Many years ago, I received a phone call from a young woman who pleaded with me to forgive her. I had never met her and had no recollection of her. Apparently she had once turned me down for a blind date after someone had fixed us up, and she was calling to ask for a mechila (forgiveness). I told her I didn’t remember her or what might have happened, I was not hurt, and that I forgave her. She was extremely relieved, thanked me, and disappeared back to the same nebulous place she came from (no, she didn’t suggest we go out this time).
My best guess is that she was someone I had been fixed up with over a year earlier. When I called her, she immediately told me that someone she had gone out with two weeks ago had finally called her for a second date, and she agreed to go out with him again, which of course meant that the two of us could not meet (that would be one step removed from adultery in today’s frum world). I remember being surprised that she would want to see someone who left her hanging for two weeks, wondered if it was one of those dubious excuses women devise to get out of a date, and ultimately I didn’t care on any emotional level. I certainly wasn’t hurt by a complete stranger who didn’t speak with me, didn’t meet me, and exercised questionable judgment.
If this were in fact the same person calling me over a year later to apologize, I could only surmise why she felt the sudden need to do so, and why it seemed so urgent to her. I wondered how difficult it must have been for her to track down my name and phone number after all this time. It was surely difficult for her to make that call, and my bemused forgiveness seemed to take a tremendous weight off her shoulders.
It seems most likely that she had reached a point of desperation in her quest to get married. Someone must have prevailed upon her to think of people she might have hurt along the way and ask mechila. Perhaps her shidduch was being help up by Heavenly decree until she apologized to whoever it was who bore a grudge against her and removed this spiritual blockage. While I admired her for trying to make amends for possibly hurting someone, I found the notion that she would be condemned to a lifetime of spinsterhood for changing her mind about meeting me ludicrous.
As it turns out, this line of thinking has becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s broken shidduch world. Many thousands of singles across the religious spectrum are struggling harder than ever to find hope and sanity in their search for a spouse. It is only natural to seek spiritual causes – and spiritual remedies – for problems that are baffling and beyond one’s control. Singles are often admonished that an unresolved kitrug (heavenly prosecution) against them may prevent them from getting married.
This concept will offend some people, but there is some truth to it. The Torah makes it very clear from the very first pages of Bereishis through Tanach and all of Shas and Midrash that there is a spiritual cause and effect for all that happens in this world and in our personal lives. Whatever the problem may be – large or small – we are taught to examine our actions and try to identify the spiritual source of the problem, even as we take mundane measures to address it. If we are suffering in some way, it is very likely that we are being punished at least in part for something we said or did.
Of course, that is not the only possible reason for individual suffering, and I am hardly suggesting we go around informing suffering people that they are probably getting paid back for their sins. However, to suggest that suffering has no spiritual cause is a grave theological error, to suggest that suffering is random and undeserved may well be heresy, and to suggest that we cannot possibly determine the cause for suffering is to deny us the opportunity to do just that, get the message, and solve the root of the problem (or at least make a gallant effort). It also implies that God is sending us an urgent message that we are incapable of deciphering – not a healthy theological approach, to the say the least.
As religious Jews, therefore, we must accept at a very minimum that it is plausible for someone to remain unmarried because of a spiritual impediment. While I am not aware of ancient Torah sources that directly connect difficulties in finding a shidduch to a sin, there are many such sources with regard to difficulties in having children, and there are contemporary sources and stories involving Gedolim that do connect a hakpada to difficulties in finding a shidduch.
All that said, in our times this concept has been taken way too far, as we are wont to do. For one thing, if countless thousands of singles are stuck in the shidduch process like never before – if it is really a crisis as so many call it – then it is a national problem, not an individual problem, and the entire nation needs to examine its ways.
Furthermore, even if we can agree that on some level there may be a spiritual cause and effect for why some people are struggling in shidduchim, it is preposterous to suggest that all the older singles among us are doomed because they might have hurt someone along the way. This is a slap in the face to people who are suffering deeply and choose to remain in a society that does little to help them get married or make them feel cared for as singles.
The contemporary sources on hakpada creating an impediment in shidduchim refer specifically to cases of a broken engagement or at least of a serious relationship, when the pain inflicted on someone can be devastating. It is most certainly not referring to a case where a girl agreed to let a guy call her for a blind date, then changed her mind for a reason wise or foolish, and the victim suffered relatively minor frustration at most. In this case the victim needs to get over it, and while an apology would be a classy gesture, it is ludicrous to even entertain the notion that one will be prevented from finding a shidduch without asking mechila for such an infraction.
