2023 What Helps and Doesn't Help Singles Part 5
Chananya Weissman

June 30

 

10) Don't disparage married life.

Singles who bemoan their predicament will be admonished that getting married "won't solve your problems", that married life is full of difficulties and problems, even that married life can be hell. Perhaps those who express these sentiments intend to console the single that he isn't missing out on much, and may in fact be better off. It's an odd approach, and one can only hope these married people are speaking in theoretical terms, not from personal experience.

Either way, it is unlikely to make singles feel better about not being married or help them in any way. If they yearn to get married despite your warnings – and hopefully they will – their pain at being stymied will remain. And if they take your warnings too much to heart, congratulations. You frightened someone out of building a Jewish home, challenging though it surely is.

People who disparage married life are like the meraglim. What they say is technically true, but their perspective is totally distorted. Marriage is foundational to Jewish life and one's personal development (not, as the modern kofrim claim, an obstacle to it). It is natural and appropriate for singles with a proper mindset to yearn to be married and be pained if they are stymied.

This should not preclude them from making the most of their situation, as all people with difficulties and handicaps should, but the fact that many marriages tragically fall short of bliss is no excuse to downplay marriage as an institution or a personal requirement. The Torah is unequivocal about this.

So don't try to make singles feel better by pouring cold water on their idealistic view of marriage and exaggerating the fringe benefits of being single. You certainly wouldn't do that to console someone who lost their beloved spouse – so don't do that to someone who was never fortunate enough to find their beloved spouse in the first place.

If you want to make singles feel better, commiserate with them from a place of genuine caring, then actively try to help them find a match. If your own marriage isn't what you hoped it would be, God forbid, don't let that hold you back, or your single friends.

11) Don't distort bitachon.

Bitachon is not a buzzword. It's a fundamental area of wisdom that everyone needs to study and apply properly in different situations. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. What is an appropriate degree of hishtadlus (human effort) for one person will be a lack of bitachon for someone else. (See my essay A Practical Guide to Human Effort and Trust in God.)

When it comes to shidduchim, every ignoramus and armchair quarterback prattles about bitachon to those who are helplessly watching their prospects of getting married and having children fade, and hishtadlus to those who aren't willing to forfeit every last shred of their dignity to please the gatekeepers and prove yet again that they really are serious about getting married.

None of this helps. At best it strings people along a little longer, while offering them no tangible assistance. The people who urge singles to have more bitachon rarely stick around after the lecture to try to actually improve their situation. They are fully confident that Hashem will get you married, mamash very soon, but they wouldn't take a ten to one bet on that, and they certainly don't want to get involved.

That guy in shul who enjoyed the way I read the Torah, and urged me to buy a tallis right away because I'm going to get married very soon, never even asked me my name or tried to make a suitable introduction. He just went merrily on his way. He'd sprayed me with a little bitachon; mission accomplished. Needless to say, he didn't have ruach hakodesh, but apparently he had no contingency plan for when his cheerful optimism turned out to be a bill of goods.

I'd long realized that most people are idiots – well intentioned idiots, but idiots all the same – so he was just another mosquito buzzing to me. Not many people can go through that sort of faux encouragement for years and decades and continue to draw optimism from it, especially when none of these people who promise impending salvation make any effort to actually help, or even truly care. Singles with softer scar tissue can become seriously depressed by such encounters, and even get turned off to Judaism.

Seriously, what's worse? Never paying attention to singles, or acknowledging them, throwing some empty words of encouragement their way, and then disappearing into the night?

Singles who reach "older single" status without having fled the community will be serenaded with special lectures on bitachon. After all, at some point it's no longer just about getting married, but salvaging a realistic chance to have children.

In the Orthodox Jewish world, a man above the age of forty is not allowed to insist on dating only women who are not well past their prime child-bearing years. One who defies this unspoken rule will be met with outrage, nasty personal remarks, and, of course, lectures about bitachon.

First he will be told in no uncertain terms that he is not a great catch, not even close. Are you filthy rich? Are you a male model? Why would a woman who isn't on the cusp of menopause want you? Time to settle, buddy. It's over. Your dream of having children of your own is unrealistic, and you don't deserve to pursue it anymore. Be happy just to find companionship. Go for a divorcee with kids. Adopt. Get a pet. Take what you can get and get married.

Not everyone will be quite so crass, but many will be. They call it tough love.

After lovingly shattering the single's hopes and dreams, and affectionately trampling all over his dignity, the married know-it-all will encourage him with a dose of bitachon. Women in their forties can still have children! Lots and lots of them! My neighbor's cousin got married at 45 and had six children! And some younger women never have children! And how do you know you can have children, anyway? So just have bitachon!

