Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

A Roman noblewoman asked Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta, "In how many days did G-d create the world?"

"In six days," he replied.

"What has He been doing since?" she asked.

"Since then," Rabbi Yosi replied, "He's been matchmaking."

"That's ridiculous!" the noblewoman exclaimed. "Why, even I could do that!"

To prove her point, the noblewoman took one thousand of her male servants and one thousand of her female servants and matched them together as husband and wife.

The next morning, men and women came to her with broken bones and wounds, pleading, "I don't want this one! Please get me out of this!"

The noblewoman immediately called for Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta. "There is no god like your G-d!" she proclaimed. "It is all true, your Torah is indeed beautiful and praiseworthy, and you spoke the truth!"

Rabbi Yosi replied, "It seemed easy in your eyes, but it is as difficult before G-d as the splitting of the Red Sea."

Shidduch suggestions for my daughter do not come often, and as unlikely as some of them seem to be at first glance, I can't afford to easily dismiss them. But sometimes the suggestions are so completely inappropriate, they would be insulting, if not for the fact that the people making these suggestions do not know my daughter at all.

It's hard to excuse, though, when the caller knows her well.

This time it is someone my daughter was friends with in high school. She asks what my daughter is looking for.

It's an interesting question, coming from her. I know she has a pretty good idea of what my daughter is hoping for. She and my daughter are not in touch as often as they once were - she is married and has a little boy - but they were close friends for years. Long enough for her to know the answer to that question.

I answer it anyway. I describe some of the qualities my daughter would like to have in a husband. I tell her that she would like to marry someone who is seriously learning and hopes to continue to do so for a little while. I know she knows all this. I know these are not foreign concepts to her. It is what she, too, was hoping for and who she married. I know she understands exactly what I am saying, and I'm not sure why she is asking.

"I spoke to her about two years ago," she says, "and she told me all of this. I was just wondering if anything changed - if she still wants the same thing."

"Yes. Absolutely." I am a little annoyed. I do not like her superior tone of voice. Yes, she is married for two years, and I am happy for her. But my daughter is still young. Too young to give up on her dream of the kind of person she wants to marry and the type of home she hopes to build.

She hesitates. Maybe she senses my annoyance.

"The boy I have in mind was seriously learning full time. But -" she pauses, and then rushes on, "he's already 23, so he joined his brothers in their business."

I thank her for thinking about my daughter, I explain that this is not what she wants, and I hang up.

"What chutzpah!" I tell my husband.

"Such chutzpah!" I tell my daughter later.

I can deal with inappropriate - even ridiculous - suggestions, when I can justify it because the caller doesn't know my daughter. But not this. Not from someone who knows my daughter well enough to understand that her suggestion was not suitable.

I am highly insulted. Angry, even.

The splitting of the sea was an entirely supernatural event. Why did Rabbi Yosi believe that matchmaking is as hard as splitting the sea?

To the Roman noblewoman, everything makes sense, including marriages. She sets out to prove herself. She doesn't just match haphazardly. She takes into account height and weight, disposition, likes and dislikes. Everything makes sense, and so all the matches should work perfectly.

But they don't. Because marriage is not a sensible act. Marriage is not the result of natural order or logic. Marriage is the result of a voice from heaven declaring, "So and so is to marry so and so."

And that is where the shadchan comes in.

Intellect does not have the power to complete a match. Shidduchim don't fit into any pattern. They follow no law or logic, and sometimes make no sense at all. Matches are made by turning nature upside-down. The shadchan, sometimes, resorts to strategies that are less than honest. She sometimes suggests matches that are inappropriate and insulting.

But she is doing her job. I see that now.

I am now thankful for the work they do. And I am thankful when they think of my daughter. Even when I don't like their suggestion. Even when they employ mistruths.

Shidduchim sometimes don't make sense. And sometimes, the only way they happen is through the strategies of the shadchan.

Because shidduchim are as supernatural as the splitting of the sea.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Answered Prayers

My Friday afternoons are full. But a small part of them belongs to my son. He needs to get back to yeshiva, and we talk while I battle the pre-Shabbos traffic. It's when I get to hear about what is going on in his life and in his thoughts. It's when I get to hear the things he doesn't normally share - the things that boys his age don't seem to feel a need to share. There is something about this quiet time - just me and him - that gets him to open up. I wouldn't give it up for anything.

It is late this time, and I am in a rush to get back home. I wait impatiently for the light to change, as I watch a man in a wheelchair cross the street and struggle to get up on the curb. No one seems to notice. He tries two or three times. People hurry by, oblivious to his struggles - all but one man who stops to help and waits to make sure he is okay before he goes on.

I point it out to my son.

"Do you see that?" I ask. "That was really nice of him."

He looks at me, surprised. "Why is that even worth mentioning? It's not nice - it's normal. It's how it should be. It's what anyone would do."

I know it's not what anyone would do. I just watched people walk right by and ignore it. I see it all the time.

But I know without a doubt that it's what my son would do. I know it wouldn't even occur to him to do any different. I know he'd notice when someone is struggling or needs help. I know he'd notice when someone is lonely or hurting. And I know he'd never just pass them by without offering his help. I know this because I know the kind of person he is.

I look at him, and as he talks, I am struck by how much he's grown, by how much he's matured. It happened so gradually that I could have missed it. He is my child, but he's an adult now. A sensitive, generous, giving adult. An adult I am so proud to have had a part in raising.

I know that who he is...who he not to my credit. I know that we parents can do all the right things, but we have no control over the end result. And I know that I did not always do all the right things.

I don't know why I am so lucky, why I am so blessed.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that every prayer is answered, but the answer may not be what we expect, when we expect it.

I've been through challenges and hardships. I know pain. And I've prayed.

Sometimes those prayers were answered. But often, they were not. And I've wondered...where did those prayers go? Where are those tears?

My son is turning into a beautiful adult, following in the path of his older siblings. They are everything I could ever have wished for. They are all my hopes and dreams come true. Maybe this is where all those prayers went. Maybe this is the result of my tears. Maybe I was not meant to have whatever it is I prayed for. But those prayers were not wasted.

And...if this is where they went, if this is how my prayers were answered, if this is what I was given instead of what I prayed for...I am grateful. If all my prayers and tears were gathered and saved just for this...I am blessed. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. It is worth all the pain...all the anguish...all the tears - it's worth it all.

It is the answer to my prayers.