Indeed, unless one marries the first person he meets, it is virtually impossible to remain single for any period of time without slighting someone, frustrating them, or hurting them on some level. It is inevitable that this will happen, despite one’s best intentions and efforts, because dating by definition is often akward and frustrating, and we are forced to turn people down and be turned down by others. There is simply no way to tell someone who wishes to be in a relationship with us that we do not share their desire without causing them hurt on some level, however inadvertently. This is why women feign headaches on dates, why they claim they had already accepted a date from someone who called them after two weeks, why people say they are “busy” yet never seem to become “un-busy” and call back for a date. In all these cases and so many others, people are trying, however clumsily, to get out of a situation while minimizing the direct insult to the other person. Some people are irresponsibly clumsy, some people don’t try hard enough, some people don’t try at all, and some people are even malicious at times, but some measure of hurt feelings and frustration is a natural, necessary part of the shidduch process, and cannot be completely eliminated. (Indeed, nowadays there is such an emphasis on avoiding awkwardness that it is the dating that winds up being eliminated.)
Consequently, to declare that singles need to run around asking mechila of everyone they might have inadvertently slighted through the normal course of dating, otherwise Heaven will stand in their way forever, is terribly wrong, creates an unhealthy relationship with God, and makes people crazy.
If we are close enough to a particular single that it is appropriate to engage in this sort of conversation (and yes, this is a prerequisite), it is fair to explore whether the single might have egregiously hurt someone along the way. Even if this is not the reason why that person is still single, it’s always good to make amends (unless contacting the person will only create more pain and emotional turmoil, in which case it’s best to repent privately and pray for the person).
If, however, there is no reason to believe that a single hurt someone egregiously, it is callous to advise them to go around asking for mechila from people they never really hurt and might never even be able to find. A far better idea is to be compassionate and help this single if you can – and that means to really help as you would want someone to help you, not make half-baked suggestions.
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The Torah-observant community is perpetually searching for The Reason why there are so many religious singles having difficulty getting married. Since I began following this over the last two decades, The Reason has evolved considerably, and has included all of the following: television, movies, the secular world in general, the Internet, smartphones, not enough matchmakers, not enough money paid to matchmakers for a successful match, not enough money paid to matchmakers even without a successful match (we have to keep failures in the game with a raise instead of firing them), not enough men who pass muster, not enough men who are willing to date women their own age, not enough men at all, and inexplicable decrees from heaven.
The only reason that the community has remained unwilling to consider is that its values have become corrupted and its system is broken. This would require the community to take responsibility for its own problems instead of blaming them on outside, esoteric factors, and to take a deep, honest look in the mirror. I have long argued that if a community fails to marry off huge numbers of its young population, and if the process itself is fraught with fear and dread, then the community has only itself to blame.
If 99% of singles married easily and happily and 1% had difficulties, it would be reasonable to suggest that the 1% have issues that may require “coaching” or even therapy. If, however, ever-increasing numbers of young people are remaining single longer than ever before, facing greater difficulties than ever before, and marrying with far less success than ever before, it is the community at large that requires intervention. Young people are simply the victims of a society that has lost its way, even as they perpetuate the corrupt values and failed approaches in their individual searches. Sending all the struggling singles for “coaching” and therapy is merely blaming the victim, without addressing the root problems on the community level.
Unfortunately the community has largely shunned my suggestions for nearly two decades. It is much more comfortable to blame the problems in the shidduch world on a demographic imbalance (Hashem must have lost track and we have to catch up for Him) or the ever-present evils of the secular world. While thousands of singles are watching their hopes of marrying and having children dwindle with each passing day and year, the community offers them lectures, workshops, suggestions for how to improve their personal ads, and debates the merits of freezing eggs to buy a few more years of false hope.
Every exciting new innovation for singles is really the same tired, failed ideas in a slightly different package: another shidduch group; another Whatsapp group; another dating site with the same algorithm, or no algorithm, or the best algorithm ever; another fantastically successful shadchan willing to meet you for a three-figure fee and maybe get back to you someday; another opportunity to pay holy Torah scholars to spend a few minutes of their invaluable time praying for little you at some auspicious time or place. It worked for so-and-so.
Nowadays many people believe that causing pain to a single can cause Heavenly blockage for one’s most essential needs, including the ability to marry, have children, and live a healthy life. If that is really true, if hurting a single can have such devastating consequences, then I recommend that our community spend less time warning singles not to hurt each other and spend more time warning its married members – particularly matchmakers and others who work directly with this population – to be exceedingly careful not to hurt singles.
The community should ask singles for mechila for failing them in so many ways, take an honest look in the mirror at how it bears responsibilty for this massive community-wide tragedy, and make the serious, fundamental changes that are required to improve the shidduch world. Anything less is empty words and will only cause more needless pain, with continued hakpada on all those responsible.