Of course, this conveniently ignores the reality that women are born with a finite amount of eggs, and around the age of forty their ability to have children plunges off a cliff. There are exceptions, of course, but that's why they make such interesting stories – they are exceptions. And of course there are younger women who, tragically, are unable to have children, but one cannot argue that one should simply disregard age because of this. Everything is in the hands of Hashem, but – unless the Torah demands otherwise – we have to behave sensibly.

The Torah does not demand that a man marry a woman who is well past her prime child-bearing years and leave it up to Hashem. Just the opposite. First of all, a man has a mitzvah of peru urevu (to be fruitful and multiply), which means to try in earnest to have at least two children, a boy and a girl, and should try to have more children even in his later years. We are not allowed to rely on overt miracles, hence a childless man is strongly advised to search for a younger woman. No one has the right to discourage him from this.

Furthermore, Chazal – who understood nature and science much more than today's pompous academics give them credit for – taught that a woman who marries after the age of forty will (most likely) not have children (Bava Basra 119B). It is a rule of nature that has some exceptions, but it is a rule nonetheless. The fact that today women can freeze their eggs and undergo painful, costly fertility treatments is not a reason to pretend that forty today is like thirty used to be, and to strongarm single men to shop in the frozen section as a lechatchila.

Here's where it gets really strange. If a single man says that giving himself the best chance of fulfilling the mitzva of peru urevu is a deal-breaker for him, and he still hopes to have a large family, and he has bitachon that Hashem will help him find a woman who is not well past her prime child-bearing years, his deep faith and trust in Hashem will not be met with admiration and encouragement. No, he will be castigated for having bitachon – by the same person who demanded he have bitachon that, against all odds and an explicit Gemara, a woman of 42 or 45 will still have children.

Bitachon has been reduced from a fundamental area of wisdom that we must study and carefully apply to a card that primitive thinkers play to win arguments and get their way.

And the people who lecture singles about bitachon are full of hot air. After all, why not marry a woman of 90 and have bitachon that she will have children? Don't laugh, Sarah did. And Yocheved was even older!

Come on, you say, we have to be reasonable.

Exactly.

So don't tell singles where to draw the line, especially when the place you want to draw it defies nature and Chazal, exceptions notwithstanding, and especially when you don't bear the consequences if he follows your preaching and doesn't have children. When you're ready to back up your cheerful bitachon with a million dollar guarantee, then you can talk.

You can gamble your own future with heroic levels of bitachon if you wish, but you're not allowed to have such bitachon on behalf of someone else. For other people, you have to actually try to help.

Really try, to really help.

12) Be a shadchan in the true sense of the word.

There is a remarkable insight about shadchanim in a most unlikely place: Yoreh De'ah 228:43, the laws of nedarim (vows). The Rema has a parenthetical comment in which he explains that the root of the word meshudachim – in this case two fathers agreeing to marry off their children – means peace and tranquility.

The definition of a shadchan in the most literal sense of the word is someone who brings peace and tranquility to singles, who helps them get settled in life.

That's not the description that would come to mind today for the overwhelming majority of shadchanim, even if we were being charitable. Interacting with most shadchanim today, whether they call themselves "professionals" or not, and assuming they even deign to have an actual conversation with you as a human being before hustling you to agree to their "suggestion", is not a pleasant, edifying experience. More often than not, it's degrading, maddening, infuriating.

Singles can be maddening to deal with also, and parents, and everyone else. I get it. But the job description of a shadchan, the very essence of being a shadchan, is to bring peace to unmarried people who wish to build a home and a life with the other half of their soul.

It's not a job. It's not a profession. It's not a hobby. It's not even a mere mitzva. It's a calling, one of the most Godly things a person can do in this world – but he has to do it right. He has to really listen, really try, really care.

If your methods as a shadchan are not bringing peace and tranquility to people, but quite the opposite, then you must step back and improve them. If a high percentage of the suggestions a shadchan makes turn out poorly, it is not the singles who need coaching, but the shadchan. And if a shadchan finds the notion offensive, she should not be a shadchan, for she is failing at the very essence of what it means to be a shadchan – bringing peace and tranquility to singles – yet she is focused only on herself.

It's not for everyone. Not everyone can handle the responsibility and do it right. Those who cannot or will not should find other mitzvos with which to occupy themselves that will not cause severe distress to vulnerable people instead of helping them.

But if you can do it right, then you must.

Get to work.

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