object to this!" said the Rabbi Judge. "I hosted singles at my Shabbos table!"
"Yes you did," he said. "You made sure to host single men and single women separately. God forbid they should actually talk to each other, right? You also had a few married couples at those meals – the people you really wanted to host – and banished the singles to the far end of the table."
"That's not fair! I wanted them to be more comfortable. Most of the conversation wasn't relevant to them."
"You hardly spoke to them at all. You made no effort to include them."
"They were too quiet! They need to learn how to be sociable. I noticed them sitting quietly and even asked them if everything was okay. I showed concern!"
"Guilty!" he declared. "Your concern for singles extends no further than making a show for the worried parents in your congregation. Your lectures on the subject are patronizing and impractical. You deny them the opportunities to meet other singles that you enjoyed when you were young. You urge them to keep trying and believing, yet you devote zero effort to helping them and give them no reason to believe. You lecture them about their obligations, then you abandon them. The community follows your example and does the same. You bear their guilt as well for failing to lead properly."
He turned to the Guru Judge. "You make a living peddling common sense and false hope. Your confident tone and pretentious airs cover for your lack of substance."
"Hold it right there!" cried the Guru Judge. "I've worked with hundreds of singles, and have helped many of them overcome the issues that were blocking them from getting married."
"The average taxi driver could give them the same or better advice. If singles want to get taken for a ride, that's a much better deal."
"They come to me because I am an expert and I create an environment that is safe and supportive."
"Your only expertise is selling yourself. Not once did you tell a single that he is just fine and doesn't need coaching. You have to make them feel insecure and dependent on you so they will keep coming back for expensive sessions, then give you the credit when they get married. At the same time, you aren't qualified to help people with real issues. It's a sham."
"They come to me to unburden themselves, to share, to have a listening ear and a friendly guide."
"You portray yourself as much more than a friend for hire. That is indeed all you are, and a very expensive one at that. You are guilty of misleading people regarding the quality of your services and the need for them. You charge a fortune for your time, but you aren't worth any more of mine."
He turned to the Shadchan Judge. "Where to begin? You exist for the sole purpose of helping singles find their soulmate, you fail miserably at that task, yet you speak with authority instead of shame. Singles have never relied more on you, they have concurrently never had more difficulty getting married, yet you deny any responsibility for this. On the contrary, you expect respect, honor, obedience, even financial 'incentives' just to keep doing what you have been doing so poorly. You take credit for the rare successful match and boast of it at every opportunity, yet you accept none of the responsibility for the countless times it didn't work out."
"I made many shidduchim!" declared the Shadchan Judge.
"When you aren't busy ignoring singles for months at a time, you offer suggestions that are the exact opposite of what they are looking for. If they remind you of what they are looking for, you belittle the likelihood of them ever finding it and tell them they are lucky to get a date at all. You pressure them to go on dates that make no sense, you rob them of their time, money, and emotional energy, then you verbally abuse them when – predictably – it doesn't work out. You are an enemy of singles. The best way you could help them would be to have nothing to do with them."
"That is a lie! The fate of the Jewish people depends on people like me!"
"You are guilty of innumerable sins against singles. Your incompetence and abusive behavior have prevented many singles from getting married, pressured others into disastrous marriages, and driven many singles out of the community altogether. You peddle shidduch resumes like a huckster, but your own resume is a trail of pain and destruction. Somehow you are oblivious to all of this, and believe you deserve endless parades in your honor."
He faced all the judges. "You are all guilty of failing singles, hurting them, making their road more difficult, and taking advantage of their vulnerability. Your punishment is that each of you will seek help in your own lives and encounter people just like yourselves. The Rabbi Judge will find people who are indifferent to his needs, who make a show of helping but do nothing meaningful. The Guru Judge will find that his friends are only there for him as long as they can use him, and he will get nothing for free. The Shadchan Judge will have to beg and plead for people with hearts of stone to give her the time of day – and if they do, she will wish they hadn't."
He turned to the singles. "You have a great deal to answer for as well. But my message for you today is more important. This time next year many of you will be married. Do not allow yourselves to be fooled into thinking that you are smarter or better than those who do not share your good fortune. You did not figure out the secret to getting married. You did not try harder than many of those who were unsuccessful. You could have just as easily remained single. Don't you ever forget it."
The heavens were still.
A long Shofar blast sounded.
The court was adjourned.