2023 What Helps and Doesn't Help Singles Part 2
Chananya Weissman

April 3, 2023

 

We're often told that it's a big mitzvah to help singles (generally in reference to raising money for “professional” matchmakers who rarely help anyone). Of course, in principle it's a mitzvah to help singles, just as it's a mitzvah to help with any personal need – no one would deny that.

The problem is that, as with all mitzvos, there are boundaries and parameters that outline how the mitzvah should be performed, if it is to qualify as such. Good intentions alone do not suffice to render one's actions desirable. Those who attempt to fulfill a mitzvah without familiarizing themselves with the relevant halachos are likely to stumble, with potentially grave consequences.

For example, there are numerous mitzvos that involve bringing a sacrifice to Hashem. One might think, since Hashem owns everything anyway and needs nothing from us, that all the particular halachos related to these mitzvos are unimportant. It's the thought that counts! However, that's terribly mistaken. Although one's heart should certainly be in the right place – otherwise the sacrifice is a farce that angers Hashem – the halachos are indispensable. If one brings the wrong sacrifice, or brings it in the wrong place, or at the wrong time, or with the wrong thought in mind, or messes up one of many details, the sacrifice is invalid, and may even carry a punishment of kares.

Getting a mitzvah right is serious business. If you don't do it right, not only are you failing to perform the mitzvah, but you might be committing a grave sin.

(Devil's advocates will counter with stories of ignorant people trying to perform a mitzvah with childlike innocence, and pleasing Hashem on a higher level than those who are punctilious about details but have no heart. As always, devil's advocates miss the point. No one should advocate for the devil.)

It is no different when it comes to trying to perform chessed. Although the halachos in this area are not always black and white – prudence and sensitivity are generally subjective – merely “trying to help” is not a license for “anything goes”. This is especially true when the recipients of our “help” are emotionally vulnerable people, and we are dealing with the most personal aspects of their lives. Failing to do things right not only disqualifies the mitzvah; it can ruin people's lives.

So yes, it's definitely a mitzvah to help singles get married – it's a tremendous mitzvah, one of the greatest things you can do for a person! – but it's only a mitzvah if it's done correctly. Not everyone is capable of doing it correctly, and not everyone is willing to devote themselves to doing it correctly.

Some mitzvos take just a moment and require little effort; shaking the lulav and esrog, for example. Other mitzvos require a serious investment of time and great care, otherwise one is likely to commit a grave sin instead.

Helping singles is one such mitzvah.

If it sounds like I am discouraging people from trying to help singles, I am – kind of. I'm discouraging people from trying to help singles in thoughtless, insensitive ways that cause more harm than good. I'm discouraging people from trying to help singles when they are neither trying nor helping. If you're not able or willing to approach this mitzvah with the care and attention to detail that it deserves, then you are better off finding a different mitzvah with which to occupy yourself. There are many to choose from, without the real danger of harming vulnerable people.

Of course, if you are able and willing to do this mitzvah right, the Jewish people desperately need you to take it upon yourself. If you are willing but need more direction, that's fine too; I encourage you to learn how to do this mitzvah right as with all others. If you recognize that this mitzvah has boundaries and parameters like all others, and you take them seriously, you are well ahead of the curve already.

With this in mind, here are some basic do's and don'ts for helping singles, in no particular order.

1) Don't tell them why they aren't married.

Married people love telling singles why they aren't married. It seems to be part of the strange transformation that occurs when people get married; not only do they immediately believe they are superior to those who didn't yet experience this good fortune, they also believe they can divine the precise reason each of these people is less worthy. (Not to be outdone, some singles engage in this pastime as well, though it's harder for them to get away with it.)

Many years ago I was in a small Jewish community, where a local resident moonlighted as a barber out of his home. After availing myself of his services, his wife met me on the way out and immediately suggested a shidduch. I declined, and on the spot she stated definitively – a total stranger – why I wasn't married.

To the uninitiated this might seem like an extreme example, but this sort of thing is relatively normal in the shidduch world. Complete strangers feel they have a license to barge into your personal life, with neither introduction nor a modicum of grace, and proceed to tell you why you aren't married. They consider it a great act of kindness, too; not only do they notice a single person's existence – that alone is self-sacrifice worthy of adulation – they deign to impart their life-changing advice, on the spot and free of charge.

The single is expected to humbly thank them for the former and obey the latter. Otherwise, we need look no further for the reason they aren't married.

Which brings us to the next pointer.

2) Don't take it personally when they turn down your suggestion.

It's almost a reflex. Married person suggests a shidduch to a single. Maybe the married person doesn't even do so much, but merely passes along a shidduch profile...or even just a name and suggests the single "research it" like a cheap detective. In most cases, the married person doesn't really know either of the singles involved and doesn't want to. The single does not jump for joy over Hashem sending him this shaliach. The single does not gush with gratitude as befits a second-class citizen such as him. Worst of all, the single has the audacity to turn down the suggestion.

Married person proceeds to turn against the single. Their petty reaction is most likely to include caustic personal remarks and unfavorable predictions regarding when or if the single will get married. Mere seconds ago this person seemed to hold the single in high esteem, yet now the single is beneath contempt. He has no idea how unmarriageable he is, and it's about time someone told him!

"You're lucky you got a suggestion at all! I won't make that mistake again! Maybe I was a shaliach to talk some sense into you," the married person might piously fume.

In some cases the married person will provide an additional service to Klal Yisrael by besmirching the name of the single who dared spurn them. Let others be warned!

I've had occasion to reply to some self-proclaimed messengers of God that maybe I was the shaliach to give them some mussar so maybe they will stop hurting vulnerable singles. It goes both ways.

And if they won't ever try to fix me up again? That's fine. I never asked them.

In fact, in many cases I never even knew this person existed until the unpleasant conversation that came totally out of the blue. So someone I didn't know existed ten minutes ago, and who treated me abusively, won't ever try to fix me up again? I can live with that.

Those who offer suggestions of any kind to singles need to keep two things firmly in mind:

1) It isn't about you.

2) No is an acceptable answer.

It could be that the single's reasons for turning down your suggestion are unwise and even unreasonable. If you actually take the time to develop a relationship with this person, maybe you can have that conversation.

Either way, it's not about you, and no is an acceptable answer.

To be continued.

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